For more than 10 years, local Rainbow Families has served as a steady resource and advocate for GLBT families in the Upper Midwest, but a recent merger with national Family Equality Council could mean considerable change for the organization in years to come. The merger officially was announced at the Rainbow Families Conference on April __, but work behind the scenes had been flourishing for more than a year prior.
Mark French, Chair of the Rainbow Families Advisory Board, says, “We’ve been looking at the sustainability of Rainbow Families into the future. When we looked at our budget, when we looked at our staffing, and when we looked at our programming, and then we looked at the money coming into Rainbow Families in the long term, we wanted to be sure that Rainbow Families lasted for a long time. We did some board work in the idea of exploring a merger, and we unanimously reached a decision that in order to be sustainable in the long run, and sustain the organization, it would be best to merge.”
Rainbow Families looked at three organizations, gathered data and information, and conducted site visits before deciding on merging with the Family Equality Council, a national organization based in Boston that supports GLBT families.
“We agreed that the best fit was with Family Equality Council,” French adds. “Our two organizations have similar missions and similar visions—that we want to serve GLBT families.”
According to French, the merger will benefit both organizations, as Rainbow Families will be strengthened by the larger support system and infrastructure of the Family Equality Council (such as a human resources department, payroll, development department, etc.), and the Family Equality Council also will receive a boost.
As French explains, “They needed to strengthen their presence around the country, their grassroots presence, and they needed to respond more to their base of families around the country through local partnerships, so it was a good fit, because Rainbow Families does that. We provide programming and activities and information and resources for families, and we have a model program in the School Initiative program that doesn’t exist anywhere else.”
In the meantime, French notes that Rainbow Families staff will use the newly acquired support system to maintain and strengthen work locally.
“It will let our staff that will still be here in Minnesota focus more on programs and conferences, and meeting the needs of families, rather than the day-to-day operations,” French reports.
Apart from surface title changes (Rainbow Families is now the official Midwest office of the Family Equality Council), French expects that much of the work will remain the same for the first few years. The organization still will be responsible for things such as recruiting volunteers, fund-raising, and seeking grants.
“At the initial outset, we hope that people won’t see changes,” French observes. “We are going to continue the conferences. We are going to continue the family potlucks and networking.”
But French also points out the major significance of a merger: “This is the first time in Family Equality Council’s long history that they have merged with an organization.”
French believes the next few years may be a time of growing pains, as both organizations will be examining which programs are working, and which ones don’t have enough steam.
In the long run, though, as French puts it, “I think the overall feeling is quite positive, because we want Rainbow Families to continue, and it will now, because we’ve got a great level of support. If you would have asked me this last fall when I was looking at our budget, I wasn’t so optimistic. I didn’t know how we were going to continue to maintain staff and programs that we needed, because in this economic climate, we weren’t there. We weren’t in a position where we were about to fold. It’s just we didn’t want to keep downsizing. We wanted to actually continue to grow and thrive. Now, we can see into the future for the long-term sustainability of Rainbow Families, and I think that’s exciting.”
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