From listening to leadership
Over the last decade, the Minneapolis-based PFund Foundation recognized the need and value of addressing the diversity of LGBTQ populations. It now leads the way in the state in supporting LGBTQ people of color organizations and leaders. Executive Director Greg Grinley tells their story.
Tell me about PFund Foundation. When was it founded? What is its vision for the community?
We were founded in 1986 by four gay men in great part as a reaction to the AIDS crisis. They saw their friends dying and asked what was going to happen to them and to their assets when they died. Not "if" but "when"everyone was dying. Well, I'm happy to report they are all alive and well and supporting PFund still.
Our vision is that equality for LGBT people is unquestionedin all things and all waysin schools, family and relationship recognition, jobs, homes and more. Our new pillars of social justice are: achieving equal rights (through advocacy and civic engagement); ensuring access, safety and security (in such places as schools, health providers and housing); and creating power through community (as a result of organizing, events and the arts).
Simply a time when lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and allied (LGBTA) people live free from discrimination, violence and isolation, and enjoy all the rights, privileges and responsibilities as members of a just and fair society.
As you reflect on its history, what have been some of PFund Foundation's most notable successes?
I started volunteering at PFund in 1997, helping with bookkeeping, so I have seen lots of changes. We had just hired our first part time executive director, Susan Curry. Within a year we had hired Kit Briem as the full time executive director. It was a tremendous success to have professional staff responsible for the operation of the foundation, including creating a budget, forming standing committees, creating plans for success such as strategic plans, development plans and communications plans. Building a stronger board reflecting the diversity of our communities. And empowering donors to help them realize their philanthropic goals. I think that's when we began to really articulate our vision and goals and map the path to get there.
I joined the board in 2000, then became executive director in 2006. The board and previous staff have been intentional about building the "foundation" of the foundation. Today's success is thanks to them. So we were ready to grow and take on new projects and programs.
This decade we received a small LGBT scholarship fund and nurtured that program to grow by leaps and bounds. Donors are very attracted to that giving opportunity and we've been inspired by the LGBT and allied students that we have supported.
How did PFund begin addressing the full diversity of LGBTQ communities?
PFund became more intentional about looking at our relationship with communities of color in early 2002. We held several listening sessions to learn what people of color thought about PFund. Essentially, people said we did good work but we were pretty much a wealthy, white organization,that was not really relevant to people of color. We did listen.
Our board took action and began to remove barriers for participation by people of color. We knew that for us to be seen as a champion of communities of color we had to be in communities of color. Board and staff attended people of color events. We were intentional about building authentic personal relationships with people of color that we already knew in order to shift the perception and reality of PFund. We knew that long-lasting change would start with the board. Today, we continue to work to attract people of color to board and leadership roles, as well as to committees and as donors.
Those conversations birthed the Communities of Color Fund, the first permanent endowment fund for LGBT people of color. This idea and money came from the community and was not driven by PFund. It showed we were serious about being a foundation that addressed disparities within the LGBT movement.
Today, people of color make up 33 percent of our board and 40 percent of our executive committeean indicator of progress. The Racial Equity Initiative matching grant (awarded by Funders for LGBTQ Issues) continues the work and is getting more grant money to LGBT organizations of color and perhaps more importantly, strengthening LGBT individual leaders of color in all of their work. It's a clear demonstration of PFund's commitment to people of color.
We also established a seniors initiative fund thanks to a sizable donor bequest. Our conversations with the donor really brought home the isolation that older LGBT people face right here in the metro area, where we tend to think there is great acceptance and it's easy for all LGBT people to be "out" and enjoy their life. The reality is that our rights and acceptance are quite fragileif we need medical care, if we access the legal system, if we're unemployed, if we're old. We can't count on institutions when we really need them.
I think PFund's attention to marginalized populations within the LGBT community is our greatest success over the last 23 years: seniors, people of color, bisexuals, transgender people. When we invest at the intersections of sexual orientation, gender, class, race, age and morewe have great impact and all our communities benefit. It's the "all boats rise" idea.
Funders for LGBTQ Issues recently completed a year-long research study that examined LGBTQ grantmaking in Minnesota and found that only three percent of grants and one percent of dollars went to LGBTQ people of color organizations and programs. Further, all four grants were awarded by PFund Foundation. What explains this level of support for LGBTQ communities of color?
There are few LGBT stand-alone organizations of color in existence in our region. The geographic spread of the population overall, and something like 90 percent of Minnesota is white, make for a small pool of organizations. LGBT people of color are obviously doing important work but some of their organizations are not formal or structured, which may suppress their ability to seek funding or to be funded by traditional sources.
The bigger question is perhaps: what pressures and barriers have kept LGBT people of color programs and non-profits from existing and thriving? Several people of color organizations have come and gone over the years. There is a question about sustainability and leadership succession. I don't think we're supporting leaders well with the tools to be successful. In turn, they burn out.
Also, funders without experience funding LGBT work may not see the intersection of their communities of color work. They may see diversity as one-dimensional and not inclusive of "LGBT." When I tell other funders about our work in communities of color they are impressed with the intentionality of funding at the intersections of multiple identities. We have a lot to do to educate funders and individual donors.
In an area where the people of colorpopulation is not large, we find greater opportunity at those intersections. And we're attracting great individual financial support. We're very proud of the trust we have gained in communities of color.
In 2007, PFund Foundation was one of eight community foundations nationwide that received funding from Funders for LGBTQ Issues to better support LGBTQ people of color organizations. Why did PFund Foundation apply for this funding?
Because PFund had done the work in preceding years, we felt ideally suited to take the next step. It was a chance to increase our investment in LGBT communities of color through grantmaking and leadership development. The board felt that PFund was equipped, since it had the trust from the community, as well as a board and staff committed and ready to dedicate resources to the work.
As the Racial Equity Initiative has developed, what specific changes have you seen in the community? How have LGBTQ people of color organizations and individuals been changed?
Many people of color have said they feel counted and have a stronger friend and resource in PFund. There is more activity. (At least one new organization has formed.) Community collaborations have increased between organizations. There is more talk in organizations about moving forward to address disparities and less talk about the past and how white organizations have negatively impacted or suppressed their work. There's more hope and positive energy.
Is there a grantee organization that you believe best embodies the vision of the Racial Equity Initiative?
Shades of Yellow (SOY) is becoming a powerful force in Hmong, LGBT and communities of color. They are more empowered and intentional in their work. PFund grants have helped them to leverage funding from other sources, particularly in the Hmong community.
In the Hmong language there are no words for "gay" or "lesbian." That makes it hard to even start a conversation. The closest word they have means something like "wrong."
I was at a community meeting they held and I sat next to a Hmong elder, a straight man who wasn't exactly comfortable. But he was there, and so were many other Hmong allies, to support this new Hmong organization that supports LGBT Hmong people.
Another straight woman talked about how difficult it is to have a conversation about LGBT issues in a Hmong family and that people had to be careful and cautious. But even if she didn't fully understand or even accept the sexual orientation, she was there to support her Hmong family (and everyone is "family") and this organization. It was about supporting Hmong young people who were part of her community.
And how has your foundation's outlook changed since it began this initiative?
PFund continues to be aware of race, class, gender and other marginalized identities. We are predominantly white. Race and equity conversation is always present at PFund. The board of directors are raising the issue within and beyond PFund. Grant reviewers are talking about the mix of populations served. The development committee is looking at the demographics of donors. The communications committee is looking at stories and images in printed materials and how they include people of color. And our membership team is reviewing the make-up of committees, who attends or doesn't attend PFund events. These issues are all being discussed at the board and community level.
These discussions and this awareness across the institution means that race is not a side topic at PFund. The board and donors embrace this commitment to LGBTQ communities of color.
Finally, what advice would you give to a grant maker who's interested in exploring funding to LGBTQ communities of color?
Start by connecting with leaders and opinion shapers.
Work on establishing trust, not just helping "those" people but building authentic relationships with people of color.
Find out what is going on, who is funding LGBT communities and communities of color and look at the intersection of multiple identities: race, class, gender, orientation, etc.
Look at your organization closely. Is the board ready to do this? What is your history in both communities of color and LGBT communities? Identify champions at donor, staff and board levels. Ask yourself: why are you doing this funding? Who is driving it and are you being true to your mission?
Don't expect to gain trust or relevance to LGBT communities of color simply by being a funder.
Look at organizations best suited to do the work; remember that funding and funding models are in response to community needs and input.
Involve people of color in the decision-making and program design.
Find out what is working in your region and don't presume there are no models in place.
Consider leadership development and skills building as critical components to successful organizations. Know that LGBT people of color leadership pipelines are not well established or supported. Also, consider investing money in LGBT people of color as individuals.
Don't forget about donors. For community foundations, or those raising money to fund programs, this is critical. Progressive donors are very interested in funding at the intersections of race, gender, class and orientation, but they are not given many opportunities to invest at the intersection.
Greg Grinley, Executive Director, PFund Foundation (Minneapolis, MN)
Greg Grinley serves as the Executive Director of the PFund Foundation, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Prior to assuming leadership of PFund in 2006, Grinley worked in fund development at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts for ten years. He also worked for many years in banking and audit. Greg lives in St. Paul, MN with his partner, Ray, and their cat, Georgie.
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