Not just another meeting

Foundations rarely just “meet.” They “convene.” In fact, alongside perennial foundation-world buzzwords like “community” and “partnership,” convening might be the field’s most gratuitously overused word. There’s nothing wrong, of course, with community, partnership, or convening. It’s just that when deployed so relentlessly, the words begin to drain of meaning.

But sometimes “convening” fits the occasion. I write this while flying somewhere over Ohio, heading home after a gathering that does merit the grander moniker. The world’s second largest foundation, the Ford Foundation, brought together 150 or so leaders from LGBT advocacy and foundation worlds. It was an honor to be there.

A new and public commitment

Putting all these people in a room together was itself rare and dynamic enough. But Ford convened this group with more in mind than simply a kind of leadership summit. Ford’s president, Luis Ubiñas, used the forum to announce a new initiative around the rights and well-being of LGBT people, and publicly made a multi-year, multi-million-dollar commitment to that work.

Now Ford is renowned – or infamous, depending on one’s point of view – for funding progressive causes all over the globe. Moreover, Ford has made millions of dollars in grants for LGBT-focused work over the past 15 – 20 years. So what made this so important?

More than just dollars

For starters, putting forward a clear, named initiative – one to stretch over multiple years – makes a very different kind of statement than simply making grants year to year. It puts Ford on record as seeing LGBT rights as central to its overall vision of social change. And Ubiñas didn’t stop with promising to write some big checks. He also pledged that Ford would put its institutional weight to work as well, including by encouraging other major private foundations to fund more LGBT work.

That’s big news. Advocates like the national Funders for LGBTQ Issues and Horizons itself have been working to coax more funding for our community from private foundations for many years. That advocacy has made a demonstrable difference and brought many millions of dollars to LGBT causes.

But there’s really nothing like the Ford Foundation in philanthropy. By most measures, it’s the most influential private foundation anywhere. And while numbering Ford now among our movement’s vocal and committed allies won’t change much overnight – and the vast majority of LGBT nonprofits won’t be suddenly flooded with new foundation grants – it adds a powerful new voice to our advocacy. Even highly effective nonprofits continue to struggle to raise the funds they need to advocate for and take care of our community – and anything that promises to get them the dollars they need is a good thing indeed.