Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer non-profits throughout Charlotte are constantly fundraising, but with COVID-19 these vital organizations are struggling to meet their budgets with canceled events, a plethora of grant opportunities and reduced individual support. Despite a dire situation, leaders are witnessing the power of each other as the community traverses the social and economic impacts of this unique time.
For the Freedom Center for Social Justice, the community’s health and safety was the first priority when considering their fundraising this year. The organization was one of the first in the area to cancel its largest fundraiser. The inaugural Freedom Center Honors Awards Banquet was scheduled for March 19 at the Charlotte Museum of History. “We turned 10 years old in 2019,” says Bishop Tonyia Rawls, the organization’s founder and executive director. “We wanted to do something very special in 2020. Everything was lined up and, of course, COVID hit.”
They had invested heavily in the event with the venue scheduled, honorees named and food and entertainment booked. The Freedom Center is considering a rescheduled event in the fall depending on the state of the virus and the oncoming flu season. “It’s difficult thinking about programming and how you structure your programming in this environment that then makes seeking grants more difficult,” says Rawls. “As a small organization, it has been difficult.”
For other organizations, the new norm is an ongoing grant application process. “We’ve rewritten the development plan twice now since February,” says Rodney Tucker, executive director of Time Out Youth Center. “Everything is just kind of unknown.” The organization also had to cancel its major fundraising gala, originally scheduled for June. According to Tucker, the gala made up $250,000 of their budget and they are realizing that they may have a shortfall of $400,000 in income this year. “That’s almost half the budget,” says Tucker.
Time Out Youth staff has been applying for everything they possibly can, like relief grants through the United Way, American Heart Association, Cardinal Health and Food Lion to name a few. As of April 21, the organization had over $340,000 in pending grant applications and 10 of those were new to the non-profit. The organization is also planning to hold a quarantine version of its popular Mimosa Party at the end of May and has rescheduled its annual Youth Prom for September. “The effort is to reprioritize gala sponsors to the event in the fall and allow gala supporters to purchase a ticket for a youth to attend the prom instead,” says Tucker.
Locally, a COVID-19 Response Fund was launched in March, in partnership between Foundation for the Carolinas and United Way of Central Carolinas. According to a recent press release, the Fund passed the $17 million mark in donations in just over a month. The application process closed on May 1 and many of the organizations qnotes spoke with have applied for support. The Charlotte Gay & Lesbian Fund operating grant also has yet to announce its 2020 recipients but is expected to be a welcomed line of support for area LGBTQ non-profits.
Individual support through donations is paramount to the sustainability of local non-profits. “Some folks who are financially stable or have the resources are doing even more than they typically would because there is an understanding that we need these services for folks,” says Laura Conner-Hughes, MSW, executive director for Transcend Charlotte. “The virus isn’t making any of these things go away. You’re still going to need support for the LGBTQ community. You’re still going to need those social connections and interactions. Folks who are in a place to give back, have been doing so.”
Keeping Staff in Place
Non-profits have also been able to apply for the federal Payroll Protection Program which offers low-interest loans to non-profit organizations to pay their staff and cover operating costs. The loans are eligible for debt forgiveness if they retain their workers or hire back those who have been laid off according to its website. None of the organizations qnotes spoke with had yet to be approved for the program.
“Our goal is to keep the employees that we have,” says Tucker. “Keep doing the services we’re supposed to do.” Time Out Youth put everything on a hiring freeze and reorganized new jobs, redistributing those priorities among current staff.
Chad Turner, president of the Charlotte LGBT Chamber of Commerce, is worried about the smaller organizations in the community. “The organizations that are the lesser-knowns, like Powerhouse Project and Rosedale or Dudley’s Place — those spaces that touch a lot of people with HIV, especially people of color and trans people, those places are not able to do their normal fundraising,” says Turner. “I can imagine they are going to be hit pretty hard.” He also points out that LGBTQ and affirming churches have also seen a decline in giving this year, making it difficult to maintain food banks or clothing closets for the community. “You have to think about the LGBTQ Elders and the arts organizations, especially — Pride Band, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Charlotte, and One Voice Chorus — a lot of their big fundraisers are through the summer,” continues Turner. “Those are groups that are going to feel the brunt.”
Loss of employment throughout the region also affects donations. “One of the biggest effects that all of the non-profits, but particularly the smaller ones, we are seeing is the economic impact,” says Conner-Hughes. “People are being furloughed and laid-off. They don’t have income, or are having to use every resource they have to secure their own housing or their food and safety. They don’t have the extra capacity to give to non-profits.”
A Community Response
Despite struggling through the lack of fundraising, one common theme was mentioned in all the interviews. “Our community is super resilient and very strong and there’s a huge sense of mutual aid and helping other folks,” says Conner-Hughes. “That’s just really something that’s stood out to me throughout this whole process — is watching us take care of us.”
Organizations like Twirl to the World and Hearts Beat as One Foundation have both launched community support funds. The Campaign for Southern Equality launched a COVID-19 Rapid Response Grant. While events are canceled, LGBTQ organizations throughout the Charlotte area have stepped up to provide meaningful programming and support to their constituents.
“It’s a different world I think now. One of the things COVID has done is it forces all to think more broadly about each other,” says Rawls. “We’re not in this alone. I love that I don’t feel alone in it. Our organization doesn’t feel alone. We feel the hands of our board. We feel our funders. We feel our community who has really leaned in and been supportive.”
For a list of non-profit organizations in the Charlotte area and how you can support, see below.
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Support local organizations:
Monetary contributions can be made to the following:
Carolinas Care Partnership
Campaign for Southern Equality
Charlotte LGBT Chamber of Commerce
Become a member at clgbtcc.org.
Charlotte Black Pride
Charlotte Pride Band
The Freedom Center for Social Justice
Gay Men’s Chorus of Charlotte
Metropolitan Community Church Charlotte
One Voice Chorus
Rosedale Health and Wellness/Dudley’s Place
There’s Still Hope
Time Out Youth Center