UPDATE: Center will host ‘open forum’ on Dec. 4, 7 p.m. More info…

Archive: All coverage of the LGBT Community Center of Charlotte

Taking a cue from the Dos Equis man: I don’t post often, but when I do, I post important stuff.

And, this is one of those things I feel strongly about: Money donated to community organizations belong to the community and should be used to benefit and build the community.

Is paying rent part of that? The answer to that depends, I guess, but it looks like one LGBT community center — this one in Cincinnati — has decided its money can be best used in ways other than lease payments.

The Gay People’s Chronicle reports that the Gay and Lesbian Center of Cincinnati has decided to shutter its physical location. And, according to the organization’s statement (at last check, still on their front page), the decision was made to “evolve with the times” and “adapt to the current situation.”

I don’t know all the details from Cincy’s center, but taking a look at their most recently-available Form 990, it seems like they might have had the ability to continue operating their physical location. In 2010, they paid only about $10,000 the entire year for occupancy fees. Their total budget was about $26,000, with an additional $94,606 in the bank.

From the looks of their announcement, it seems like their board thought the money being spent on rent and utilities was better spent on providing grants to fund actual programs and projects, but that’s just a guess. Whether that’s why the made the decision, I don’t know, but the effect is the same as if they had; the organization will use the money to fund grants to support other community organizations and projects. Their first grant for 2014 totals $5,000 — half of what they spent in 2010 for occupancy expenses — and will be given to Cincinnati Pride.

At the day job, I’ve been working on getting together all the forms and data we’ll need to compile our annual non-profits report. We take a look at local and regional community groups’ revenue and expenses and publish the information so community members and donors can benefit from some easy-to-access transparency.

The news of Cincy’s center naturally made me wonder: What do North Carolina’s LGBT centers spend on occupancy fees? How much of their occupancy expense eats into their total expense? Do they have significant cash on hand, like the Cincy center? Is the money they spend building community?

[Before we go too deep into it, read this first: It’s great that Charlotte has its own LGBT community center. I’ve long supported the center and its work. But, I do dream of more. These opinions aren’t made in an effort to poke fun at or demean the work of the volunteers at the center. It’s constructive criticism, food for thought and suggestions on making an already-good thing just that much better. None of these thoughts and ideas is new and most of it has already been suggested by a variety of community members and community leaders, though, I admit, not so publicly.]

First, the data, for comparison purposes:

Organization Occupancy ’10 Occupancy ’11 Occupancy ’12 Cash-on-hand ’12
LGBT Community Center of Charlotte $38,298
(59% total expenses)
(60% total expenses)
(49% total expenses)
LGBT Center of Raleigh $4,085
(13% of total expenses)
(18% total expenses)
(15% total expenses)

(*-For fiscal year July 2011-June 2012)

 So, are lease payments and utilities the best use of an organization’s funds?

Earlier I said, “It depends.” Here’s why…

The LGBT Center of Raleigh has kept their occupancy expenses quite low compared to the rest of their expenses. That, in return, has allowed the organization to hire a full-time executive director, James Miller.

Another Charlotte organization, Time Out Youth, has done the same. It has traditionally kept its occupancy expenses low. Their most recent Form 990 documenting their full 2011-2012 fiscal year notes the organization spent just $6,000 on occupancy expenses, or just 3% of their total expenses. Keeping that expense as low as it is enables the organization to pay for their five staff people, who, in turn, provide the organization’s capacity for creating, implementing and overseeing daily projects, programs and activities. They’ve done all that while managing to save quite a bit in reserve funds. In this, Time Out Youth outperforms both the Charlotte and Raleigh centers; at the end of 2012, Time Out Youth had nearly $185,000 cash-on-hand.

Clearly, an organization can spend money on a physical location and offer unique, original programming and activities. It’s a question of priorities; how much money is being spent on one versus another?

The LGBT Community Center of Charlotte is regularly spending more than or close to half of its expenses on occupancy, leaving little money for a full-time staffer who can devote time, like Miller and Time Out Youth’s staff, to grant writing, program creation, project implementation and more.

Need proof? Just compare the three organizations’ calendars:

Time Out Youth (click to see list of daily activities)

LGBT Community Center of Charlotte (click to enlarge)

LGBT Center of Raleigh (click to enlarge)

To be fair, the LGBT Community Center of Charlotte does host more programs than are currently listed on their calendar. The group’s original programming consists of a game night and monthly gay bingo events and a not-so-well attended annual Stonewall Celebration. Additionally, its GayCharlotte Film Series has several events throughout the year. But, in large measure, the center’s regular programs aren’t original to the center or its staff. HIV testing is organized and implemented by the Mecklenburg County Health Department. Loafers is a pre-existing and independent organization for lesbian women. PRISM was started primarily by Time Out Youth and is organized primarily by the older young adults who attend it. Carolina Transgender Society is also an independent group. And, there are several other examples.

It’s just a personal opinion, but it seems to me that the best use of organizational money is, indeed, spent on programming and projects, either directly or through the expense of full-time staffers and executive directors who can commit the necessary daily work and time to overseeing them.

The LGBT Center of Raleigh and Time Out Youth have figured out the right balance. And, they’ve been rewarded with increasing community support and loyalty. Over the past couple of years, Time Out Youth has been able to expand the number of its staff and is now in the process of moving to a larger location. It is regularly the beneficiary of a number of fundraisers; just this weekend alone two separate events were held raising money for the organization. The LGBT Center of Raleigh this month will facilitate a conversation on expanding its presence into nearby Durham and was recently the recipient of a bequest worth about $132,000 — money that’s been set aside in an endowed, restricted fund. Like Time Out Youth, the Raleigh center will soon be moving to a larger location.

The LGBT Center of Raleigh and Time Out Youth have proven their fiscal responsibility and sustainability, two traits I wouldn’t feel comfortable ascribing to an organization with little original programming that has seen half or more of its money landing in the pockets of a landlord or the telephone and power companies — money that isn’t going toward future investment or renewable programming that builds awareness, education and community loyalty.

But, if you think I’m just complaining, no. Criticism can only be constructive when one offers a solution. So, here goes:

  • The LGBT Community Center of Charlotte spent $23,315 in employee salary expenses in 2012. The center could find a cheaper, smaller location and pay half as much in occupancy expenses and put a saved $20,000 toward hiring a full-time executive director. That would put salary expenses at about the same level as the LGBT Center of Raleigh, which, according to their annual report, spent about $45,000 on payroll expenses.
  • The Charlotte center’s new, full-time executive director could be given the appropriate independence and authority, not to mention the trust of the board, to brainstorm, plan, raise funds for and implement original programming and projects.
  • New programs and projects would focus on expanding awareness of the LGBT community in Charlotte, educating both the LGBT and straight ally communities on LGBT issues and bringing attention to topics and issues that aren’t being addressed at all or not being addressed well or in a bold enough fashion…
  • Projects like: Education on transgender people and issues; broad and bold awareness, prevention and education campaigns addressing the rising HIV infection rate; awareness and prevention campaigns on drug and alcohol abuse within the LGBT community; education, support and social events for Charlotte’s LGBT Latino and immigrant community; and conversation series events, forums or discussions bridging the racial, ethnic, religious and socioeconomic divides within Charlotte’s LGBT community.

Those steps, I believe, would set the LGBT Community Center of Charlotte on a course toward greater visibility, greater sustainability, greater loyalty and greater relevance in Charlotte. The center’s new annual fundraiser, its Autumn Jubilee, debuted in October and was attended by 70-some people. It was well-planned and raised some money for the group, a sign, I believe, that the community does still support the center and wants it to succeed. I’m rooting for the center’s success, but it’s clear it needs a new direction, energy and momentum.

Update: Lease rates and commercial real estate

(Nov. 8, 2013, 8:10 a.m.) — Since this post was first published I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback. Primarily, folks have said it isn’t fair to compare the the Charlotte and Raleigh centers’ occupancy expenses; they say Charlotte commercial property is so much more expensive.

Current market trends, according to property database Loopnet.com (Charlotte and Raleigh), don’t support that kind of assertion.

City Office rental(1) Industrial rental(1) Retail rental(1) Purchase avg(2)
Charlotte $17.89 $6.44 $16.92 $99.86
Raleigh $17.63 $7.50 $15.53 $115.02

Notes: (1) Average per square foot rental asking price per year as of September 2013. Figures from city averages. (2) Average of office, industrial and retail property asking sale prices per square foot as of September 2013; base figures from metro-area averages; city averages were not available for Raleigh.

Charlotte and Raleigh lease rates don’t differ too incredibly much. Charlotte certainly isn’t double Raleigh, but the LGBT Community Center of Charlotte is spending close to double on occupancy expenses, as reported on their 2012 Form 990. That difference doesn’t come from higher lease rates; the difference lies in how much space is actually being leased:

Organization Occupancy ‘12 Total sq. ft.
LGBT Community Center of Charlotte $41,580 4,568 (1)
LGBT Center of Raleigh $21,596 1,690 (2)

Notes: (1) As self-reported in a press release from the LGBT Community Center of Charlotte. (2) As recorded by the Wake County tax office. 

UPDATE: Center will host ‘open forum’ on Dec. 4, 7 p.m. More info…

Archive: All coverage of the LGBT Community Center of Charlotte