by Jeff Taylor, qnotes staff
with research and reporting assistance by Chris Tittel, qnotes contributor
Charlotte Pride has grown year after year at a remarkable rate, quickly becoming one of the city’s largest festivals. A study commissioned by the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority (CRVA) found that the 2014 festival and parade added over $7.75 million in total economic impact from out-of-town visitors, including just shy of $2.5 million in labor income.
According to Charlotte Pride’s annual report for 2014, last year’s festival earned $287,169 in program services and $99,024 in contributions, grants and “other income” for a total of $386,193 in overall revenue.
This year’s Pride was bigger still, drawing an estimated 120,000 attendees.
Charlotte Pride switches to governing board structure
This growth has resulted in Charlotte Pride transitioning from an operating board to a governing board structure.
“Charlotte Pride has been pleased with our phenomenal growth over the very short span of just three years,” Grimstad told qnotes by email. “We are committed to a forward path that will see our transition from an operating board to a governing board and other structural changes.”
Grimstad said the transition, necessary for the sustained growth of the organization, has been in discussion for several years in board development meetings and retreats.
“This is a natural evolution for a growing non-profit organization,” he said. “This decision is informed by best practice standards of organizations of our type, size and growth stage. This kind of move is necessary for future growth, including fundraising, donor relations, the potential hiring of staff and volunteer engagement. Our membership in InterPride has allowed us to have conversations with other Pride organizations similar to our size who have gone through similar transitions. These conversations are helping to inform our plans. Many organizations transition from founding boards and operating boards to governing board structures.”
“Charlotte Pride has been managed by an all-volunteer operating board and committees overseeing the day-to-day operations of the organization. These volunteers have put in countless hours and dedication to make Charlotte Pride the successful organization it is today. Our transition builds on these strengths. We know that our future success will be guaranteed by the increased efficiency and capacity of a governing board of directors and the creation of new volunteer engagement opportunities for community members,” said co-director Craig Hopkins on a post published on Charlotte Pride Scribe, the official blog of Charlotte Pride, found at charlottepride.org.
“Charlotte Pride’s transitional board includes co-directors Grimstad and Craig Hopkins, as well as board members Gwen Pearson, Matt Comer, Jeff Sampson and Marc Alexander. These board members will work with the organization’s advisors and consultants in transitioning to the governing board, guided by best practice standards and strategies.” It goes on to say, “Charlotte Pride will be engaging community members in several outreach efforts.”
Board members exiting Pride
It is not uncommon for a board to lose members over time, and Charlotte Pride has certainly not been immune from this phenomenon in recent months, with some suggesting that the departures are coming at an unusually quick pace.
“[Resignations are not] uncommon at the end of our program year,” Grimstad added. “The reasons given were largely personal and related to other commitments or a desire to take a break after a number of years of working on the festival.”
A follow-up email to Grimstad asking how many board members have left over the past year was not returned.
On Nov. 17, Former Entertainment Committee Chair Jonathan Hill posted the following status to his personal Facebook page:
“I have decided to break my silence on Charlotte Pride. Charlotte Pride announced today that they are ‘transitioning’ to a governing board. What they failed to tell you is that 9 [board members] resigned this year including myself. The directors talk about being transparent and we demanded it of the LGBT Community Center [of Charlotte]. I think Charlotte Pride needs to look at their internal issues before they end up like the LGBT Community Center.”
Hill told qnotes he resigned in June.
Hill says problems he was experiencing occurred after throwing his support to Grimstad’s re-election campaign opponent Paul Kelly. When the vote was split, advisors were brought in, according to Hill, who says they [the advisors] recommended Grimstad remain as co-director. “We implemented a director-elect position in order to assist in training for new leaders stepping up when one of our two co-directors roll out of their leadership role,” Grimstad said.
Kelly assumed that new position.
Hill further claims that the advisors were “hand-picked” by Grimstand and Hopkins.
While it was Hill who originally recruited Grimstad onto the board when he was serving as co-chair, he says he became concerned about Grimstad’s management style and felt Kelly might be a better option. Hill claims that Grimstad seemed to take this personally and that from that point forward it was difficult to impossible to communicate with him.
Hill also claims Grimstad and Hopkins told the board he was not communicating properly with the co-directors and therefore wasn’t doing his job, which he says is not accurate.
Charlotte Pride largely disagrees with this assessment. They did, however, confirm the responsibility of selection the advisors.
“Like many other positions, advisors are appointed by the co-directors,” said Media & Marketing Chair Matt Comer in an email to qnotes, who added that they have not been responsible in helping to choose leadership. “Any board member has the ability to identify, suggest and recruit individuals for the advisory board. In the past, many individual advisors have come at the recommendation of other members of the advisory board.”
The three advisors, which Comer identifies as “non-profit professionals and consultants [with] a wealth of knowledge on organizational best practices and governance” currently assisting the board are Rosalyn Allison-Jacobs, Steve Bentley and Tracy Russ.
“The advisors were asked to assist in our annual event recap on Aug. 27, 2014 and to help us set goals and next steps for the future,” Comer continued. “At a later meeting on Oct. 1, 2014, Richard Grimstad was re-elected by the board to a term as co-director. As with Grimstad’s election in 2014, most of our leadership selections have been made with the overwhelming majority or unanimous support of the board. Under our continued leadership, Charlotte Pride has very successfully navigated several years of unprecedented growth while also working to ensure and increase long-term sustainability, our fiduciary responsibility to stakeholders and our continued commitment to transparency and community outreach, programs and projects. We are confident in the abilities of our co-directors and each member of our board.”
In addition to Hill’s departure, eight others left the board, including Kelly.
Comer notes that Kelly “fulfilled his term as director-elect and chose not to continue with the organization.”
Thom Hall replaced Hill and is also no longer with Pride. Gary Carpenter-Kelly replaced Hall. He, too, has since left his position.
Other board members known to have left Pride, or chosen not to return, over the past year include: Former Treasurer Tara Moser, Former Community Development Chair Marshall Varner, Former Operations Chair Patrick Paige and Former Media/Marketing Chair Kimberly Brent. That brings the total to nine, as Hill claimed in his Facebook post.
Comer did not directly answer when asked how many board members have left the board over the past year, but stressed that most of those who left did so only at the end of their term.
“Only three board members resigned from their positions before the completion of their Sept. 30 terms,” Comer noted. “The majority of these resignations were personal and related to other commitments or a desire to take a break after a number of years of working on the festival. As should be expected, changes in leadership are common when organizations embark on strategic transitions in governing structures.”
An anonymous individual claiming to have worked “for four years in committees and on the board” sent an email to qnotes, which said in part, “The disgust among board members and committee members is rampant.” The email said they believed the problem was “mostly due” to Grimstad’s management style.
Paige mirrored this sentiment, saying, “My perspective is that there has been a lot of personality conflict. Especially with the directors.”
“I have found with all volunteer, non-profit organizations, including Pride, that there is always going to be turn over on the board and committees for many reasons. People get burned out, individuals realize they don’t have the time, individuals have issues with how particular procedures are implemented, etc., etc.,” said Former Co-Director and Parade Chair Dave Webb in an email.
Webb left in September of this year to focus on his teaching career, noting that the plan to leave the board had been in the works for a while.
“Pride’s board has been no exception,” Webb continued. “Over the last five years there has been raised voice, feet stomping, walking out of a meeting and all sorts of drama, and I’ve been part of that on occasion. It is the nature of the beast and it is also a sign of a board that is engaged and passionate. Does everyone agree? No. Are there times individuals decide they can’t get along with another individual or rule? Yes. That is the challenge with any organization and especially this one that has grown its attendance from 15,000 to over 125,000 a year.”
While the bylaws as they currently stand suggest that both Grimstad and Hopkins should be rolling off as directors sooner than later, this may no longer be the case before long due to the change to a governing board structure.
“The board has resolved to transition to a governing board; our current board members will assist in this process. Part of this process will likely include bylaws revisions to better reflect the desired governing structure for the organization. The forthcoming governing board will make final decisions on board leadership in the future,” said Comer.
[Editorial Note: Matt Comer, Charlotte Pride Media & Marketing chair, served as editor of this newspaper for almost eight years and is no longer on staff at qnotes.]