Nonprofit Organization:
San Diego Human Dignity Foundation

Building Tenant Since:

Located at the Center for Civic Engagement because:
“It created a way for our staff and volunteers to be around other creative, philanthropically-minded people. The energy has been great.”
John Brown, Executive Director, San Diego Human Dignity Foundation

When he was approached to be the executive director of the San Diego Human Dignity Foundation (SDHDF), a community foundation that funds lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) programs in the San Diego region, John Brown couldn’t turn down the offer.

“The idea of being on the other end of giving was very attractive to me,” explained Brown, who knew the struggles of fundraising all too well. “I’ve seen a grantor suck all the goodwill out of a gift. I don’t want it to ever be like that for anyone else.”

Brown’s history of leadership in the nonprofit world and, even more importantly, in Southern California’s LGBT community, is extensive.

An openly gay man, Brown’s LGBT activism dates back nearly 40 years, when he was a founding board member of the Sunset Junction Neighborhood Alliance, trying to provide care to patients during the AIDS epidemic in Los Angeles.

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In addition to his stints as executive director of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center, founder of the first HIV/AIDS clinic in Los Angeles, and founding chair of the board for AIDS Healthcare, Brown also adopted and raised four boys in the late 1980s during a time when the subject of LGBT parenting was a topic of debate.

Following his move to San Diego to raise a fifth son, Brown welcomed the opportunity to partner with local nonprofits to support the LGBT community as the leader of SDHDF.

Support for San Diego’s LGBT Community

Philanthropists who open donor advised funds with SDHDF commit to giving to San Diego’s LGBT community today and into the future, which is incredibly important for a community that historically has had to rely on itself for support.

“The majority of support for LGBT issues comes from the LGBT community,” Brown said. “By having our own LGBT foundation, we’re able to ensure that whatever those needs of the future are, there’s going to be a source for supporting it.”

Uprising – Songs of Change - San Diego Human Dignity Foundation

SDHDF’s 2016 “Uprising – Songs of Change” event, which helped fundraise for its Lesbian Health Initiative, featured Janis Ian and the San Diego Women’s Chorus.

With close to $6 million in its endowment fund, SDHDF offers guidance for San Diegans who want to give back to LGBT causes. Services include program evaluations, nonprofit research, setting up grant agreements and more so donors can feel confident in their giving.

Programs and Initiatives

While SDHDF is driven to assist many LGBT causes, its primary efforts are focused on three initiatives:

Through fundraising events, research and local partnerships, Brown is optimistic his organization will continue to see a huge impact in funding directed toward these programs.

Another focus area on the rise is SDHDF’s Transgender Initiative. Brown said he has come to realize that the transgender community is no different from any other community. You need to organize leaders in the community to be in a place where they can accomplish things, together.

What’s Next?

In 2015, SDHDF granted more than $700,000 to local nonprofits to support LGBT issues – the most it has granted in one fiscal year.

Brown’s organization also purchased the Diversionary Theatre in University Heights to help transform it into a center for LGBT cultural and performing arts, and committed to be the fiscal agent for the AIDS Memorial Task Force in San Diego.

While Brown admits the future is unpredictable, he feels the steps his organization is taking will benefit the LGBT community moving forward.

“We can’t predict where we’ll be in five years. But, you can be sure if you have an LGBT foundation, there’s going to be people with the right set of motives to support whatever those needs are at the right time,” he said.

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