States of the States Part 3: Staff and Board Creating Social Change

December 3, 2014

Since 2006, the State of the States report by Equality Federation has documented the strength and sustainability of state-based advocacy organizations that advance equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in the communities they call home.

Over the past eight years, State of the States has faithfully documented our movement’s triumphs and trials as reflected in the capacity of our state-based organizations. This year, we will maintain this spirit, while telling the story of our movement not just in numbers, but through the incredible work of our members.

In Part 1 of State of the States, we looked at how the state-based movement is funded. In Part 2, we focused on organizational leadership. Now, in Part 3, we will examine the leadership and staff of our member groups to see who is doing the work on the ground.

One of the most surprising and impressive facts about our members is that they rack up so many wins and make great progress in their states with so few paid staff. The median number of employees for staffed organizations is four, but groups that are gearing up for campaigns or rolling off of campaigns, as well as larger organizations, have up to 39 staff, driving up the average to eight.

From winning marriage to promoting healthcare, to working for safe schools and passing local nondiscrimination ordinances, our members do so much with so little. While a majority of our members have an Executive Director, fewer than half have other key staff members.

  • 39% (16) have a Communications Director;
  • 37% (15) have a Development Director;
  • 24% (10) have a Program Director;
  • 27% (11) have a Political/Policy Director;
  • 27% (11) have a Field Director;
  • 15% (6) have a Finance Director.

One reason our members are able to accomplish such great progress is that they have dedicated volunteers, including their boards of directors. These boards, at an average size of 15 members, govern, plan, strategize, evaluate, and help raise critical funds to support these organizations.

The Impact

In the previous State of the States post, Ian focused on how the Equality Federation’s State Leadership Project has supported executive directors in the movement. The State Leadership Project also partners with states at all phases of organizational development -- from groups run entirely by a board of directors to our largest staffed groups -- to evaluate current impact, create strategic frameworks, and build out plans to help maximize the impact of their limited resources and infrastructure. 

In the past year, the need for this kind of work has been highest in states that have recently won marriage. At the Federation, we know that while winning marriage is a major milestone, it is not the end of our journey. That’s why we have been partnering with states that are beyond the marriage milestone, helping their staff and boards create strategic frameworks to chart a course for their organizations. 

Out of this work has come some inspiring plans and and the action to back them up. In Minnesota, our State Leadership Project team worked with two groups: Project 515 and OutFront Minnesota. We helped Project 515, a marriage-focused group, strategically sunset their organization, while simultaneously helping OutFront plan for bringing their multi-issue, grassroots strategies to the forefront of their work. Our Lived Equality Project was then able to support them in the implementation of one exciting piece of that work: a program to promote safe and just schools.

As shown by the work of groups like OutFront, equality work beyond marriage is increasingly understood as intersectional in nature -- it is now responding to the needs of those who live at the intersections of class, race, immigration status, and beyond. This intersectional work requires state groups to develop new partnerships across movements, across cultures, across generations.

In discussions of intersectionality, many, if not all groups express the desire to move toward becoming more diverse when it comes to staff and boards. And in our work with members on the ground, we have seen the results of this work in progress. In 2008, transgender and genderqueer people made up only 6% of staff and boards. That is up to 13% this year. 

We still struggle with racial diversity in the leadership of our movement, and this is true too in our member groups, with only 28% of staff and 23% of boards made up of people of color. 

At the Federation, our commitment to organizational development includes increasing our members’ capacity for working at the intersections, recruiting and retaining diverse talent, and building strategic coalitions. For example, in North Carolina, Equality Federation is proud to have been a part of a coalition with Equality North Carolina and the NC NAACP. Through the Moral Freedom Summer, organizers in communities of color and LGBT communities worked together in an unprecedented effort to educate and mobilize voters to demand protection against discrimination and disenfranchisement, and advocate for relationship recognition, immigration reform, and reproductive justice.

Our members understand the need for diversity and intersectionality, not only in their work, but in their organizational structure. Through our State Leadership Project, we are committed to increasing this capacity. Whether is it through strategic planning, board trainings, or building coalitions across different issue areas, we are proud to work with our members toward a more diverse future.

The State of the States survey is distributed in the spring of each year to all current Equality Federation member organizations. The survey is sent by email as part of our member recertification, and responses are collected over several months. The most current data was submitted by 41 organizations. Each year, the survey includes approximately 25 questions, some with multiple responses. Some organizations choose not to complete every question, leaving some answers blank.

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