"I would encourage [nonprofit leaders] to create a relationship with NAF—regardless of whether they're currently looking at financial issues or not. They push you to think more holistically and long-term about the sustainability of the organization."

Joann Usher, Executive Director, Rainbow Health Initiative

Just in time for Pride, this month’s client focus is on Rainbow Health Initiative (RHI), a community-based nonprofit organization committed to advancing the health and wellness of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) communities through research, education and advocacy.

RHI was founded in 2001 by a group of community activists, health care providers and health advocates who noticed significant health disparities facing members of Minnesota’s LGBTQ communities and were determined to do something about it. Since then, the organization has sought to promote essential resources, expand access to culturally competent care, improve the health of the LGBTQ community and ensure LGBTQ health is part of the larger public dialogue. “They’ve been working on  LGBTQ health issues before many other organizations were; they’ve been around a long time. RHI is helping a community that has been underserved as it relates to health and many other issues,” said NAF’s Allison Wagstrom. “For me, it’s been so interesting to watch RHI manage such an innovative approach with such small budget.”

Joann Usher, Executive Director of RHI, joined the organization in 2012 and was soon confronted with the cash flow challenges RHI faced due to being predominantly funded by contracts—funding that often meant they would have to wait two to three months after completing the work before they would receive payment. Joann brought with her an extensive background in the nonprofit sector and was already familiar with NAF’s services and reputation—so when the time came, she knew where to turn for help.

Support from NAF initially came in the form of a short-term loan and a line of credit to manage cash flow. The line of credit has helped stabilize the organization’s finances, allowing RHI to continue their pioneering work to improve the health and health care for LGBTQ individuals, expand their programs, and launch new initiatives:

For example, in 2013, Minnesota’s Departments of Health, Education, Public Safety and Health Statistics collected sexual orientation data for 9th and 11th grade students—including health data and information about their behavior in school and at home through the MN Student Survey. RHI analyzed this data and  disseminated these findings to other organizations and government entities, including public schools. As a result the schools are now better equipped to address the needs of LGBTQ students—and offer support. In 2014, the Safe and Supportive Schools Act was passed—so schools can also use this data to implement the changes mandated by the new law.

The unprecedented work RHI has done to promote health equity for the LGBTQ community has not gone unnoticed. They were recently awarded their first national grant—a Community Innovation Grant from The Bush Foundation—to create the Minnesota Health and Human Services LGBTQ Standards of Care. Upon the project’s completion, RHI intends to offer standards of care locally and nationally with the hope of it being adopted by other states.

NAF is proud to partner with RHI. Advancing health equity for LGBTQ communities is vital work to the health and prosperities of our cities and states.