Momentum builds at Milwaukee LGBT Community Center

Louis Weisberg, Staff writerS

Dramatic changes at the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center continue to brighten its financial outlook, say the group’s new leaders.

In the past several months, volunteers, many of whom were involved in establishing the center in the late 1990s, have revamped the board, created new operational policies and renegotiated the center’s lease arrangement to more favorable terms.

Helping to fortify the center’s finances is a two-year, $50,000 grant from the Helen Bader Foundation to expand the administrative staff. Grants awarded to non-profits typically cover only specific programmatic costs and cannot be used to pay for agency overhead. The Bader Foundation grant is particularly valuable, because it can be used for basic operational expenses.

“The Helen Bader Foundation’s support comes at a critical time for the center, and it will strengthen the center’s capacity to continue providing vital programming to the community,” said board co-president Paul Williams.

Officials outlined plans for the group’s future in May at a town hall meeting attended by more than 100 enthusiastic supporters. Nearly 20 additional people viewed the meeting live on the Web.

The town hall meeting was the first since January, when more than 150 people jammed the center’s community room to learn about the group’s dire financial situation in the wake of former executive director Maggi Cage’s departure. At that time, the public was on hand largely to air grievances, but the May 17 town hall meeting was dominated by reports of positive developments and expressions of support.

“The most impressive thing is that despite everything, the center has forged on,” interim executive director Karen Gotzler told attendees.

People attending the meeting contributed $3,250, including more than $300 from online viewers. That amount was matched by a $3,000 challenge grant from the Johnson & Pabst Humanity Fund of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation.

Among the positive news announced at the meeting was a new lease arrangement with landlord Siegel-Gallagher, the real estate company that manages the downtown building where the center is housed. The organization formerly had a 10-year lease on four floors in the building at a monthly cost of $20,000. Under the new terms, the center has a one-year lease on two floors of the building at a monthly cost of $9,500.

The entrance to the center has moved from 252 E. Highland Ave. to 1110 N. Market St.

Williams praised Siegel- Gallagher for its support and flexibility. He said the new lease arrangement gives the group breathing time to critically assess its space requirements and determine an optimal long-term location.

Officials also announced that a new finance committee overseen by treasurer Peter Larson is renegotiating the center’s debt. Although revenue from program grants has fallen, overhead has been reduced by an even greater percentage. Overhead was cut by $17,000 between March and May alone, Larson said.

With the identification of new income sources, center officials said they projected the possibility of returning to the black in October.

Since the May meeting, the center has also received a $5,000 grant from the Non-profit Management Fund to hire a consultant to write a fundraising plan. More than $16,000 was raised for the center at the community’s annual “challenge party,” held this year on June 15 at the home of Mike Laska.

Since the January meeting, board membership has increased from four to 14, with new members offering a range of specialized skills in such areas as fundraising, communications, technology, strategic planning, human resources and youth programming. Anne David has joined the staff as program manager for the center’s Anti-Violence and Counseling Services.

“One of the great things about this process is how many people have stepped up to say, ‘WhatcanIdoto help,’”  said board co-president Jennifer Morales.

Officers in the organization also announced that they’re in the process of revamping the group’s bylaws. Perhaps the most anticipated change is the method of selecting board members. Cage prompted a membership defection when she ushered through a new plan under which only existing board members could elect new members. Critics said this gave Cage virtual control over the center.

The new board has proposed reinstating the previous policy for allowing at least half of the directors to be elected directly by members. Center officials say this gives more power to members to revise bylaws and            call special meetings. The new policy and other bylaw changes are expected to be enacted at the next board meeting in July.

“We were so pleased with the outpouring of support and the wonderful energy that community members brought to the (May) meeting,” Williams said. “We want to build upon the many positive developments of the past several months and fully renew the center based on the community’s interests and needs.”

The center’s next annual meeting will be sometime in the fall. Meanwhile, the center is seeking input from community members as part of a process of evaluating counseling needs. This survey is available online through July 18.


On the Web:

A 2011 annual report will be posted at documents/2011_LGBT_ Annual_ReportFinal[1].pdf.