In 1999, the National Lesbian and Gay Community Funding Partnership approached LGBT communities in several cities, including Tucson, with a $100,000 challenge grant to establish a fund for community projects. That's how the LGBTS Alliance Fund started, and Randy Soderstrom, chair of its advisory board, says the alliance has now given nearly $400,000 in grants. The fund is holding a benefit show with comedian Kate Clinton on Sunday, Nov. 8, and an online auction for a full week in a San Diego penthouse condo (www.auctions.alliancefund.org.). For more information, visit www.alliancefund.org.
When you first started, what organizations did you want to focus on?
We wanted to be there for organizations that didn't have a lot of funding sources and opportunities. There were three LGBT organizations that were already established: TIHAN (Tucson Interfaith HIV/AIDS Network), SAAF (Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation) and Wingspan. We recognized that TIHAN and SAAF already received foundation support and government support, but we knew Wingspan could use additional funding. Early on, the Alliance Fund had a lot to do with funding the youth, anti-violence and early transgender programs at Wingspan. We've given close to $75,000 to those projects.
You showed a commitment to Wingspan from the very beginning, didn't you?
One of our initial grants was to help Wingspan hire their first executive director, Kent Burbank, with a $20,000 grant. It certainly wasn't his entire salary, but it helped bring him in, and we're really proud of that.
What does the Alliance Fund provide grants for?
Right now, we have five interest areas where the money goes: parent-child issues, human services, political advocacy and involvement, education and the arts, and LGBT community infrastructure.
How does your application process work?
In late summer, we send out more than 350 notices to organizations about our process. At the end of September, the applications are due. Then in October, the review process starts with interviews and site visits; we look at budgets, and then make a final decision based on those findings to better understand what ultimate impact the projects have on the community.
How did the process go this year?
We had only 13 applications that we're just starting to review. We thought it would be a record year due to the economy. But we think the cuts in staffing and even volunteers meant there was less time to devote to grant-writing. But every year, we certainly receive requests for more funding than we have available. Last year, we had a request for more than $80,000 from 19 organizations. This year, we had $60,000 in requests from the 13 organizations.
Besides the economy, what other challenges face the Alliance Fund?
We've struggled with getting our name out there in the community, and so very often, people still comment, "What is the Alliance Fund? I've never heard of the Alliance Fund." We are a totally volunteer board. We have one part-time paid staff position, our project coordinator, so most of the dollars we raise go straight to funding our grants.
When you look back at the organization's start, what are you most proud of?
A lot of thought goes into what makes the biggest impact in the community. We monitor the projects we fund through six-month interviews and progress reports, and year-end written reports. If you take a look at the list, we've funded 39 organizations with 83 projects. When I look at those projects, I think about a $4,000 grant to Open Inn, a homeless-youth program. That grant helped them leverage a $500,000 federal grant. That's the kind of strategic giving that we're proud to participate in.
Where does the S come in—the straight in LGBTS?
We look at the community as a whole, and not strictly LGBT community projects. Consequently, we've funded programs with the YWCA, Habitat for Humanity and the Bisbee Coalition for the Homeless. We build a bridge from our smaller LGBT community to the greater community as a whole. I believe that gives us more viability and credibility to our community and our organization.