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Heavy load 

Charitable groups stagger under the weight of funding needs

click to enlarge Gay and Lesbian Fund director Mary Lou Makepeace says - providing funds means making tough decisions. - BRUCE ELLIOTT
  • Bruce Elliott
  • Gay and Lesbian Fund director Mary Lou Makepeace says providing funds means making tough decisions.

The Gay and Lesbian Fund of Colorado has seen a 94 percent increase in requested funding this year, a spike attributed to a sluggish economy, severe government cuts in social programs and relatively stagnant giving from other charitable organizations.

"We have more applications for grants than we can possibly fund," said director Mary Lou Makepeace.

In the first six months of 2004, the Colorado Springs-based fund received requests for $1.8 million from a variety of nonprofit groups, and granted $1.4 million.

By contrast, in the first six months of this year, nonprofits have asked for $3.5 million. Many applicants provide social services to the working poor and needy, and have seen their budgets slashed in recent years. With $700,000 in applications still pending, the Gay & Lesbian Fund has awarded $1.5 million.

Picking up the slack

Charley Shimanski, president of the Colorado Association of Nonprofit Organizations, says that last year, the vast majority of nonprofits saw budget reductions, a trend predicted to continue this year. At the same time, more than half saw an increase in demand for services -- another trend that Shimanski's organization expects to continue.

"More nonprofits are lining up at the foundation trough, if you will," he said.

Trudy Strewler, executive director for Court Appointed Special Advocates, a nonprofit that represents abused children in courtrooms, says cuts in government programs have more people looking for assistance from nonprofits -- which, in turn, is prompting those nonprofits to turn to foundations like the Gay and Lesbian Fund for funding.

For example, the White House has proposed the elimination of the Victims of Crime Act Fund, which pays for the local advocates who aid the victims of abusive crimes.

"There's more and more families whose needs are not met by social services," Strewler said. "Yet we, as nonprofits, can't pick up all the slack."

Consolidating categories

The Gay and Lesbian Fund, a private foundation that receives its assets from computer software mogul Tim Gill, doesn't fund just gay and lesbian causes. Over the years, it has put its money into a variety of programs -- everything from those that aid the victims of abuse to those that support classical music.

But earlier this year, the foundation announced it would consolidate several of its categories, eliminating one for "social justice" in the process.

That caught the attention of Dorothy Schlaeger, executive director of the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission. She fears that funding pressures are leading the fund to more middle-of-the-road politics and, perhaps ultimately, a situation where it turns its back on long-time recipients like the commission, which is known widely in Colorado Springs for leading protests against the war in Iraq.

"They've been extremely helpful to us and we've benefited greatly from the support from them," Schlaeger said. "But it feels like it's pretty much [their] alternative voice falling by the wayside."

Makepeace denies the change has anything to do with politics and invites groups like Schlaeger's to apply for funds under the new civic leadership category.

But Schlaeger says that category, which includes "civic education" and "public policy reform," appears more limiting than the old social justice category.

"I think it would require some acrobatics to fit in their description," Schlaeger said, adding that time will tell whether the change is significant.

Either way, Makepeace acknowledges that the Gay and Lesbian Fund increasingly is faced with making tough decisions.

The fund also announced this year that if an organization is denied funding within a single year, it must wait 12 months to reapply.

-- Michael de Yoanna

  • Charitable groups stagger under the weight of funding needs

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