Dear Aff Family,
I hope as you are reading this that you and your loved ones are safe and healthy. The past couple of weeks have been immensely challenging for us all. I want to reassure you the Center, our staff, and volunteers continue to work hard on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community, even if that support looks a little different for now. That said, these challenges are not without their silver linings, but more on that later. It's hard to know exactly where to start as events have changed so rapidly day to day, hour by hour. I suspect by the time you read this, things will have changed significantly yet again. Perhaps the best place to start is to update you on exactly where the Center stands as of early April:
The vast majority of Affirmations support and recovery groups have moved online to Zoom Video Conferencing rooms. This includes Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Coming Out groups, Youth, Seniors and many more. While this process has been challenging, there have been some interesting silver linings. For example, typically our AA group has around 20 people consistently meeting at the center Monday through Saturday. This past week with Zoom technology, they had 82 participants in a single day from all over the state and country and as far away as Sweden and Scotland! I write this because as we have moved groups to Zoom, and as the entire staff has become more and more familiar with the technology, I actually think it will change the way we do things even when life gets back to "normal." As other LGBTQ+ people from around the state start to join our virtual rooms now, I suspect moving forward we will continue some type of hybrid between face-to-face meetings with a video component. This will allow us to expand programming for youth and seniors and the recovery community throughout Michigan, the country, and perhaps even the world. Learning to access this type of video technology also has tremendous potential for reducing isolation for our seniors, and especially for those in rural communities we may not be able to reach in other ways.
This is not to say this transition has been easy. It has been particularly challenging, for example, for our seniors. To help seniors combat isolation we have designated a staff member who is consistently providing one on one training for our seniors and we have invested in Amazon Kindles to lend to our Senior Koffee Klatch for those that do not have access to this type of hardware. In addition, many of our LGBTQ+ seniors struggle with food insecurity. Affirmations is currently working with the City of Ferndale, and is in talks with Meals on Wheels and Gleaners to confront this challenge head on and deliver food directly to our seniors most in need.
Our youth programs have also moved online, creating learning modules and virtual video sessions for the Youth Leadership and Development Program along with a virtual drop-in center staffed by adult allies for peer-to-peer support and mentorship. Many of our community leaders – including representatives from Planned Parenthood, Quicken Loans, Havenwyck Hospital, and small businesses throughout the area – are now submitting videos on topics such as mindfulness, self-care, overcoming challenges, healthy relationships and consent, activism, and becoming a community leader for use in our curriculum-based program. Many of our youth participants do not have the ability to be their authentic selves at home, so these outlets will provide a safe space for them during this difficult time.
While the building is currently closed, I have deemed myself and two other staff "essential employees". This is to assure that bills are paid, payroll continues, and the building's maintenance needs are met. The three of us rotate when we will be in the building to maintain "social distancing" and be as safe as possible.
Our top priority is the health and well-being of our staff and community. That said, I am your Executive Director and it is fair to say that while public health is my top priority, the financial health of the organization is also front and center in my mind. The 2019 audit was completed last month – ten months ahead of schedule. Click here to review the audit on our website at GoAffirmations.org/about-us/
The audit shows that Affirmations is in the black for the first time since I left the organization over 5 years ago. This was no small feat. The entire team has been working extremely hard since I arrived home in May 2019 and for us to have turned things around in less than a year is quite remarkable. Many of you reading this now have played a key role in that turnaround. We have gone from zero grants to 19 active grants and 10 grants in the pipeline. Individual giving is up and special events have been extremely successful.
Now, we are faced with the coronavirus.
As always, let me be as transparent as possible. I am concerned. Our biggest single revenue event is Spring Bash, which was scheduled for April. We were on our way to a sell-out when we had to postpone the event. Bash alone accounts for approximately 23 percent of our gross revenue budget. We are losing revenue in our building rentals, group collections and LGBTQ+ statewide trainings. Many of our grants, scheduled to come this spring, have been pushed out to later in the calendar year, at best. We are doing all we can to make up for these lost revenues. We are applying for a handful of new emergency grants, we are cutting expenses wherever we reasonably can, and we are doing our best to reschedule some of our most important events.
In fact, Bash is now scheduled for Halloween evening, Saturday, October 31st, 2020 and will be a black-tie formal masquerade. We understand that not everyone will be able to make it on that day, but as you can imagine, we didn't have many fall Saturdays to choose from with everyone clamoring for new dates. We think a classy black-tie masquerade will sell out and be an amazing night for us all. Moving Bash to the fall means we have to move our wildly popular fall wine party to late summer. At this point, we are hoping to hold the "Wigs and Wine" party in July, but we won't make any official announcements until late May/June.
I do worry the economic downturn could affect our longtime grant relationships with the Big 3 and have an impact on our endowment and individual giving. Best-case scenario is that our events are rescheduled, but still take place within the calendar year and that grants are pushed out, but we don't lose them. Even in this best-case scenario, it will impact cash flow. Monies we reasonably assumed would be realized in the spring will now, hopefully, be pushed to summer or fall.
That is exactly why we need you now more than ever. Individual giving is our most important financial safety net.
I understand that many people will not be able to give at this time. I also think it would be irresponsible of me not to ask those of us that can, to give a little more now. This week I have increased my own personal giving to the organization, not because it is easy for me, but because I see every single moment of every day how Affirmations continues to serve the LGBTQ+ community effectively at this critical time.
So many of you reading this have known me for many years. You know my team and I will never quit. This is a historic and truly unprecedented time and our response must meet the moment. Because we smoke at twice the rate of the straight community, because so many in our community have compromised immune systems, because of our growing senior population and higher cancer rates, the LGBTQ+ community is at higher risk in this global pandemic. That said, let's be honest with one another now: this isn't exactly the first virus we have faced as a community together and we know how to protect our own in times of crisis.
It is because of donors like you that we are able to continue to serve our community. The entire LGBTQ+ community truly understands that not everyone can give at this time, but if you can – please give now.
From the Board of Directors, the staff, donors, our army of volunteers, and our straight allies – we will get through this together. I have no doubt about that.
Be safe and stay strong,
P.S. For those able to contribute, the federal CARES Act now allows taxpayers, even if you don't itemize, to deduct up to $300 in charitable giving in 2020. That translates to a monthly gift of $33.33 between now and December. If 300 partners invest just $300 in the Center between now and year-end, that is an extra $90k in revenue we can invest right back into supporting the LGBTQ+ community.