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Twenty years ago, the HOPE Fund started as a financial challenge to the LGBT community of Detroit. But over the past two decades it has evolved into so much more: an important funder of LGBT programs and services, an invaluable partner in the philanthropic community and a teacher of both fundraising for and investing in LGBT organizations. The staff at the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan have become friends and mentors to dozens of community leaders who learned about organizational development and how to make their groups sustainable.
The numbers are impressive. The HOPE Fund has raised a total of over $3.6 million, granted out more than $1.8 million and established an endowment fund of $2.4 million, thereby ensuring that the HOPE Fund will continue for many years to come.
It all started in 1994 when Lynette Campbell, then a program officer at the Community Foundation, received a letter from the Funders for LGBTQ Issues, a consortium of funders, mostly in New York City. They proposed that if the Community Foundation started an LGBT fund, the Funders for LGBTQ Issues would match 50 cents of every dollar raised, up to $86,000.
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The call went out and Allan Gilmour answered with an initial pledge of $10,000. He then spearheaded the successful fundraising campaign in the first year, chairing the committee and networking with donors until the goal was reached. That first year, the HOPE Fund granted out $130,000 – by far the most granted to Detroit area LGBT community organizations from any one source to that point.
Gilmour has remained a constant leader of the HOPE Fund ever since he answered that first call 20 years ago. His status as one of Detroit’s most respected business and charitable leaders brought credibility to the project and attracted the attention of business leaders and other funding agencies. He is the former vice chairman of Ford Motor Company, from May 2002 to February 2005. In August 2010 he accepted a position as interim president at Wayne State University and then a position as the trustees’ permanent president from 2011 to 2014. He serves on many corporate boards such as Dow Chemical, Whirlpool, The Hertz Corporation and Comcast. He also is a director or trustee of many community organizations, including the Community Foundation, serving as its chairman of the board for eight years. Perhaps the only thing Gilmour has not succeeded at is retiring.
By talking openly about the HOPE Fund to business and foundation leaders, Gilmour has played an important role in the LGBT community “coming out” to the broader Detroit area leadership. In his many public roles, Gilmour has shared his experiences with the HOPE Fund, its impact on the LGBT community and the opportunities that other funders can seize to help LGBT organizations thrive.
Gilmour said he learned a lot in the early days of the HOPE Fund about the local LGBT community and how to resource it.
“There were not many organizations and they were fragile organizations,” said Gilmour about the metro Detroit LGBT community in 1994. “That was no one’s fault; they were all relatively new. It was a little more acceptable in 1994 to be gay or lesbian than in 1964 or 1974 – but not a lot,” he said. “We also found that it was hard to raise the money. We started in 1994 and completed our work in 1995, so it took almost a year and a half to raise the $86,000 to get the two-for-one-match from New York. But we did get it done.”
When asked what most pleases him about the HOPE Fund, Gilmour said with a laugh, “Starting! Mariam Noland told us about going to the board at the Community Foundation to inform them that they are involved in setting up a new gay fund. And there was dead silence on the board. I was not on the board at that time – that was before my time. And Frank Stella was a big Republican who owned a restaurant supply company, and he apparently said in the meeting, ‘Well, we’re here for all people. I think it’s a good idea,’ or words to that effect. And then some other committee people like George Fadiga did a heck of a lot of work getting the thing started. It would’ve been easy to say, ‘Oh my God, this isn’t New York and this isn’t San Francisco’ and just quit. But we didn’t.”
Katie Brisson, vice president of programming at the Community Foundation, said the HOPE Fund has had a profound impact on the Community Foundation and the funding community as a whole.
“When the HOPE Fund was launched, there were people who feared damage it may do to the Community Foundation. The fact that it was front page news in The Detroit News in January 1995 demonstrates the weight of this decision at the time,” she said. “The initial fears were put aside long ago as we had some wins with our strategies and were able to keep growing the fund. The numerous grant reviews helped to educate our board and community leaders about the needs of the LGBT community.”
Relationships built through the HOPE Fund have allowed the Community Foundation to help organizations create additional support vehicles. “Five LGBT nonprofit organizations, for example, decided to build their own endowment funds with us along the way,” said Brisson. “You’ve seen the fruits of that labor recently when a $2 million bequest came into the Equality Michigan Fund through Dr. Messer’s estate. I’d like to think that HOPE’s education of donors in the community about estate planning, and education of nonprofits on the importance of endowment, had some small part to do with that.”
The HOPE Fund committee and staff of the Community Foundation have committed substantial time, energy and resources into making the HOPE Fund a success.
“Building the HOPE Fund has been hard work,” said Brisson. “Many of the committee members and donors of the HOPE Fund have been involved with us the entire 20 years.”
Howard Israel and his husband, attorney Henry Grix, have been mainstays of the HOPE Fund since almost the very beginning. In the early years, Israel spent hours at the foundation’s Detroit offices entering HOPE Fund donors into a database. But something strange kept happening with one pair. Israel entered the two men as a couple, but someone kept separating them into individual listings. “Something weird is happening,” Israel said to the administrative assistant, a pleasant, older woman from Macomb County who said she changed them to individual listings. “She told me they broke up, and I said ‘Did you ever in your life think you’d be the one who knows who is a couple and who has broken up in the gay community?’ Here is this woman who never had this much contact with gays and lesbians before getting a real education. The HOPE Fund has changed people’s attitudes all around – the recipients, the board, donors, staff – everyone.”
Israel credits the Community Foundation staff and leadership for boosting the LGBT community’s credibility. “The foundation’s stature and organizational skills,” he says, “to have that behind the idea of granting money to LGBT organizations is monumental recognition that not only LGBT people exist and need funding, but (that) we’re even capable of doing it ourselves.”
“Some days, especially in light of recent Michigan rulings, it is hard to see progress,” said Brisson. “But then, something great happens like the momentum of the LGBT seniors project or the fact that our recent matching campaign received mainstream media press across the country. We celebrate these moments, knowing that the community needs to keep putting one foot in front of the other and making progress happen, no matter if it’s moving slow or fast.”