NEW MEMBER SPOTLIGHT: Transgender Strategy Center

FCAA was thrilled to welcome four new member organizations into the fold last year. In the coming weeks, we will be taking some time to introduce you to each of them and spotlighting their important work on our blog. You can read an earlier interview with one of those members, the Red Umbrella Fund, here.

Last year, we opened our membership to emerging intermediary and community-rooted funders, and one of the first organizations to join was the Transgender Strategy Center (TSC). We recently spoke with Founding Director Morey Riordan, who has been a well-known force in the FCAA universe for many years. We’re excited to welcome TSC, which beautifully illustrates the strategies advocated for within FCAA’s recent report: Making the Case for Greater Investment in Community-Rooted Funders.  

Can you tell us about the history of Transgender Strategy Center? What would you like other FCAA members to know?

I can’t believe it, but we’re already five years old, and growing! We’re a staff of four and have a new intern starting with us soon. We also rely heavily on a pool of really great coaches and consultants from the transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) community.

We’re focused on technical assistance and capacity-building by and for TGNC communities, with a priority in serving Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) TGNC communities. We’ve managed to, at no cost to TGNC-led organizations, offer a wide spectrum of self-determined technical assistance.

There’s actually a bit of history with FCAA in this idea. Back in 2016, I facilitated an FCAA funder briefing around transgender issues. Presenters shared global data on the mismatch between the type of technical assistance funding trans-led groups received and what these groups actually said they wanted. Much of the work they believed was critical in terms of capacity-building wasn’t being addressed. That was a moment I realized there’s a real gap around what trans groups want and need. My hope was that we can help fill it.

How is TSC supporting TGNC organizations?

We’ve provided technical assistance to roughly 60 organizations. Most of them are very small grassroots groups—maybe one or two staff, mostly volunteers—but they’re looking to take their organization to the next level. The services we provide include technical assistance around writing and fundraising, coaching, training, human resources, strategic communications, etc. Some groups want help figuring out if they should become a 501c3 versus fiscally sponsored. The most in-demand and requested technical assistance is definitely around grant writing and fundraising; oftentimes the trans community hasn’t had access to the same training or professional development that many cisgender folks have had—so they really want that assistance to become more competitive in the funding world.

As a new FCAA member, what does it mean for TSC to add “grantmaker” to its many tools and strategies? What will that work look like?

While technical assistance is the biggest piece of what we do, in the last two years we’ve also started making grants, with a priority in operating grants for trans-led organizations. We’re about to launch another round of these grants in February, with an additional focus on BIPOC communities. This time, we are also offering awards for a handful of individuals who will be considered fellows. This is really tailored towards trans leaders who are doing amazing work in their communities but not getting paid, or getting paid very minimally for it. We’re really excited for this piece and thinking of it as a small-scale MacArthur Genius Award—it will help support amazing work and build the leadership of folks who haven’t had access to a salary for the work they do.

What has this experience been like for you, coming from the funding and nonprofit world?

I worked for four years at AIDS United and then spent a few years consulting with funders, but this is my first startup. In many ways, I’ve been able to use lessons from the funding world. Those insights have led TSC to create grantmaking systems that are really vetting organizations, while also providing low barrier and creative grantmaking processes. We do interviews rather than a huge application process or written reports. It’s also helpful that we offer technical assistance already, so there’s an integrated approach. We can say: “Here’s the money. We’ve vetted you. We have faith in you. You’re doing amazing work. This is operating support for you to prioritize where and how you want to spend it, and we also have a menu of no cost technical assistance to complement that money.”

How has the TSC’s work, and the communities you serve, been impacted by COVID-19? What lessons have you learned from COVID-19 that it will be taking forward in a post-COVID environment?

COVID-19 hit when we were only a couple of years old. At the time, we were getting ready to do some contract technical assistance work for other funders, so we immediately had to pull back and do a lot of remote connecting with folks. But the upside of that has been the increased access to training and coaching; folks that normally wouldn’t have been invited or couldn’t make it to the table can now participate with us. It really helped catalyze us towards more video and interview touch points in our grantmaking, rather than relying on that written report. On Zoom, we can connect more with the folks we’re working with.

What are you most looking forward to in 2022?

We have a really exciting project in the works. We are partnering with ETR to develop a trans-designed, -led, and -implemented strategic plan model that we’re going to pilot with multiple organizations this year. Our goal is to create a model that is more accessible and inclusive of different folks in the community, which will mean turning a lot of cultural issues and vocabulary upside down.

We also realized that there are very few TGNC strategic planners out there, so TGNC-led organizations often rely on consultants and coaches that aren’t trans or that don’t have similar life experiences—that’s a huge gap. So, we are training a whole cohort of folks to become strategic planners. Then they can go out in the community and do this with other organizations.

We’d love to connect with other funders who have trans grantees to see if there’s been an interest in strategic planning. We think that it’s going to be a real addition in the landscape.

That’s really exciting—and leads me to my next question. In FCAA’s latest strategic plan, we highlight the importance of “HIV-informed grantmaking.” Can you expand on what HIV-informed grantmaking means to you?

At TSC, we all cut our teeth in the HIV field. And when you’ve worked in HIV, you’re trained to have your feet in the fire and to resource communities that have the most challenges. HIV intersects with race, poverty, discrimination, stigma, and all kinds of social drivers. That intersectionality lens is something we bring to our work. Much of our grantmaking is tied to funding groups that have a strong HIV component in what they offer in their communities. HIV activism has really contributed to the kind of leaders we want to be.

Do you have any parting words?

It’s been so great working with everyone at FCAA over the years. I’m grateful to see the interest and work you’re doing on intermediaries. I know there can be stigma from funders around working with intermediaries, but we are really interested in being part of the conversation. We want to talk about forming partnerships to develop trust and provide solutions that best serve communities.

The TGNC community carries a lot of mistrust and trauma, and resources have historically not gone to TGNC organizations. As an intermediary, we not only bring that perspective, but we also have the bandwidth to form closer relationships with grantees. I’m really looking forward to seeing what we can achieve.