Racial Equity - Funders for LGBTQ Issues
About the Toolkit
A strategic transformation

For the Paul Rapoport Foundation, a strategic plan shifted both its board make-up and its grantee list. Five years later, it's a role model for LGBTQ people of color grantmaking. Executive Director Jane Schwartz describes this success.

Tell me about the Paul Rapoport Foundation. Who was Paul Rapoport? How did the foundation come about?

Paul Rapoport, an attorney, was a founder of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Services Center in New York City and Gay Men's Health Crisis. He was deeply committed to supporting lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual (LGTB) communities, with a particular focus on efforts to eliminate homophobia and discrimination against gay men, lesbians, transgender persons and bisexuals. Paul made significant charitable contributions during his lifetime and provided for the establishment of the Foundation after his death in 1987 from an AIDS-related illness.

What does the Paul Rapoport Foundation fund? What is its vision for the community?

The Paul Rapoport Foundation envisions a world free of discrimination toward any group or individual. In this context, the Foundation's mission is the achievement of full equality for the LGTB community, in all of its diversity, including men who have sex with men and women who have sex with women and people questioning their sexual identity.

To this end, the Foundation supports programs and organizations working in the areas of social services, healthcare, legal rights and issues, and community empowerment in underserved, marginalized and emerging communities. The Foundation is also interested in developing and strengthening institutions within the LGTB community. Further, it seeks to combat homophobia by supporting public education programs and other endeavors that promote, in a positive way, the identity and well being of the LGTB community. Finally, the Foundation supports a broad range of HIV/AIDS-related activities that focus on the needs of the LGTB community.

This toolkit is exploring how funders can better promote racial equity in this country. As you think about the issues described by your grantees, how have you seen racial, economic and gender inequities affect LGBTQ communities?

In our experience and observation, people of color face racial and economic inequities daily. It appears that these two elements are almost inextricably entwined in our society. We have found that by focusing on underserved communities, economic justice has become a basic element of all of our grantmaking. When, in addition, a person of color is also LGBTQ, the possibilities for discrimination become even greater.

You ask about racial, economic and gender inequities and I think about the story one grantee told of an elderly client, a retired African-American lesbian living on a very limited income. This senior finally got up the nerve to go to the only senior center near her home to try to take advantage of the lunch program. Not another soul there, however, neither client nor staff, was a person of color. She felt so uncomfortable just trying to eat in this setting that she never even broached her more dire service need: the bereavement group she had heard they offered. She had just lost her partner of over 28 years to breast cancer but how could she talk about this to a support group of heterosexual strangers who couldn't even make her comfortable eating lunch with them?

Or the young black MSM who was working a minimum wage job but couldn't make enough to find an affordable apartment? He'd been living at a homeless youth shelter but his 60 days were nearly up and in desperation he said to his case manager, "I see all the HIV-positive kids here getting into housing so maybe I need to stop trying so hard to stay HIV-negative and get myself an HIV diagnosis, too. Then, maybe I can get an apartment."

Or the gay Asian youth who tried to commit suicide because he'd been persecuted about his appearance for so long.? The hospital released him the very next day, saying it couldn't hold him for observation because he had no medical insurance.

And then there was the transgender Latina who was harassed by police every day and eventually was even arrested and charged with solicitation just because she was walking her dog in her own neighborhood. These are four examples but there isn't a grantee we fund who doesn't have similar, horrible stories to tell.

In 2005, the foundation made a deliberate decision to focus on better funding underserved populations in the city, which included LGBTQ communities of color. What led the foundation's leadership to this decision?

In 2004, the board embarked on the foundation's third strategic planning process in its, then, 15-year history. One of the reasons we undertook this planning process was that we wanted to evaluate our impact to date. We are a small foundation and were giving as many as 65 small –($5,000 to $10,000) grants each year. But it became clear from our stakeholder evaluations that grants of these sizes were not really helping move the community's crucial organizations to the next level. Our grantees needed larger grants and more general operating support, but for us to be able to increase our grant size we had to reduce the overall number of our grants.

We asked our community stakeholders where the greatest needs lay and their unequivocal response was among communities of color and the transgender community. It then became a matter of weighing the board's desire to see the foundation have a meaningful impact on the New York LGTB community against continuing to award the safe, token grants to the better established, primarily national, organizations. Both our Board President at the time, Laurie Goldberger, and I felt the better choice was to shift the foundation's focus to underserved, marginalized and emerging communities and we were able to shepherd this sea change through, with the invaluable support of several other equally committed board members.

We understand that the diversity of the board has also changed over the years and is now primarily people of color (including its chair). Also, your foundation's board holds one of the only transgender board members among LGBTQ private foundations in this country. How did this transformation take place?

There were several important factors at work here: first and perhaps foremost there was the will on the part of our past board presidents, Jed Mattes, Laurie Goldberger and our immediate past president, Andrew D. Lane, to accomplishing this shift. Continual staff pressure was also a factor; along with the implementation of board term limits, which meant that board seats opened up at specific intervals. Finally, I feel this change was also organic, a natural process of a community that is a living, growing organism. Let me explain.

When Paul died in 1987 our community was known as "the gay community" but to Paul Rapoport "gay" meant more than male and white. This is clear from the fact that he appointed a lesbian to be on the founding board of directors. Even so, I can still recall heated, early board debates about whether or not it was necessary to specifically identify lesbians as being among the population the foundation was going to serve. Our lesbian board member insisted that it was necessary to insure that lesbian-focused agencies would feel genuinely welcome to apply. In the end, our initial guidelines reflected this inclusiveness in its language.

The same has been true regarding our support for communities of color. Yes, in the 1980s the term "gay" was most frequently equated with white men, and yes, as Executive Director I had to spend much time explaining to board members why proposals I was bringing to them used the terms "MSM" and "WSW" and not "gay" or "lesbian," but I felt strongly that Paul Rapoport would have been thrilled to see how diverse populations were fighting to make their voices heard and to become part of "his" community and that he would have embraced them. As time went on, and I kept bringing more and more of these proposals, more and more of our board came to agree with me.

So, by 1996, due to the range of proposals the foundation was receiving from the burgeoning LGTB community in New York, the board acknowledged that we needed to add new board members, with diverse experience who could, as the board minutes record: "enrich the quality of proposal review" and our first formal Nominating Committee was established in January 1997. By 1998 one quarter of the board's seats were held by people of color and as our institution of term limits opened up seats on the board, that number steadily increased. By 2004, one-third of the board was comprised of people of color; currently, half of our board are people of color, including our Board President, Kimberleigh Smith and Vice President, Soraya Elcock.

In 2000, by unanimous decision, the board decided to amend our mission statement, guidelines, etc., to make clear that the foundation was specifically inclusive of the transgender and bisexual communities. We had a transgender intern on staff at the time and she helped put a face to what otherwise might have been an abstract issue, but just as when in 1988 board members understood the need to include the word "lesbian" in our guidelines, now they saw how important it was to continually update the language in our guidelines—so that it more clearly reflected the growth of the community. In 2006 when the board determined it needed to add a lawyer to its mix, we began specific outreach to identify a suitable nominee and were lucky enough to identify a transgender attorney, Joann Prinzivalli, who joined the board that year. She is currently Board Secretary.

Earlier this year, Funders for LGBTQ Issues ranked the Paul Rapoport Foundation number one among grantmakers providing funding to LGBTQ communities of color (by percentage of LGBTQ dollars reaching communities of color). According to our research, three out of every four dollars that your foundation awards go to efforts explicitly addressing LGBTQ communities of color. What does this ranking mean for your foundation—and for the philanthropic sector?

I have to say that while this ranking is a terrific validation for the Paul Rapoport Foundation and a strong signal of how successful our just completed five-year strategic plan has been (as of FYE June 2009, 90 percent of our funding was specifically targeted to communities of color), it is also shocking to me that a foundation of our small size is the one that is leading the way on this issue.

I am all the more concerned because the foundation has just announced that we will be spending out our assets by June 2014 and closing our doors entirely in 2015. By spending out at this juncture the foundation continues to seek to maximize its impact, once again by dramatically increasing its funding levels in the near-term, but there is concern among our grantees and among my board members as well that no one else will be willing to step up and fill our current niche. I sincerely hope that other funders will be motivated by our example and by the work Funders for LGBTQ Issues has been doing to highlight the need in these areas and that the broader philanthropic community will soon genuinely embrace racial, economic and gender equity in its funding.

Finally, what advice would you give to a grantmaker who's interested in exploring funding to LGBTQ communities of color?

First, I believe you need to make quite clear in your guidelines and in all your published materials that you are welcoming of proposals from LGBTQ communities of color.

Then I recommend you put aside your notions that you know best what these communities need and instead be open to funding organizations for what they tell you they require. It is most probably that they know better how to get services to or organize their constituents than you do.

And be prepared to provide technical support. Many organizations in communities of color are currently in a start-up phase: they may not know how to prepare a formal agency budget and they may not have a board whose sole purpose is to fundraise for the organization. Be prepared to work with organizations in these different stages of growth, have realistic goals for your grants (and encourage your grantees to be realistic, too, about what they can accomplish in a start-up situation).

And most especially, don't walk away if something doesn't work out. Keep trying; you will find it is more than worth it.

Jane Schwartz, Executive Director, Paul Rapoport Foundation (New York, NY)

Jane D. Schwartz has been the Executive Director of the New York City-based Paul Rapoport Foundation since its inception in 1987. She also served as one of the original members of the Working Group on Funding LGBTQ Issues (now Funders for LGBTQ Issues).

Paul Rapoport Foundation