Freedom to Marry – A Movement Funding Engine

When Freedom to Marry was founded in 2001, we set out to win marriage nationwide by serving in three key roles for the movement:

  • Act as a catalyst to drive and influence the national debate on the freedom to marry
  • Enhance and support enlistment of local and national non-gay allies and non-gay public support
  • Assist local and state freedom to marry efforts through a national resource center that offers strategic planning, coordination, sophisticated message development, community organizing trainings and materials

We also recognized that moving the country to national resolution was an effort that would require the participation and collaboration of many individuals and groups large and small across the country. As a result, we also declared that we would serve in a fourth important, yet often not considered, role for the movement: “Provide funding as a regrantor to local, state, and national freedom to marry efforts, while stimulating additional parallel funding at the local level.”

Funding the Campaign

Development & Fundraising from the Central Campaign

Read about the broader development program to understand how Freedom to Marry raised the funds needed to sustain the work of the central campaign and function as a movement-funding engine.

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As part of our commitment to serving as a regrantor to partner organizations, we laid out a goal of using roughly a quarter of our funding to provide support to partner organizations.  Initially this was done just through direct regrants, typically between $5,000 and $50,000 per group, but sometimes larger or smaller as the need dictated.  Later, direct investments in some groups totalled over $1,000,000 per group for ballot measure work. In addition, indirect investments - payments made to vendors or contractors for work supporting the partner group - also became a significant portion of our investment.  

In fulfilling this goal, Freedom to Marry raised and invested over $15,000,000 in or on behalf of partner organizations, which was a bit more than 25% of our total revenue over our existence. Of that $15,000,000, $7,800,000 was made by Freedom to Marry, Inc (501c3) and $7,300,000 was made by Freedom to Marry Action (501c4).  Those totals represent about 20% of our 501c3 revenues and just over half of 501c4 revenues.  

Of the $15,000,000, a bit over $10,000,000 was invested directly (i.e. given as a cash regrant to the organization), and roughly $5,000,000 was spent on vendors or contractors to do work on behalf of those partner organizations.  Finally, of the $15,000,000, about $12,600,000 (about 85%) was spent in our final 5 years of existence.

Freedom to Marry was also working to bring more money into the movement overall – not just our own budget. In 2004, our work helped create the Civil Marriage Collaborative, an innovative grant-making initiative designed to strengthen and build a state-by-state movement for the freedom to marry for same-sex couples in the United States (See More Below). The Civil Marriage Collaborative partnered with foundations and individual donors to award approximately $2 million each year to support broadly defined public education efforts, such as research, polling, message development and delivery, alliance building, outreach and advocacy in support of the freedom to marry. 

A Powerful Partnership

The Role of Philanthropy and the Civil Marriage Collaborative

Check out this full history of the Civil Marriage Collaborative, the powerful grant-making initiative dedicated to advancing the freedom to marry in states and building momentum for national resolution.

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Finally, Freedom to Marry also has served during much of its existence as a central source of strategic advice for titan donors (those making donations in excess of $1,000,000). As a source of up-to-the minute information and strategic counsel, Freedom to Marry became an important touch point for those looking to provide funding for the movement as well as Freedom to Marry. Hence those titan donors provided funding directly to Freedom to Marry and directly to other groups based on the counsel provided. In addition, through the Win More States Fund, begun in 2012, we recruited donations from major donors to Freedom to Marry which we in turn would invest in state campaigns at the most critical points. As we racked up victories, major donors entrusted Freedom to Marry to serve as a non-stop-shop for investment in the marriage movement, confident that we'd direct the funding to the right campaigns at the right times. Some, like the politically active Paul Singer, built on their positive experience and created their own funding entities like the American Unity Fund, which now supports a broad range of LGBT movement objectives.

Freedom to Marry’s Partner Support 

Freedom to Marry over its existence invested roughly $15,000,000 in support of partner groups – from our first year to our last. In our first full year of existence in 2003 we provided almost $200,00 in total. These first grants reflected several factors, including the need to establish collaboration with key partners already doing critical work in the first-wave states and our desire to support a variety of methodologies and elements (i.e., public education, message-development, polling, and grassroots outreach). These partner support grants focused on outreach and public education to target constituencies such as faith-based groups, labor, and people of color, and well as help in laying the groundwork for campaigns in first-wave states.

For example, partner support grants went to:

  • GLAD -- $51,000 went to support the development of a communications plan in anticipation of the high court ruling in GLAD's freedom to marry case in Massachusetts. Elements of the plan reflected lessons learned from Lambda Legal's highly successful town hall meetings campaign in New Jersey (see below) 
  • Lambda Legal -- $50,000 was invested in "phase two" of Lambda Legal’s field/public relations/organizing strategy in New Jersey that implemented more than ten town hall meetings, created a database of more than 4000 attendees and a local coalition exceeding 90 organizations, and generated huge, favorable public education.  Freedom to Marry funded the pivotal consultant who, under Lambda Legal's leadership, executed the agreed-upon plan.
  • California Freedom to Marry Coalition -- $23,000 was granted to expand the state coalition among people of color groups, religious allies, and non-gay allies to do public education work on the freedom to marry.  We also helped support state leaders in their work toward setting clear attainable goals, then strategizing workable approaches to outreach (which resulted in their bringing in new allies such as the California Council of Churches).

Two years later in 2005, and on the heels of the far-right attack on the freedom to marry in the 2004 election year, Freedom to Marry doubled its annual investment in partner support to almost $400,000. To help counter the radical right, we focused on support for strategy development, building alliances especially with non-gay groups, and getting the message out in the states and nationally. The work Freedom to Marry helped fund included, for example, support for:

  • National Latina/o Coalition for Justice (NLCJ) -- $20,000 in seed money to form the coalition created to unite Latina/o and Hispanic voices, both gay and non-gay, in speaking out in support of the freedom to marry
  • Northwest Women’s Law Center --  $25,000 to the Washington state group for a public education campaign designed to create a climate of receptivity for the state Supreme Court as they deliberated the freedom to marry
  • Highlander Center/Southerners on New Ground -- $14,000 to co-sponsor a meeting to determine effective messaging to people of color and people of faith in the South.  

In 2009, a year in which the freedom to marry arrived in Iowa, Vermont and New Hampshire plus the District of Columbia (with Massachusetts and Connecticut already on board), Freedom to Marry invested over $550,000, with more than 95% of that going to support work in the next tranche of states. For exampke, our regrants included support for:

  • Equality Maine Foundation -- $20,000 to achieve a 25% increase in the number of house parties and church meetings being held across the state for community conversation around the freedom to marry
  • Basic Rights Education Fund -- $86,000 to this Oregon group to conduct follow-up testing of a variety of message delivery techniques to evaluate their relative efficacy as part of our overall message testing program
  • Garden State Equality Education Fund -- $37,000 to develop a DVD/television ad campaign demonstrating the harm that continued despite the advent of civil unions in NJ

In 2012, following the evolution of Freedom to Marry to both a 501c3 and 501c4 organization and a significant expansion in our budget, we invested over $4,000,000 in partner support. 2012 was also the year when we won the freedom to marry at the ballot for the first time, and almost 90% of that partner support investment went to work in the four states with ballot measures. For the first time, we opened PAC’s in all four states with $1,000,000 or more being invested in each of the three states where we took a strategic lead (Maine, Minnesota and Washington) while others took the lead in Maryland where we invested over $100,000.  

That same year we also invested $255,000 in the New Hampshire campaign to defend the freedom to marry from legislative repeal – a campaign which was won resoundingly when New Hampshire’s overwhelmingly Republican House of Representatives voted in excess of 60% to retain the freedom to marry. We also invested $20,000 in Delaware, $25,000 in Hawaii, and $10,000 in Rhode Island to lay the groundwork for legislative campaigns the following year that would bring marriage to those states in 2013 thus continuing the nationwide momentum for the freedom to marry.

In 2014, Freedom to Marry invested over $2,400,000 in 24 states from coast to coast as seemingly on a weekly basis a new court found it unconstitutional for states to ban the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. These investments averaged slightly more than $100,000 per state.

This significant level of investment continued into 2015 with over $1,000,000 in partner support funding through the end of July in some 20 states – heavily focused on the 13 states that would win the freedom to marry with the US Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision in June, 2015. This included almost $100,000 in support for the Campaign for Southern Equality of which $25,000 was invested post Supreme Court decision to help advance the marriage conversation in places where it was just getting started while also leveraging the marriage win to support the extension of other rights in those states for the LGBT community.

The Civil Marriage Collaborative

Funding State Campaigns

Civil Marriage Collaborative

The Civil Marriage Collaborative is a core group of institutional funders who pooled funds and made joint grants to support the state-based marriage work.

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To fulfill our commitment to stimulating additional parallel funding at all levels in support of winning the freedom to marry, in 2004, we co-founded The Civil Marriage Collaborative, an innovative grant-making initiative designed to strengthen and build a state-by-state movement for the freedom to marry for same-same couples in the United States. The Civil Marriage Collaborative was formed of key foundations and individual donors who worked together to pool funds and direct them in support of the strategic needs of the movement. Freedom to Marry Founder and President, Evan Wolfson, served as its key advisor. Other senior staff, such as Thalia Zepatos, Richard Carlbom and Marc Solomon, provided strategic input and analysis to the CMC on a regular basis.

Throughout its tenure, the Civil Marriage Collaborative invested a total of more than $20 million (or roughly $2 million each year) to support broadly defined public education efforts, such as research, polling, message development and delivery, alliance building, outreach and advocacy in support of the freedom to marry. Over that time it provided support for work in 30 states of about $650,000 on average to each.  

Throughout its tenure, the Civil Marriage Collaborative invested a total of more than $20 million (or roughly $2 million each year) to support broadly defined public education efforts.

At its conclusion in 2015 CMC Funder Members included Anonymous, Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, Calamus Foundation (DE), Johnson Family Foundation, Ford Foundation, Horizons Foundation, Gill Foundation, and Overbrook Foundation. Past CMC funders included at different points in time Calamus Foundation (NY), Kevin J. Mossier Foundation, The Atlantic Philanthropies, Open Society Foundations, Columbia Foundation, and David Bohnett Foundation. 

Recognizing early on the constantly changing nature of the marriage landscape, the   Collaborative reviewed its strategic priorities, grant-making goals and processes on an annual basis to ensure the highest level of strategic impact and responsiveness to needs on the ground. Freedom to Marry provided in-depth “landscape reports” on each state applying for funds, reporting on polling data, the status of organizing in the state, as well as the broader political environment for efforts to achieve majority support for marriage.

Its grant-making goals and objectives typically included:

  • Support for public education in key states where the freedom to marry was a near term possibility and where public education efforts could make a significant difference in advancing the marriage debate;
  • Support of selected public education efforts to bolster appreciation of and support for the freedom to marry in states where it was under attack;
  • Support for special initiatives highly relevant to the larger CMC goal of advancing the freedom to marry, such as special litigation efforts and work on use of religious exemptions to attempt to justify the undermining of the freedom to marry; and
  • Rapid response grant-making to address specific opportunities or challenges that arose outside of the CMC’s regular grant cycles. 

Support from The Civil Marriage Collaborative went to the following states over its 11 year tenure:

Arizona $100,000
California $1,530,000
Colorado $200,000
Connecticut $804,308
Delaware $160,000
District of Columbia $240,000
Florida $200,000
Georgia $125,000
Hawaii $160,000
Illinois $225,000
Iowa $1,152,000
Kentucky $75,000
Maine $2,021,027
Maryland $850,000
Massachusetts $430,000
Michigan $325,005
Minnesota $575,000
Nevada $119,641
New Hampshire $345,333
New Jersey $1,263,017
New Mexico $650,000
New York $1,225,000
North Carolina $150,000
Ohio $275,000
Oregon $2,676,000
Rhode Island $1,331,412
Texas $375,000
Vermont $446,920
Washington 956,500
Wisconsin $400,000

Win More States Fund

Freedom to Marry’s Win More States Fund was launched in March of 2012 with an initial goal of raising and investing $3,000,000 into the work of winning in five 2012 marriage battleground states:  Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Washington – with a special focus on building the funds needed to win the freedom to marry at the ballot for the first time. At the time of the launch, Freedom to Marry had already raised $700,000 toward the initial $3,000,000 goal – including a kick-off donation of $250,000 from Freedom to Marry supporters Sean Eldridge and Chris Hughes – and, in turn, had already invested $350,000 into ongoing campaigns to defending marriage in New Hampshire and win the freedom to marry in New Jersey.  

Evan Wolfson said in the press release launching the Fund at the time: “Winning marriage at the ballot in even one state will take away the last desperate talking-point our opponents use to disparage the gains we are making across the country.  In each of our battleground states, Freedom to Marry is taking a lead role alongside local families and leaders, adding talent and resources on the frontlines to do the critical work necessary to win.”

Ultimately over $4,000,000 was raised and invested in those states and others in 2012, and wins were achieved in Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Washington and Maryland (which was added during the summer of 2012 to the Win More States targets).  In addition, field work began in New Jersey, but in the end marriage was won the following year in the courts rather than in the legislature.  

As we told donors at the time, donations to the Win More States Fund were channeled strategically into targeted campaigns where and when most needed, supporting grassroots organizing, television and radio spots, new media programs, and more, aimed at winning in states from coast to coast. Establishing the Fund allowed our team to be flexible, timely and strategic at channeling resources where most needed. With the wins in 2012 and 2013 we built a track record of success which encouraged donors to continue to want to invest in the Fund over the years – and to use our insights and counsel in directing their contributions strategically as well, hence growing the pool of resources for the movement.  Between 2012 and 2013, Freedom to Marry’s Win More States Fund became the conduit for investing over $10,000,000 in state work to Win More States.