OPINION: The LGBT+ charity sector must mobilise to survive COVID-19

Monday, 23 March 2020 09:25 GMT

People attend the annual Pride in London parade, in London, Britain July 6, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

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As many of LGBT+ organisations are small and vulnerable, we need to come together to save the sector

Elliot Vaughn, Baroness Barker and Rachel Reese are trustees of GiveOut, a charity which raises funds for global LGBT+ advocacy. Rupert Abbott is the organisation’s executive director

As the COVID-19 pandemic creates unprecedented pressure on our health system and national infrastructure, and personal challenges for us, our families and communities, it is also creating existential risks for organisations in the LGBT+ charity sector. 

Over the past 30 years, we have benefited from a true flowering of organisations across what is a defiant, vibrant and self-organising range of charities. Much of this happened in the context of another health crisis, with our community organising and coming together in the face of HIV/AIDS.

But many of these organisations and initiatives are comparatively small in the context of the overall charity sector. And so the defiant, “upstart” nature of much of our movement, a source of plurality and inclusion in normal times, leaves us particularly vulnerable to this crisis. 

In the UK, the impact could be severe. Local Prides, switchboards, elder care, homeless and HIV services, school services, international LGBT+ human rights organisations – all face having to make very tough choices in the coming weeks and months. Globally, the wider  movement is already woefully underfunded, in particular in the global south and east.

The COVID-19 crisis poses huge new challenges. We could lose leadership talent and key staff from the LGBT+ charity sector, and see organisations disappear altogether.

Beyond taking steps to ensure the immediate safety and wellbeing of our staff and beneficiaries, there are a number of things we can do:

1.    We need to mobilise and coordinate as a sector, in a way that is not hidebound by historic alignments, whether geographic, thematic or friendship based. Most LGBT+ charities may already have a weekly call for their executive director/chief executive, treasurer and board chair. But across the sector we need a set of regular drop-in calls for leaders – formal and informal – to coordinate information and determine the unfolding situation.

2.    We need good, quick economic analysis to understand where our most acute vulnerabilities are as a sector – corporate partners may be able to help here. Who has sufficient reserves and who does not? Whose income is most at risk? With this arises the opportunity for creative thinking to develop responses that create value within the movement.

3.    We need to increase our practical best practice sharing at the sector level, such as how best to approach institutional funders to ask them to lift restrictions on their support, how to create a good crisis budget, and how and when to approach peer organisations to explore partnering opportunities.

4.    We need to inform and educate our core donors about the challenges ahead. In a world in which they will be bombarded by urgent fundraisers for COVID-19 responses, the sector will need to find ways of making the case for patient, long-term donors to continue their core support. There are donors who passionately want to help the LGBT+ charity sector survive, but they need to be told where their support is most needed. We need to be concrete and realistic about what is needed to sustain the sector into 2021 and beyond.

5.    Board chairs, treasurers and boards need to prepare themselves too, in line with their duties. They will need to ask themselves questions such as: where do we stand today? What sensible steps should we be taking now (for example, re-budgeting, or to ask restricted donors if they will lift restrictions on their funding) and what steps do we need to consider later in the year (for example, initiating new alliances or reshaping programme offerings)?

As an LGBT+ sector, we know the importance of resilience and community in challenging times. And working collaboratively with shared values in mind, we can ensure that any sector level response is inclusive and plural, with the intention of leaving no one behind.

Leading organisations such as Stonewall and Consortium are already playing a role in providing sector level coordination. But all of us need to reach out even as we stay home to maximise the chances of our sector getting through 2020 and springing back, even stronger than before, to serve those who rely on our support.