January 9, 2018; Long Beach Post
In December 2017, California Families in Focus (CFF) held their fourteenth annual Spirit of Christmas celebration, an event held for LGBTQ youth and the children of LGBTQ parents. The festivities are intended to “celebrate, empower and inspire LGBTQ youth, and to show them that they matter and they have an entire community behind them for the foreseeable future regardless of their circumstances.” Now, despite the event being in “complete alignment with Long Beach Pride’s mission,” Leslie R. Smith, the Chairperson of CFF, is left wondering why Long Beach Pride did not provide any funding.
Smith continues her blistering op-ed, noting that this could appear to the LGBTQ youth of the community that Pride does not care about them. She goes on to point out that Pride receives a “sizable annual grant from the Port of Long Beach to be earmarked for helping LGBTQ youth.” With revenues from Long Beach Pride’s annual festival topping $1.3 million in 2015, according to Pride’s 990—Smith is left wondering where the money is going, if not to events like the Spirit of Christmas.
In short, Smith is concerned about the way Long Beach Pride spends its funds, and she wants the organization held accountable. Especially since the group ignored all of CFF’s appeals.
Organizations like CFF and Long Beach Lesbian and Gay Pride are pillars of the area’s LGBTQ community and, in many instances, life-saving organizations. These groups both provide valuable services to the LGBTQ community and the community as a whole.
Smith’s op-ed illustrates a number of dilemmas that anyone familiar with fundraising and nonprofit leadership will recognize. On the one hand, Pride has its own mission—to “engage in and support bridge building activities that educate, encourage and celebrate LGBT inclusion and pride”—and how it goes about that mission is up to its leadership. As painful as it may be, no matter how much an organization may want to, it cannot say yes to everyone. Explaining why that is the case can be a painfully difficult conversation, and one hardly guaranteed to end in agreement. (That said, communicating differences clearly can be so incredibly helpful for both parties.)
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On the other hand, it is frustrating to make repeated pleas to a group or donor that shares your cause and mission, only to be rebuked or ignored. As Smith put it, it can seem like a slap in the face, and only more so when no reason why is given. It certainly makes one wonder what is being funded instead.
As for leadership integrity, Smith has requested the release of the minutes of any board meetings wherein the CFF event was discussed. She wants to make sure that “Pride is accountable to the public for how it spends the millions of dollars it receives in revenue as well as the funds it receives from public grants.”
To Pride’s credit, in 2015, it spent more than $1 million on Pride Festival expenses. It also handed out almost $100,000 in grants. That is not to say that it is impossible for the organization to have spent recklessly, but it does speak to its commitment spending on activities for the LGBTQ community.
Without knowing the details of CFF’s request, nor the giving history and trends of Pride, it does seem that Pride focuses on its own major event—Pride Festival—and grantmaking. If that is the case, CFF’s Christmas celebration, while in line with Pride’s overall mission, may not fit the group’s strategy. Communicating why and on what basis Pride makes its spending decisions might ease some of Smith’s concerns.
A nonprofit must always remember that you can’t please everyone, but addressing their concerns is a necessary step in the right direction.—Sean Watterson