GM Foundation cuts $50,000 grant to Affirmations

by Jessica Carreras

Recent cuts in funding from General Motors that hit hard on the Michigan Opera Theatre and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra are also affecting the Affirmations community center.
Last week, GM announced cuts for the MOT and DSO amounting to $250,000 and $100,000, respectively. Another $350,000 usually given to the MOT for its Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts is being cut as well.
As for Affirmations, the $50,000 they usually receive in the first quarter of the year for their annual Big Bash celebration is gone, too.
These large donations, along with many other philanthropic efforts of the car company, come from the GM Foundation. According to Travis Parman of GM Communications, grantees have been told "that they should make their budget plans for 2009 without counting on our normal contributions."
Affirmations is the only LGBT organization in the state that has consistently received a large grant from the GM Foundation.
The announcement of the cuts comes several weeks after GM became part of a $13.4 billion government bailout that also included the Chrysler Corporation. Last week, GM received the first $4 billion of that deal, which aims to help save the auto companies from bankruptcy and jump-start new endeavors.
Parman said the hope of the company is that things will turn around in 2009 and that philanthropic efforts will come back. "We're doing a continuous monitoring of our situation and hope to be able to return to supporting those organizations as soon as possible," he said, "but we've told them to go ahead and make their budgets for 2009 without us in mind."
Other donations to LGBT-related groups and events in Michigan have been made by the GM Plus group – the company's legion of LGBT employees – but have only been in small amounts. Recipients in 2008 have included TransGender Michigan, the Barrien County Out and Equal Outreach and the Northern Michigan AIDS Walk.

The cuts to Affirmations are just one of many blows the center has received in the past month. Drops in donations in December left the center over $50,000 away from its fundraising goal for the month by Dec. 15. The anticipated and actual funding losses resulted in cuts in part-time and full-time staff, hours of operation, travel, health care and pension plans and a 10 percent cut in salaries for upper-echelon employees.
However, 2008 ended on a better note as donations received in the last two weeks of the month helped the center to surpass its goal for the month.
Though the GM Foundation's usual grant went toward the Affirmations Big Bash, the loss will not affect the event. This year's Big Bash – the Motown Get Down – will be held at the MotorCity Casino and will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Big Bash, the 20th anniversary of Affirmations and the 50th anniversary of Motown.
The funding cuts, however, are affecting the center's operations at a time when need is high. "Unfortunately, Affirmations has seen an increase in the need for services, so we're doing everything we (the Affirmations Board of Directors) can to drum up additional support from other areas," said Parman, who also serves on the board.
Individual donors, said Director of Communications and Development Michael Coleman, will comprise 25 percent of the center's funding for 2009. Recent calls made by Coleman and Annual Giving Manager Carmen Garcia have been encouraging.
"People who give (through) our Center Partner Program, which is individuals giving at the $120 level and way up, feel very committed to this center," said Garcia. "Michael and I have talked to a lot of Center Partners who just lost their jobs or their partners had just lost their jobs and the heartwarming thing is that, more often than not, they're still going to renew. There may be a delay, there may be a reduction, but they're not hanging up with a 'no.' They're hanging up with an 'I'm going to do the best I can.'"
Another major contributor to Affirmations is the Arcus Foundation, which gave them a $450,000 grant last year to be spread out over three years. The grant is to be used for both general operating costs, and to address and improve race relations among Michigan's LGBT community.
The Arcus Foundation gives millions of dollars each year to Michigan, national and international LGBT organizations and endeavors – as well as contributing to global conservation of the world's great apes.
Cindy Rizzo, director of grant making programs at Arcus, said that 2009 will not see a drop in help coming from Arcus, which is funded by Michigan billionaire Jon Stryker of Kalamazoo. "Our grants budget overall, and that includes Michigan, national and international, is larger than it was in '08 by a little bit. We're not cutting back," assured Rizzo. "We are continuing to fund in Michigan as well as the other areas we fund. We're going to try and be as responsive to our current grantees as we can and we're working now on some specific ways that we can do that."
The first grant announcements from Arcus for 2009 will come in March.
Rizzo said she would not be surprised to see an increase in requests from Michigan's LGBT organizations in 2009, many of which are floundering in the state's poor economy. However, she warns against organizations putting all their eggs in the Arcus basket. "We fund just about everyone who does LGBT work in Michigan so my sense is that we may be asked to play a larger role," she said of the tough financial times. "But it's important to also say that we can't be the only funder of LGBT work in Michigan and that other foundations in the state need to be approached and need to be asked to play a part in funding this important work. We certainly want to have conversations like that with our colleague foundations in Michigan, but we would also hope that the community will knock on some new doors."

Those new doors could include out-of-state donors, Affirmations board members said.
"We need to look more to individuals and institutions that aren't so affected by the economy," said President Nancy Katz.
Parman is adamant that those unaffected sources of income could come from places other than Michigan – a route Affirmations has never taken in fundraising before.
One of the first moves toward that, he said, was encouraging out-of-state LGBT media to visit the center during the North American International Auto Show's media week, which has been in full swing since last week. The hope, then, was that they could spark interest from other parts of the country.
"A route that we've really not gone before is trying to solicit a lot of out of state support, because we really are in need and it is kind of a unique situation here," Parman said last week. "Hopefully with some of these national LGBT media that we're bringing in for the auto show, we're planning to bring them by Affirmations."
Media who visited the center on Sunday for a full tour and discussion included representatives from Curve, Advocate, the Dallas Voice and Genre. The visitors reacted unanimously with surprise to the space, offerings and focus of Affirmations.
"I've been to the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center for a bunch of different things, and this feels pretty different," said Jenn Kennedy of "It feels fresher. It feels geared toward youth, which is completely different."
"Compared to our own homes, the ones in our states? This blows it away," said Daniel Kusner, Life + Style Editor for the Dallas Voice. "It looks like a super cool, huge, modern restaurant and health club. The thing is, I think, that's different compared to the one in Dallas…it's totally low ceilings and it comes with 25 years of history attached to it. This is only two years old. You were able to ignite it into this new thing."

It remains to be seen how much the Big 3 will bounce back in 2009 and how much its well-being will affect LGBT non-profits like Affirmations. Job cuts numbering in the thousands are expected to be announced throughout the year – which means cuts in potential donors with disposable income to give to causes they care about.
In addition, the near future remains uncertain as to whether or not the GM Foundation will be able to make donations in areas it recently made cuts from, including Affirmations. "That's a possibility," Parman said. "But we've tried to prepare everyone in case it can't happen all year."
Still, the Affirmations board and staff remain optimistic. "All the car companies have really strong diversity networks," Katz insisted, "and see (Affirmations) as something they want to support."

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