Too Many LGBT Nonprofits?

It’s both sad – and a sure sign of the times. For years, Tenderloin Health took care of thousands of the Bay Area’s most marginalized and needy people with HIV. But today, the one-time multi-million dollar agency is effectively no more, its programs and clients handed off to other providers.

There are, of course, always issues particular to any organization that closes its doors, but the demise of another large nonprofit spotlights another question: are there simply too many (LGBT) nonprofits? Shouldn’t more nonprofits simply merge?

To merge . . .

Well, yes and no. Merger proponents say that the community simply can’t support so many groups, and it’s a waste of scarce resources to try. Why have two executive directors or finance directors when a merged organization could have just one? And it’s hard to argue in today’s cash-strapped environment that nothing needs to change.

In a number of instances, thoughtful merger or consolidation makes great sense. It may even be the only viable option. In fact, one organization taking on former Tenderloin Health clients is the Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center, which was itself the product of an ultimately successful merger between two API HIV groups nearly 15 years ago. Learn more by visiting www.apiwellness.org

. . . or not to merge

But others say “not so fast.”  Among our community’s glories is precisely the magnificent diversity of its people and the organizations we’ve created.

They’re right, too. Over the years, people have started nonprofits in different communities – like lesbian, trans, families, communities of color – and/or around different issues – like advocacy, mental health programs, youth, the arts – because they saw a need or an opportunity.

And mergers can be tricky. They don’t always save money, or at least not for years. Moreover, organizations tend to have distinctive cultures, reflecting not just their “corporate” culture, but also the communities out of which they came in the first place. So it’s not a surprise to find some train-wrecks in merger land – in both the corporate and nonprofit sectors.

The Intentional Change Fund: One Means of Help

Yet sometimes merger – or something like it – does save money and, even more fundamentally, can create a single entity that’s better able to do what’s it’s there for in the first place: serve and advocate for us.

Horizons Foundation just made a new set of grants to help several organizations wrestle with issues around merger or other structural change. This kind of change doesn’t come for free. Mergers cost money. Money for help in analyzing options, for charting financial ramifications, for planning transitions.

While for obvious reasons we’re not publicizing what groups got the grants – these kinds of discussions can be sensitive – we’re hopeful they’ll help organizations reach good decisions. And I’m confident that, at a later date, I’ll be able to share a success story with you. Learn more by visiting http://www.horizonsfoundation.org/page/news/icf.

I wrote more extensively about mergers and the pressures on nonprofits in a two-part op-ed for the Bay Area Reporter last year. If you want to check it out:

http://www.ebar.com/openforum/opforum.php?sec=guest_op&id=319

http://www.ebar.com/openforum/opforum.php?sec=guest_op&id=320

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About Horizons Foundation

Horizons Foundation fuels the LGBT movement by increasing support for diverse San Francisco Bay Area nonprofits that help thousands of people each day. Our work strengthens organizations and their leaders, mobilizes donors and funders to inspire giving, and actively secures our LGBT community's future for generations to come.