News Stories

After Orlando Shooting, Nonprofits Respond Rapidly

This article by Megan O’Neil originally appeared in The Chronicle of Philanthropy

Florida nonprofits, LGBT groups, and major grant makers have hastily formed a loose and rapidly growing network of support to deal with the enormous needs — both physical and psychological — of the shooting victims in Orlando.

“If this wasn’t a coalition effort, we wouldn’t be able to get this done because it has been nonstop,” Nadine Smith, the founding chief executive of Equality Florida, told The Chronicle by telephone. “A lot of people haven’t been getting any sleep.”

The nonprofit is one of about a half dozen LGBT groups in Florida that quickly banded together to set up crisis hotlines, raise money, and communicate with the media in the aftermath of the shooting.

By midmorning Tuesday, a crowdfunding campaign started by Equality Florida to benefit shooting victims and their families had raised $3.2 million. Another, set up by the GLBT Community Center of Central Florida, had raised $300,000.

National groups are also lending support. In a joint letter released late Monday, the leaders of more than 50 LGBT organizations and grant makers called for collective action to end violence against LGBT people.

The letter added that anti-Muslim sentiment “distracts from the larger issue, which is the epidemic of violence that LGBT people, including those in the Muslim community, are facing in this country.”

Michael Fleming, executive director of the David Bohnett Foundation, which pays for technology for LGBT groups around the country, called on grant makers to help groups in Florida cover immediate costs as well as long-term needs.

“The ripple effects of this tragedy will continue on well past tomorrow, well past the funerals,” he said.

Ms. Smith of Equality Florida said that she has heard from grant makers such as the Arcus Foundation offering emergency support to cover things like staff travel, which has been helpful. Grant makers like the Gill Foundation have also helped spread the word about the crowdfunding campaign.
A Stream of Messages

When the shooting started Sunday, Ms. Smith was celebrating her son’s birthday at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort. Initially, she ignored her humming mobile phone. When she did pick it up, she was met with a stream of messages and alerts.

Still in her camping shorts and an old T-shirt, Ms. Smith packed up and headed to the Equality Florida offices in Orlando.

“We had a staff huddle right away and launched the GoFundMe campaign to support the victims’ families and survivors,” Ms. Smith said. “We knew everyone would feel like we did — what can we do to help? So we asked people to do two things, to give blood and give money to the fund.”

Many of the earliest media calls actually came from foreign news organizations, according to Ms. Smith. So she and her colleagues also reached out to all the members of the media with whom they have a relationship to make sure they knew what was going on. And Ms. Smith had to go to the store to purchase clothes to wear to a Sunday evening news conference at the GLBT Community Center of Central Florida.

Equality Florida’s telephone lines and email boxes have been filled with hundreds of inquiries and offers to help from individual citizens, corporations, and journalists, Ms. Smith said. Between 8 a.m. and noon Monday, for example, they received 350 emailed questions. They included messages from individual citizens asking about yet-to-be located friends and offering to donate blood. There was one from the Hillary Clinton campaign asking that the charity leadership sign paperwork so the campaign could promote the crowdfunding campaign.

By Monday evening, Ms. Smith said she had done about 15 media interviews. Some of her colleagues had done many more.

The nonprofit will work with the National Center for Victims of Crime to distribute the donations, Ms. Smith said.

“The thing that honestly goes through my head is it takes someone very sick to do what this person did,” Ms. Smith said. “But he selected a gay bar at the beginning of Pride Month and waited until it was at maximum capacity to open fire.”

Gays and lesbians continue to be marginalized legally and culturally, she said, attitudes and policies that need to be uprooted at the source.

She added: “The hatred that twisted him is nourished by a string of messages that say our community is ‘less than.’ ”

Eden Stiffman contributed to this article.