by Jessica Carreras
In a meeting on March 9 that included members of the Affirmations board of directors, staff and people from the community, a tough topic was broached: the financial stability of Michigan’s largest LGBT community center.
Affirmations CEO Leslie Thompson began by talking about the history of the center, including its old location and the plans that led to the Affirmations Big Bash and the center’s move to its current location.
She also talked about how the budget went from $8,585 in 1989 to a budget of $1,488,927 in 2009. As a result, Affirmations went from functioning mostly as a support system to now providing youth, health and community enrichment programming, as well as a meeting space for groups, a year-round helpline and various gallery and concert events.
Now, however, Affirmations is facing their biggest drop in funding since the organization began.
“This may be the worst financial situation we’ve ever faced,” said Board President Nancy Katz, who gave an update on the center’s financial situation. “But we’re going into it with our eyes open.”
“Everyone is dealing with a really, really difficult economic environment, and that obviously has an effect on non-profits,” she added. “It’s trickled down to Affirmations in some very concrete ways.”
The withdrawal of a $100,000 contribution from General Motors and the possible loss of a $40,000 grant from United Way of Southeast Michigan, coupled with significant drops in personal donations and expected losses from other corporate donors such as Ford and Chrysler, has caused the center to have to cut over $202,000 from its budget. Cuts came from overhead, programming, full- and part-time staff and salary and benefits.
But even with the cuts – and with new possible funding venues, the center remains $121,800 short of its goal for the 2009 budget.
Currently, Affirmations is holding off on filling an empty position for a Youth Services Coordinator and on continuing their community organizing programming.
But, they said, there are plans underway to reach out to new funding sources and to secure up to $226,800 in new funding in 2009. “We’re not sitting on our hands and doing nothing,” Katz insisted. “There are some bright sides to it. Affirmations has been existing for 20 years and has a track record of being managed well and doing well.”
Among those new endeavors are possible future grants for $50,000 from the Gill Foundation and a three-year grant of $50,000 per year from the Johnson Family Foundation. Though neither grant is secured at this time, if received, the money from the first would go toward reinstating Affirmations’ community organizing program, while the later would fund a new mental health program.
Another burgeoning area of funding is “adults only” programming, which invites adults to pay to see comedians and other acts at the center. Though the center normally serves up to 120 youth per night on Fridays and Saturdays, Thompson said the balance was a necessary change and not something the Affirmations’ staff is taking lightly. “We were concerned about that,” Thompson said of displacing youth. “It’s trying to find that balance, because we were not serving any adults and we actually had adults that were walking away because there were so many youth…we’re trying to work with other organizations to find things for them to do, but we’re very cognizant of that issue.”
Other possible sources of funded, as noted by Katz, Thompson and Director of Communications and Development Michael Coleman, include government funding, renting out the space and a larger push for new corporate and personal donors.
Though the stability of long-term donors is unclear, Thompson and the board and staff remained confident that the center would make it through the economic downturn – especially with the help of the LGBT community. Coleman spoke about the need for more personal funders, including donations and attending events such as the upcoming Big Bash. “It’s a small group of people who can really make a difference,” he said, adding, “We’re going to sustain this center if everyone does their part, whatever that part may be.”