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The Legacy Fund

Bill Brownson and Lynn Greer
Photo courtesy of Ray Ng

When Lynn Greer's brother died of AIDS, it was only natural that she channeled her grief into politics. After all, her great-grandfather was mayor of Columbus, Ohio in the 1930s, and a member of every generation of her family since had run for office. So she crusaded for years as an AIDS activist on Capitol Hill and back home in Ohio. And she went on to become the founding co-chair of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.

At an OutGiving conference in 1998, Lynn suddenly saw the need for a different kind of work. At the conference, Tim Gill used the image of a train and talked about how few people are able to supply fuel to help the train make it up a hill and over the mountain. That's when she realized that the struggle for true equality requires a longer term perspective than next year's election. It also requires a lot of money--money that will last beyond her lifetime. Out of that conviction, the Legacy Fund was created as an endowment dedicated to serving the long term interests of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in central Ohio. "It wasn't until 2000 that we realized if we don't invest now, we will always be playing catch up," Lynn says.

Backers succeeded in housing the fund within the venerable Columbus Foundation, which strengthens their ability to establish long-term planning tools and convince donors that their gifts will be safe many years from now. While the original plan was to raise $1 million in current gifts and then shift to securing planned gifts, The Legacy Fund found great interest from people wanting to make planned gifts now. The fund balance is now closer to $500,000, but planned gifts exceed $5 million.

One of the many ways in which the Legacy Fund has pulled lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people into deeper levels of collaboration is personified in its leadership. Hard-core Democratic activist Lynn co-chairs the fund with Log Cabin Republican Bill Brownson.

Like Lynn, Bill comes from a long line of Ohioans committed to service; his grandfather was in the Salvation Army and his father was a school superintendent. Shortly after coming out, Bill was appalled by Pat Buchanan's declaration of a culture war at the 1992 Republican convention and decided it was time to get engaged. He joined Log Cabin and rose through the ranks, serving as board chair until 2006.

Bill's work also drew him to philanthropy. Employed by JPMorgan for 19 years, he started six years ago to focus on the philanthropic goals of clients with high net worth. The Legacy Fund provides a way to use lessons he's learned professionally while putting into action his conviction about the importance of people making a difference of their own volition.

Bill has found his own philanthropy is a way to overcome political divisions. "Philanthropy in supporting the core needs of a community is absolutely something people from different persuasions can work on together," he says. "It's a great testament to working together for broader goals." Bill and Lynn both say their differences go beyond politics to a "yin and yang" of personality. She's more likely to rush into advocacy while he's more likely to listen and ask critical questions.

"Her style causes me to get with the program and get focused," he says. His style, meanwhile, tempers her "bull in the china shop" tendencies. Together they ensure that the Legacy Fund is setting in place a way to take care of the long-term needs of all gay people in central Ohio.

To be strategic about investments, the Legacy Fund embarked on a needs assessment of the community in late 2006. Program Officer Elliot Fishman says the online survey will be "incredibly comprehensive." In addition to providing demographic information, he says the survey will determine "what do we have and what do we need?"

The results will help Columbus carefully plan its resources. "I want to invest in things I know will make a difference in whatever the movement needs at the time," Lynn says.

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