In October, Our Fund Foundation presented $355,000 in Health and Wellness Fund grants to South Florida nonprofits serving the local queer community.
That money couldn’t come soon enough for Lambda Living, the LGBTQ senior program of Jewish Community Services of South Florida.
“In this recent [Our Fund] grant cycle, we were awarded $30,000 to continue the work with these LGBT seniors,” said Cindy Brown, Lambda Living’s program manager. “They’re located all over Miami-Dade County. Not everyone lives on South Beach.”
Brown, a longtime activist who directed the first Miami Beach Pride festival in 2009, said “Our Fund has been a tremendous supporter of Lambda Living and Jewish Community Services, especially through the pandemic.”
“They were there at the beginning of COVID, reaching out to us to find out what we needed and throughout the pandemic, making sure that LGBT seniors had the programs they needed, had necessary food — we bought a lot of Publix gift cards to distribute to these seniors — so not only could they buy food, but also things that food stamps do not buy,” Brown said. “That meant that they could buy PPE, buy Clorox wipes at the store, they could buy soap and toothpaste.”
Previously, Lambda Living relied on grants from the Miami Foundation’s LGBTQ Community Fund. In 2017, for example, the fund gave $10,000 to Lambda Living. This year, according to Brown, came a change that disqualified Lambda Living from receiving Miami Foundation LGBTQ grant money — which is wholly dependent upon profits from the National LGBTQ Task Force’s annual Miami Beach fundraising Gala and Winter Party Festival.
“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 and 2021 National LGBTQ Task Force events in Miami were canceled or abbreviated. As a result, the LGBTQ Community Fund was not able to host an open-call grant process either year,” reads a statement on the Miami Foundation website. “Instead, the committee reviewed all of the Fund’s grant partners since 2005 and exercised its responsibility to invest the limited remaining resources according to the Fund’s priorities and current community needs. Small grants were made to a handful of high-impact organizations with LGBTQ-specific missions, particularly supporting the most underserved, to help sustain and rebuild during this challenging time for our community.”
Brown translates: “The Miami Foundation’s LGBTQ Community Fund no longer supports organizations that are not LGBTQ-mission driven. The mission of Jewish Community Services is not an LGBT mission. Therefore, the Lambda Living program does not get funded.”
As a result, she said, “Without the funds from Our Fund, we wouldn’t be able to provide the services to these folks in Miami-Dade County.”
Wilton Manors-based Our Fund, which already grants a quarter-million dollars a year to Miami-Dade LGBTQ non-profits, is now moving forward with plans to give even more money to Miami-area agencies — and to raise more money from Miami philanthropists.
“We interviewed about 20 LGBT-supporting philanthropists in Miami over the summer, and really just learned from them what they knew about Our Fund and what it would take to engage them with Our Fund,” said David Jobin, the foundation’s CEO and president. “What we heard resoundingly from everyone is that there is a need for Our Fund in Miami, but I think there was a misunderstanding that we're a Broward-specific organization. I don't think anyone realized, though, the investment we've been making in Miami LGBT agencies in the last three years.”
Attorney Coleman Prewitt of Fort Lauderdale, Our Fund’s former board chair, speaks to several dozen Miami-area philanthropists on Nov. 10 at the Miami Shores home of husbands John Ruark and Sergio Papa Ruark. Credit: Steven Shires.
Several dozen Miami-area philanthropists learn more about Our Fund at a Nov. 10 reception in Miami Shores. Credit: Steven Shires.
Jobin said Our Fund has given $250,000 annually to Miami-Dade-based agencies including Lambda Living, YES Institute and Maven Leadership Collective, along with nonprofits that cross county lines including OUTshine Film Festival, Latinos Salud and Prevention 305.
Our Fund’s model is different than what Miami donors are used to. Jobin and others emphasize that unlike the Miami Foundation’s LGBTQ Community Fund (fueled by Task Force events), Our Fund money isn’t generated by — or reliant upon — festivals or galas.
Instead, there are three main ways Our Fund raises money, according to Jobin:
- Legacy giving. “People put us in their wills and they can be very direct — they can say ‘I want money to go out to these agencies in this number of years.’ Or they can say they want Our Fund to make the decisions of how this money goes out.”
- Donor-advised funds. “People open a donor-advised fund, just like you would at Fidelity or a general community foundation, and we help you with your philanthropy — or we don't help you with your philanthropy. We have donor-advised fund holders who are very specific and they send their gifts out annually and they don't ask us for our engagement at all in that process, except for writing the checks and sending them out. We have other donor-advised fund holders who rely on us: ‘What are the greatest priorities in the community? I want to give away 5% of my fund this year. Can you direct me how to do that?’”
- Annual giving. “We’ll say, ‘We just interviewed 25 agencies in the health and wellness space. We want to award 15 of them grants totaling $300,000. We have $250,000 from our endowment. We'd like to raise an additional $50,000.’ And people will give directly to those grants. And we take nothing from that. If you give us $10,000, it goes right out to grants.”
Our Fund launched in 2010. Since Jobin joined six years ago, the foundation assets have grown from $2 million (all in donor-advised funds) to a current $25 million. “I would say $15 million of that right now is from legacy giving,” he said, the rest from donor-advised funds.
Four legacy-giving donors who died the past few years have left multimillion-dollar gifts. “One person left us $5 million at our discretion,” Jobin said.
On Nov. 10, Our Fund held a reception for several dozen Miami-area philanthropists at the Miami Shores home of husbands John Ruark and Sergio Papa Ruark. Several Our Fund founders and funders also attended, including attorneys Donald Hayden of Miami Shores and former board chair Coleman Prewitt of Fort Lauderdale.
Reception attendee Gene Sulzberger, an attorney and president of Sulzberger Capital Advisors in Miami, said he is impressed by the people behind Our Fund.
“You want some oversight. You want to make sure it's being done and used correctly as opposed to incorrectly. Every year or so, you used to see all these front-page articles about some non-profit doing something nefarious,” Sulzberger said. “Not everybody does everything according to the highest of ethical and fiscal standards. So it's good to have somebody in there to make sure that things are being done correctly and right, that the funds are not being used to pad a salary or for a program that is not what was intended with the dollars.”
Charity Navigator, which objectively tracks and evaluates more than 160,000 non-profits, has scored Our Fund with a 100 out of 100 rating for Finance & Accountability — nearly 91% of its 2020 expense dollars went directly to programs ($2,762,984) and not administrative or fundraising costs.
Sulzberger said he has known Our Fund Treasurer Sue Wilder, a retired financial services industry executive, about 20 years, and Vice Chair Len McNally since the 1990s. “He’s somebody I have a lot of faith in.”
McNally retired in 2015 after 25 years at the New York Community Trust (one of the oldest and largest in the nation) as program director for Health and People with Special Needs. He volunteered with Our Fund four years ago after becoming a full-time Wilton Manors resident.
“The $25 million we have today at Our Fund mostly has come from donors in Broward County. There is no entity in Miami right now that has really significant amounts of endowed funds for the needs of the LGBT organizations in Dade,” McNally said. “So what we are going to hope to do is to help philanthropically oriented people in the region work together, work with us to identify how they can be most effective in the region.”
McNally is a strong proponent of raising money from philanthropists rather than depending upon event ticket sales.
“With COVID, for 18 months organizations couldn’t do events. So they were significantly down in their revenue. They did some virtual events, but it's not the same. Events are expensive to put on — you don't do an event for nothing. There are costs and then you hope that you raise enough money, but you’re never guaranteed when you do an event. So it's risky money. It’s not safe.
“We don’t have to say, ‘Oh, I hope our event goes well so we can keep going.’ Our Fund does not do fundraising events. We would be in competition with the non-profits. We look to have an entirely different approach.”
Journalist Steve Rothaus covered LGBTQ issues for 22 years at the Miami Herald. @SteveRothaus on Twitter.