Rainbow philanthropy


Dear ladies and gentlemen,

my small contribution was somewhat oversold as a TED style talk. I have no grand new insight, and most of you will know far more about LGBTI issues than me. However, I will not hide behind a convenient lack of expertise but rather be inspired by your courage, and speak out. I will do so not only in my role as Secretary General of the Association of German Foundations but also simply as a fellow citizen. After all, talking about the rights of the LGBTI community is talking about citizens' rights.

"Protecting against discrimination protects democracy for all."
Felix Oldenburg

Right there, to me is the obvious first answer to the question why philanthropy should pay attention, and more than today, on funding and supporting LGBTI groups: Wherever the rights of individual groups are compromised or violated, our rights are compromised or violated. Protecting against discrimination protects democracy for all. In an ideal world, the argument and this talk could end here. Period. Over and out.

Space for democracy and civil society is not expanding but shrinking

However, I am afraid we will need additional reasons to increase the attention paid by foundations and donors to LGBTI issues. Here is one: For the first time in two generations, we see the space for democracy and civil society not expanding but shrinking. People who dare to live their lives differently increasingly find themselves at the margins, in countries not on the other end of the globe but next door. Many foundations may have shifted away from these fundamentals but unless we tackle the shrinking spaces in all their manifestations, and sooner than later, we will find we will have fewer of the people we rely on most for our work.

And for those who need pragmatic rather than political reasons to start investing in LGBTI, I have yet another rationale: Recently, I read about the latest in a series of studies in The Atlantic about what makes cities successful, competitive, whether in high tech or other industries. The best indicator remains the share of gay people. From my experience supporting social entrepreneurs across Europe, I can confirm this correlation: Many of the best changemakers I have met are from LGBTI communities. Many of the new, often times radical ideas for solving social problems, emerge from interfaces, experiences of otherness, fresh and unusual perspectives.

A magnet for changemakers

Any community, any funder who wants solutions to outrun problems should want to become a magnet for changemakers, and should ask: How can I become a place that makes people feel at home who think differently? This is not the icing on the cake, not the thing to do after solving all other problems but rather a precondition for solving any problem more effectively.

Foundations, alas, are not the first to discover the importance of LGBTI issues. The rainbow philanthropy studies clearly show that while funding has increased recently, the number of funders are stagnating, and mainstreaming seems a distant future. We cannot sit back and expect times to change or this issue to sort itself out. Foundations may not be the first but they should not be the last. To me, this is not a question of whether or not but of how and when. And I for one would love to help make a small contribution to philanthropy meeting this challenge.

Thank you.


Felix Oldenburg worked from 2016 - 2020 as secretary General at the Association of German Foundations. He is chair of the European donors and foundations network DAFNE.

Related Content


When digital means more, not less – DAFNE Summer Meeting

The DAFNE’s annual Summer Meeting was held on 19 May 2020. This flashback explores it's topics and issues touched on at the meeting.


Romania: fight against the anti-democratic wave

How Romanian philanthropy will look like in the next 10 years? Interview with Rucsandra Pop, Director of the National Development Program for Community Foundations.


Kirsten Hommelhoff will be the new Secretary General of the Association of German Foundations

The lawyer and foundation manager Kirsten Hommelhoff will be the first woman to head Europe’s biggest association of foundations. Kirsten Hommelhoff will take office on September 1, 2020.