It has been long-established that the UK’s lesbian, gay, bi, trans and queer (LGBTQ+) communities face significant disadvantage and inequality. Research shows that LGBTQ+ people are more likely to experience threats to safety and harassment, to have poorer mental health outcomes, to more regularly engage in substance abuse, and are disproportionately affected by homelessness and service discrimination.
Against this backdrop, specialist LGBTQ+ organisations are a crucial source of support for LGBTQ+ communities, providing specialist services free from discrimination. Despite their importance, however, research shows that the commissioning and funding landscape has, and continues to be, challenging for the LGBTQ+ sector, with years of austerity cuts to public spending impacting significantly on the availability of public/statutory funding, and increasing reliance on competitive grant funding.
Increased reliance on competitive grant funding has proven problematic for the UK LGBTQ+ sector. Not only are levels of funding obtained by the sector disproportionately low when compared to the size of the LGBTQ+ population but marginalised communities have long experienced barriers to making successful applications.
Within this context, The National Lottery Community Fund commissioned NatCen and Consortium to undertake research to identify ways in which they, and other funders, can improve their support for LGBTQ+ communities. This research had two stages: interviews with some staff at the National Lottery Community Fund, and focus group research with UK LGBTQ+ organisations.
Our research found that greater strides are needed by funders to equip staff with the skills and understanding required to diversify their funding portfolio. A key recommendation of our research is that funders to embark on a programme of education and training for staff, underpinned by pro-active engagement with LGBTQ+ communities.
When we examined the barriers LGBTQ+ organisations face when making funding applications, our research found that some practical considerations can make a real positive difference. These include shorter and more accessible application forms, clearer eligibility criteria, proportionate monitoring requirements and the provision of dedicated grant support.
Our research also identified that a key consideration for LGBTQ+ organisations is whether the funders who receive their applications are advocates for LGBTQ+ rights. As a result, if funders want to encourage applications from LGBTQ+ communities, it is their responsibility to actively position (and in some cases rehabilitate) themselves as an ‘LGBTQ+ friendly funder’. While this can start with a rainbow-clad banner on a website, it also needs to include demonstrable competence on LGBTQ+ issues. There are several ways to achieve this, including ensuring diversity monitoring tools are sufficiently LGBTQ+ inclusive, creating safe spaces for LGBTQ+ communities, and platforming the successes of LGBTQ+ organisations already in their portfolios.
Finally, a key tenet for any funder wishing to encourage applications from LGBTQ+ organisations is a demonstrable understanding of diversity. The LGBTQ+ sector is incredibly diverse, made up of large and small grassroots community organisations, and a multitude of intersectional experiences. A key recommendation of our research is that funders look to expand the range of funding opportunities available to LGBTQ+ communities to reflect this diversity. This should include the provision of core, multi-year funding, as well as micro seed funding to enable smaller (often intersectional) organisations to take those crucial first steps. Underpinning this recommendation is the fundamental principle that, instead of thinking in terms of ‘funding for’ LGBTQ+ organisations, funders need to start thinking in terms of ‘investment in’ LGBTQ+ organisations, in order to promote both growth and sustainability.
As described by James Lee, who undertook similar research for the Fund examining how funders can become more accessible to disabled-led organisations: “providing funding through the lens of equity is an iterative journey of constant learning”. The insights from our research therefore represent just one step towards better supporting LGBTQ+ communities.
A more detailed overview of the research findings is available to download here (ppt).
Insights from the research were presented and explored by panellists from LGBTQ+ organisations at an event, “How can funders better support UK LGBTQ+ communities?”, hosted by NatCen on 15th September 2021. You can watch the full event online on NatCen’s YouTube channel.
This blog from LGBT Consortium focuses on the sustainability and resilience of LGBT+ voluntary and community sectors.