Funders for Lesbian and Gay Issues

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A Parisian’s take on Philanthropy’s Future

Author: Matty Hart

I am a love exile. I fell in love with a gay French man and everything in my life changed. There was no way to stay in Philadelphia with DOMA firmly in place. The only way we could stay together was if one of us had a complete and radical change to both our professional and public life. With years of immigration lawyers and wait-n-see not an option, our family’s solution was for me to immigrate to France to maintain our status. In doing so, we came face to face with a byzantine system of relocation. To survive, we had to overcome our invisibility in the system, the irregularities of immigration and work permits, false starts, long lines and a costly bureaucracy. In reality, neither country provided us as a couple with a real opportunity at moving forward without a significant restart. But we knew that with France’s P.A.C.S. (national civil union) and the potential for national gay marriage and adoption, which recently passed, France was a safer bet.

As such, I moved to Paris in August of 2012 and I began to engage in the French and EU Philanthropic sector. Given that I am a newcomer to European philanthropy, I am by no means an expert. But what I’ve taken away in my sort time here is that while there is a robust philanthropic infrastructure in Europe there is less of a philanthropic culture. In the United States, despite their being sub-fields like corporate or family philanthropy, by and large the field shares a set of functions, values and practices that define and differentiate our work from that of other philanthropic sectors globally. In the European Union, by contrast, there are so many different nation-states—each with their own laws and customs—it makes having a shared philanthropic culture far more problematic. For example, a human rights funder in France will often have far more in common with a funder working on health in France than they might with a funder working on human rights in the Netherlands. With our goal to address big issues that affect the lives of LGBT people internationally, bridging this divide becomes critical.

We as funders need to work with our EU peers to build a global approach. We can’t simply continue to meet our peer funders where they are. We need a new, shared, structure that allows us to combine our resources, promising practices and competencies to combat global crises. This effort cannot be solely U.S.-driven.

In Europe and elsewhere, I have seen something like eyeball rolling and chuckling when people talk about U.S. “global” projects. If something comes from New York or San Francisco and calls itself global it is very different than if it comes from Capetown, Copenhagen or Rio and calls itself international. Our philanthropy is going to need to adapt and become an authentic international enterprise. The U.S. and the rest of the world don’t share the same approaches. Still, building alignment may be closer than we believe; and we have a unique opportunity now to build those bridges.

Philanthropy is growing worldwide, just as it is growing in France. Surprising as it may be to some, fiscal rules are more favorable to philanthropy in France than in many countries. In France, 66% of an individual donor’s gift to a foundation or an endowment fund is deductible from annual income tax, up to a limit of 20% of total taxable income in a given year; 60% of a corporate donor’s gift to a foundation is deductible from its corporation tax, to a limit of 5% of turnover before tax. Foundations pay neither Value Added Tax, nor corporation tax. This is a significant advantage for the growth of the sector. Currently, about 70% of French foundations make cash grants or awards. Grantmakers happen to be mostly Corporate Foundations and Sheltered Foundations, along with a few large Public Interest Foundations. But grant-giving foundations in general have smaller assets, and spend much less money than operational ones: their assets constitute 29% of the country’s total foundations assets, compared to 71% for operational ones; their expenditures account for 12% of total foundations, versus 88% for operational ones.

Given this growth, the value of the dollar and the value of the U.S. philanthropic dollar will be right-sized in the coming 20 years. Now is the time for the U.S. to build a path toward relevance. By necessity, our path will be shared and built in close collaboration with international partners. As a community of funders we may be close to moving many more millions of dollars in the service of addressing the structural inequities that LGBT people live in. To do this, we must make ourselves available to new models and not be wedded to our U.S. practice and place.

It should come as no surprise that colleagues and allies to the LGBTQ community can be found on both sides of the Atlantic. I have had the pleasure to meet quite a few senior foundation executives, private donors and corporate managers that see LGBTI integration, acceptance and participation in society as a priority. Publicly and in materials it is apparent that in the EU, “SOGI” (sexual orientation and gender identity) and “LGBTI” are frames used very judiciously and with great care to context and to the lived experiences of queers. For funders in the EU and in the U.S., immigration status, asylum and detention status, social solidarity and participation in civic life are indicators that are considered in an approach to the work of improving the lives of LGBT people. Both EU funders and U.S. funders seem to share a growing understanding of the benefits of a variety of interventions and partnerships that may be leveraged to advance our rights and to improve the lived experiences of LGBTI communities.

As much as there are differences, both communities of funders share a certain set of values and urgency. Earlier this spring, I had the pleasure to participate in the Ariadne Annual Policy Briefing. This is the annual gathering of EU Human Rights funders and donors. The program was rich and complex with a superb set of panels. Formal affinity groups exist in the EU for foundations working to advance LGBTI lives and human rights, but there is nothing as public, established or well run as Funders for LGBTQ Issues for LGBT issues specifically. Still, there is interest and indications that funding for LGBTI issues is growing.

As the LGBT rights movement and funding for LGBT issues goes global, we as American funders can’t be the proverbial cowboy. We risk alienation and potential damage to the people and communities we care for. Moreover, when it comes to the work of coordinating a shared language, a shared practice, and shared platform, we must move beyond inviting people to New York. We need to meet people around the globe in Europe and elsewhere. Formal and informal collaboration amongst some funders has real history and promise. Moreover, it has the early signs of intentional growth. It is our responsibility to design shared ways and places to sort out these semantics and organize the meaningful mechanisms and systems with our potential partners. We must be unafraid of those unlikely but natural partnerships that will lead to a cascade of global change. With the work of Global Philanthropy Project and the recent merger of Funders Concerned about AIDS and the European HIV/AIDS Funders Group there exists the basis of an early infrastructure to grow and leverage.

In my short time in Paris, I’ve seen an incredible depth of strategy, integrity of mission and enthusiastic embrace of multi issues funding all in the name of advancing the lived experience of LGBT people here in Europe and internationally. My own immigration has certainly had its share of isolation, legal and professional complexities. Life in France is indeed sweet, and I am eager to help build bridges between EU and U.S. foundations so we can better coordinate and collaborate on the most pressing issues facing LGBT communities worldwide. Location matters and I am exploring how my new home can be an advantage to our global LGBTQ community by bridging and convening these two exceptional communities of practice.

Matthew “Matty” Hart is the founder and principle of the Paris-based Lafayette Practice. Matty is also the chair of the board of directors of the Calamus Fund and an incoming member of the board of directors of Funders for LGBTQ Issues. He can be reached at mhart@thelafayettepractice.com

Category(s): Philanthropic Sector