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The Pride Foundation’s Journey–From Advocacy to a New Level of Co-Creation

Pride Foundation is the largest LGBTQ community foundation in North America and a Northwest leader in the pursuit of equality for the LGBTQ community.

In November of 2012, Washington state voted to legalize same-sex marriage through a ballot referendum. One year prior, after thoughtful deliberation by the board on whether and how Pride Foundation should engage in advocacy, the community foundation took action and played many roles to support a victory for marriage equality at the ballot box. At an important moment in time, they stepped out and led a statewide public education campaign—mobilizing donors to make contributions; engaging donors as messengers; helping volunteers bring friends, family and colleagues together; and serving as a resource to appropriately connect individuals to the political work and/or the education campaign.

According to Pride Foundation CEO Kris Hermanns, the process stretched Pride Foundation in new ways. “In its totality, the effort was bigger and broader than anything we’d ever done and we needed to scale quickly… Advocacy in a time sensitive, time limited situation is a good proving ground for thinking about how you adapt your work.  The experience required us to pivot, to think about how to mobilize and shift resources quickly.  And along the way we had to work closely with all of our constituents to determine what work was most important, and what the different roles were going to be.” Hermanns observes that the experience underscored two important lessons.

  1. Take a Disciplined Approach to Pursuing Opportunities. First, the foundation now knows what questions it needs to answer when a new opportunity comes up:  ‘How is this in alignment with our mission, vision, values, priorities?’  ‘Who are all the other players – and what unique value or role could we play?’ and ‘Does this allow us to advance our mission of inspiring giving and advancing equality for LGBTQ people?’ The foundation is conscious that in response to these questions, it will choose different roles in different circumstances and be ready to shift resources.  For example, in the early campaign for a vote on marriage equality in Oregon a well-established organization was best positioned to lead the public education campaign, while Pride Foundation focused on engaging their Oregon donors and connecting them with resources and opportunities to get involved.   And when the marriage question was answered through the judicial process rather than a vote, Pride Foundation shifted resources back toward other areas of the movement toward LGBTQ equality.  
  2. Co-Create with Donors. Second, Hermanns says the organization has a new level of confidence about deepening partnerships with donors on high priority goals, even when the path forward is not entirely clear. She observes, “The unpredictability of policy work has helped us with a different mentality—not knowing everything but feeling confident about the importance of pursuing new ideas and strategies, bringing donors in early to think through pieces of an approach, and promising a level of transparency and communication that donors may not have experienced in the past [with efforts that are more straightforward].”  

Most recently, Pride Foundation has launched a Homeless LGBTQ Youth Initiative, with initial support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, focused on the estimated 20-40% of homeless youth that identify as LGBTQ.  In the words of Pride Foundation, “too many queer youth find themselves with nowhere to turn due to lack of resources and support.” According to the US Interagency Council on Homelessness, homeless LGBTQ youth are more prone to suicide and depression, and more likely to experience abuse or engage in risky social behaviors.  And according to a study done by the Child Welfare Information Gateway, up to 56% of LGBTQ youth in the foster care system spent time homeless because they felt safer on the streets than they did at their homes.  Effective service providers need to understand the unique needs of LGBTQ youth and offer a safe space—sheltering and also protecting them from attacks on identity as well as other forms of abuse. 

In pursuing a strategy to address this complex problem, Pride Foundation is taking new steps to engage and co-create with donors. Many community philanthropists would be shy about inviting donors in to the exploratory phase of a new effort, but early on Pride Foundation has found local and national donors interested in partnering to expand the work across the region. According to Hermanns, ‘We have an even clearer recognition that donors are looking for things that are urgent, tangible, and where their funds will have the greatest impact.”   According to Hermanns, they are confident that donors engaged as close partners understand that the initial intentions will be pursued but that the strategy will adapt to accommodate a changing reality.  In short, Pride Foundation is looking for partners that want to go deeper.  “We’ve been clear that we may need to adjust plans to find the right path.  We want to engage with donors who want to know when things aren’t working, and what we’re struggling with, not just the glossy stuff.  We’re taking this approach in connecting donors to the efforts to support LGBTQ homeless youth as well as our work on the school-to-prison pipeline, healthcare access, and workplace discrimination.” 

Kris Hermanns is executive director of Pride Foundation. She has served as a board member of Funders for LGBTQ Issues, the deputy director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and a program officer at The Rhode Island Foundation.

Rebecca W. Graves

Former Managing Director, FSG