SC Equality hit hard by slumping economy

Group needs $30k before end of year

COLUMBIA — A statewide LGBT advocacy and lobbying group in South Carolina is facing possible closure if it doesn’t meet its budget requirements by the end of the year.

SC Equality sent notice to members by letter during the last week of October. Q-Notes first learned of the letter on Oct. 31.

Dated Oct. 17 and signed by SC Equality Executive Director C. Ray Drew, the letter asked members to help raise $15,000 by the end of November. Not mentioned in the letter is a board of directors fundraising goal of an additional $15,000. The group hopes to have the total $30,000 by the end of November.

“We’ve never ‘cried wolf’ when times were tough,” the letter reads. “But this is a real crisis, and if we fail to raise $15,000 immediately, we are facing the possibility of closing our doors.”

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The economy’s sudden downturn put a cramp on organizational funding, Drew told Q-Notes. “Relaunching an organization is not an easy task. We were just starting to get to a point in August where we were getting our sea legs and the organization was starting to take off. Then the economic crisis hit. There were a lot of pledges withdrawn and people pulling back because of the economy.”

After the economic crisis, Drew said the average size of contributions was cut by almost half. As a result of the diminished income, the organization buckled down and shaved off every extra expense — a message made clear in the letter.

“In this crisis, the Board of Directors and I have reacted quickly and created a business survival plan,” the letter read. “We were already a ‘lean and mean’ organization, but we have delayed our strategies for growth, cut our expenses to the penny, and adjusted our fundraising plans so that we can weather the crisis.”

SC Equality was formed as the South Carolina Equality Coalition to fight the anti-gay marriage amendment on the Palmetto State’s 2006 ballot. Drew said the current financial crisis was not a result of bad debts from that battle. All of those expenses have been paid off, he said.

In November 2007, SC Equality hired Drew as it sought to resurrect itself and forge a new direction after its stinging loss in the polls. His expertise at political strategy and fundraising as former head of the Family Equality Council sealed the deal.

“When I started, I cut every expense in the organization that was possible,” Drew said. “We maintained a small office for a while, but now I run the organization out of my office and we have full use of the Harriet Hancock Community Center. Aside from the basic expenses of printing, postage, phone and others, the budget really comes down to a few thousand dollars a month for the basic administration.”

According to Drew, the organization has a budget of $180,000. As with most other organizations and businesses, salaries are the largest expense. SC Equality has only one employee — the executive director’s position.

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Drew said the organization’s financial troubles is a scene mirrored in non-profits around the nation.
“The vast majority of organizations across the country are dealing with the exact same thing,” he said. “With money going to the Obama campaign and the marriage amendment in California, people are experiencing tougher times because of that.”

Ryan Wilson, president of the SC Pride Movement, told Q-Notes he thinks the organization will pull through. “Most of Ray’s year has been spent on fundraising,” he said. “They’ve been struggling.”

In a written, follow-up, Wilson said, “I and everyone at SC Pride stand behind SC Equality and hope that the community will come through with the needed funds to keep this critical organization alive in our state. If SC Equality does not survive the economic crisis, South Carolina’s LGBT community will suffer a tragic loss. … I encourage anyone from South Carolina that reads Q-Notes, and any friends from outside the state to give a little this holiday season to help ensure SC Equality continues to fight for us.”

Drew said the organization’s membership and directors were rallying to the emergency fundraising call. In the first few days of fundraising, members and directors pulled in almost $10,000 — nearly a third of the group’s goal.

— Contributions to SC Equality can be made online at www.scequality.org or sent via mail to PO Box 544, Columbia, SC, 29202.

SC Equality’s 2008 accomplishments
• Passed a hospital visitation bill that ensured the right of same-sex partners to visit each other in healthcare institutions.
• Helped with the creation of the Irmo High School gay-straight alliance after school officials threatened to close it.
• Passed City of Columbia ordinances that forbid discrimination in public accommodations and housing.

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Posted by Matt Comer

Matt Comer is a staff writer for QNotes. He previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015.