Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
By Leslie Thompson
This is not the first time that there has been a suggestion or discussion around the merger of Affirmations and Triangle Foundation/Equality Michigan. A lengthy debate and even a grant funded a deep look into the pros and cons of such a merger which took place before I was in a leadership position at Affirmations. We also looked at the possibility more than once, during my 11 year tenure at Affirmations.
So, here we are again – as a community – suggesting that the two organizations combine their talents, their databases and their resources, and come together to make a difference in our state. And to that I say…are you going to help if they do? As in the past, I think it is a brilliant idea. I believe the pros far outweigh the cons. But it won’t make a lick of difference if the community doesn’t step forward and put their money where their opinions are. It’s easy to sit back and say Affirmations should provide spirituality programs or Equality Michigan should have more visibility in Lansing or Ruth Ellis Center should have more beds available to our youths. That is easy to say…at the bar, on Facebook, while working out.
But do you write a check every month to at least one of these organizations? Or even once a year? Or better yet, support all three organizations? Do you attend their events? And that’s just the big three organizations. What about Kick, Al Gamea, SPICE? Yes, economic times are tough, but I see no shortage of folks at the theater, or at the bar, or reading Facebook updates about their latest travel adventure or home furnishing. You say you don’t benefit from any of these organizations? Well, lucky you. Maybe it isn’t about you! Maybe it is about the 15 year old who is getting bullied. Or the senior citizen who has finally found the courage to come out to his or her family and needs support. Or the legislator who is on the fence about an LGBT issue before him on the floor of the capital. And even if you don’t think so…it does affect you.
Statistic after statistic shows that the more LGBT people are out, the more their friends and neighbors will be supportive in election activity. And these organizations help people come out and stay out. They help them deal with inner turmoil, they help them keep their jobs and they help our young people have a roof over their head.
And for the Love of God…stop blaming the executive directors. Equality Michigan has had four executive directors in four years? Maybe the common denominator is not the paid staff. Being a board member is a very hard job. I know, I have been on several boards in my life and it takes a lot of commitment…of your time, talent and treasure. Legally, a board member has three responsibilities. I will share two of them in this comment: (1) is to set policy and (2) is to make sure the resources are available to see these policies are enacted. This includes the budget for programs and staff. The executive director has to run the organization based on the policies made by the board of directors.
Of course the executive director needs to raise money – that is clearly a large part of what they do. We all know that. They write grants, they meet with donors one-on-one, they schmooze at large parties, they help organize and attend special events. But the board is responsible for doing that as well. They are actually legally responsible to see that the funds are raised. They can’t just sit back and expect one person or maybe, if the organization is lucky, two people to raise all the money.
I ran three non-profits in my career and, overall, the board of directors at Affirmations was hands down the hardest working and most generous and supportive group of individuals I have ever worked with on a board. But it wasn’t across the board (no pun intended). It takes 100 percent of the members of the board to raise money, ask their friends to support the organization and, most importantly, make their own gift. I think the community would be shocked to know that there are board members of these organizations who do not support the organization with a financial gift. But don’t you sit back and bitch about this either. JOIN A BOARD. Make a difference. Learn how to be a better board member if you are already on a board. There are many opportunities to learn how to be a great board member – both in and out of the LGBT community.
And stop treating the executive directors like they are chattel that can be replaced with the snap of your fingers. There are brilliant leaders in our community right now but when the going gets tough the so-called tough board members fire the executive director or put more pressure on them to do more with less. Give them the tools they need to serve our community. Asking them to do more with less is not going to make any LGBT person safer or happier. It’s not going to change the hearts of people who are on the fence regarding our issues and if given the right information would become our ally. All it’s going to do is drive your executive director to exhaustion.
I am saddened by the loss of Denise Brogan-Kator as the executive director at Equality Michigan. Just like I was saddened by the loss of Alicia Skillman. And Kate Runyon before her. And I was sad to leave Affirmations. But the stress of the job and the demand to do more with less became insurmountable for me and eventually dealt my on-going back issues a card I could no longer deal with. Is that what we want for folks like Dave Garcia, Laura Hughes, Curtis Lipscomb, and a whole host of other talented leaders in our community? I don’t think so.
Support these people. Write a check. Join a board. Go to an event. And help Affirmations and Equality Michigan become one healthy organization with a strong board of directors, a healthy and manageable budget, and a team of dedicated and talented staff. I was appalled recently when I read on Facebook some gay people bashing President Obama for not doing enough for our community – this after he had just come out and supported gay marriage. Really? This is how our community treats people who try to do the right thing? Yes, sadly it is.
Let’s make that change, okay?