While one version of rural philanthropy focuses on long-term support of rural places, an increasing number of rural donors are centering their giving around issues that are often viewed as urban-dominant, but in fact have a significant presence in rural communities. Examples include arts and culture development, broadband access, support for veterans and LGBTQ communities, food access, and addressing the opioid epidemic.

LGBTQ issues represent a particular area that has historically been the domain of urban-focused funders and has received relatively little attention within the scope of rural philanthropic funding. The need for funding in this area is clear. LGBTQ individuals often endure social challenges stemming from stigma and discrimination, and for the LGBTQ population residing in rural areas, these challenges are amplified by the geographic isolation and shortage of culturally competent health services. Statistics reveal that high proportions of rural LGBTQ individuals experience discrimination, in turn leading to increased risk of mental health issues and lower quality of life. While some rural philanthropic LGBTQ projects target more quantifiable constructs like housing, transportation, employment, and health care access, others concentrate on building systems of social support and facilitating acceptance and understanding.

The LGBTQ Funding Landscape

In the wake of confusing and sometimes contradictory shifts in policies impacting the LGBTQ communities, the direction of LGBTQ funding has been unclear. However, funders have united in preserving past victories while strengthening new efforts in establishing LGBTQ equality. In fact, over the past decade, funding for LGBTQ issues across the United States has consistently been on the rise, with burgeoning support from community foundations and a growing emphasis on under-resourced regions.

The affinity group Funders for LGBTQ Issues plays a significant role in researching trends and strategies in LGBTQ giving and keeping funders informed through yearly Funding Forward conferences and regular reports. The 2017 Tracking Report of LGBTQ Grantmaking by U.S. Foundations published this month reveals that, excluding the focused surge in funds in the aftermath of the 2016 Pulse Nightclub Massacre, LGBTQ funding increased by $10.8 million from the previous year. Funding from community foundations doubled from 2016 to 2017 – a victory that can be attributed to donor-advised giving and the affinity group’s Out in the South Initiative.  Though these trends are promising, largely rural regions in the Midwest and Mountain states still lag behind in LGBTQ funding and increased localized support in all regions is needed for broad scale progress.

A number of foundations across the United States are executing work to fill these voids in LGBTQ funding. Based in the Northwest, the Pride Foundation serves Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington and makes grants to rural-serving organizations. Examples of grantees include the National Coalition Building Institute in Montana that supports gay-straight alliances to combat stigma, and Blue Mountain Heart to Heart that provides HIV support and prevention services to gay Latino and Native American men in rural Washington and Oregon. The Gamma Mu Foundation is a national funder with an explicit rural lens - a rare funder type in LGBTQ giving – and partners with local rural groups. For example, a collaboration with the Hudson Pride Foundation in rural New York has yielded a program that conducts demographic research and connects LGBTQ youth and seniors with mentorship and social opportunities.

Community foundations provide grassroots guidance for large initiatives like Funders for LGBTQ Issues’ Out in the South. The Appalachian Community Fund (ACF) has established the LGBTQ Fund that aims to build capacity, enhance resources, and facilitate networking among LGBTQ-serving organizations in Central Appalachia. The Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham designates an LGBTQ Fund that serves several rural counties and prioritizes underserved communities.  The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee’s H. Franklin Brooks Philanthropic Fund promotes social inclusion and well-being for rural LGBTQ individuals by supporting nonprofit projects and producing a multimedia series that highlights historical challenges.

How Donors Can Get Involved

Regardless of foundation size or structure, grassroots power is critical to sustaining an upward trajectory in rural LGBTQ giving. Donors can support broader focus on rural LGBTQ issues by giving to larger foundations like Gamma Mu or Pride Foundation, which then distribute funds across rural areas of service. However, by fostering donor-funder relationships with community foundations, individuals can provide targeted support to rural LGBTQ communities and equip grassroots organizations with resources to enact change. It is important to first research whether the community foundation of interest has designated an LGBTQ fund, or if you would be proposing a new funding program. Reaching out to the community foundation, establishing a point of contact, and understanding local needs of a particular community’s LGBTQ individuals are keys to navigating the donor-funder relationship.  Donor investment in community foundations builds capacity, creates leadership structure, and guides fitted solutions tailored to utilizing a community’s strengths and addressing needs.  As an issue platform receiving approximately 28 cents for every $100 of U.S. philanthropic funds, LGBTQ giving is a frontier affording individual donors the opportunity to propel social progress in rural America.

Original contribution by Anna Ault, Program Coordinator, Office of Rural Philanthropic Analysis, Campbell University, Buies Creek, NC.