Spotlight on Pride Funders: Tides Foundation

In the last 20 years, Tides has worked with its donor-partners to award grants totaling $47.2 million to support LGBTQI causes. Tides has a long history of leading on LGBTQI and HIV/AIDS issues, including early support of needle exchange programs to combat HIV/AIDS in the San Francisco Bay Area, longtime support for marriage equality and LGBTQI rights nationally and internationally, as well as fighting discrimination and school bullying. Tides approaches social change in a unique way: they partner with family and corporate donors and private foundations with philanthropic advisory services and charitable funds to strategically invest in causes their donors wish to support. Tides also incubates and scales up social change organizations by providing comprehensive infrastructure services and expertise.

We spoke with Alex Sloan, vice president of strategic partnerships and communications at the Tides Foundation. He will participate in our Pride Funders Panel on June 1, at Foundation Center West. Please sign up for the event here.

What LGBTQI-focused projects is Tides working on right now that you’re excited about?

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In the last two years, as the marriage equality movement in the US successfully wound up, we have been working with our donor-partners to identify other opportunities to support the LGBTQI community, especially focused on LGBTQI rights and communities at risk in other countries. A fund recently established at Tides by several leading LGBTQI individual funders, for instance, has already granted over $400,000 in 2017 to various groups across Africa and Asia that are protecting the safety and liberty of LGBTQI people. We also have a fund to support the Iranian LGBT Railroad that assists LGBTQI people seeking asylum or refuge to escape persecution in Iran, Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq.

However, with the recent US election, there is clearly a renewed need for equality work in the US. Many of our donor-partners are refocusing and recommitting to urgent issues on the national front, including fighting discrimination against trans people, such as we have seen in North Carolina. We partner with the Trans Justice Funding Project in distributing funds to grassroots social justice groups run by and for trans people.

What's the biggest challenge of being a funder of LGBTQI causes?

One of the major challenges for donors is figuring out where to invest most effectively to have impact.

There is a renewed sense of concern in the LGBTQI community about what's happening in our country. The general public might not know that in over 20 states in the US, a person can be fired or thrown out of housing or barred from using public facilities just for being an LGBTQI person. Changing this status quo will be a tough and long battle on the national and state-by state fronts, especially in light of the impending wave of discrimination being promoted under the veil of “religious liberty”. 

If we look internationally, we see variety of threats to LGBTQI people’s lives and basic rights. LGBTQI-identifying people are being persecuted, tortured and killed in many countries in Africa, and there is horrific state-sponsored violence against gay men in Chechnya, supported by the Russian government, which has its own anti-LGBTQI laws. There is something to do in every country: some of the work is putting legal or policy protections in place, and some of it is critical life-saving work.

So, donors are asking: what is my strategy? How can I prioritize what to fund? What organizations should I support? What does “impact” look like? 

What do you feel hopeful about as a funder of LGBTQI causes?

As Dr. King said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” So, justice and equality are on our side. Most people in this country believe the LGBTQI community should be treated equally. I’m horrified by the way LGBTQI people are treated in many places, including too often in this country. But I'm also encouraged by the engagement of people, both inside and outside of the LGBTQI community, who are increasingly motivated to lobby, fund, organize and speak out for change. 

I would say that, right now, the challenges facing the LGBTQI community globally are greater than ever, as are opportunities to engage and make a difference.

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Alex Sloan is the vice president of strategic partnerships and communications at the Tides Foundation, which facilitates effective grantmaking programs for individual donors and institutions and also provides infrastructure and nonprofit management services to hundreds of nonprofit projects nationwide. Alex was previously Director of Innovation Investments and Portfolio Director at the Skoll Foundation.