Drastic Decreases

Another economic casualty: LGBT organization Wingspan moves, cuts staff and focuses on core services

Right after Wingspan announced deep staff cuts and program changes, the LGBT community center moved out of its home for the last 4 1/2 years.

When Cynthia Garcia became Wingspan's board president three years ago, Tucson's growing LGBT community center was one of Tucson's brightest nonprofit success stories.

The agency was bursting out of its 6,000-square-foot building at 425 E. Seventh St., with more than 20 staff members working on a combination of grant and non-grant-funded projects. Wingspan was considered a constant star that helped LGBT members feel comfortable living and raising families in Tucson—in a state not known for always being gay-friendly.

Last week, however, Wingspan was forced to shrink—considerably—due to the unkind economy. The latest in a series of staff cuts will go into effect at the end of July, and programs are primarily being whittled down to core, grant-funded services.

However, despite the bad news, Garcia says she still considers Wingspan to be a special place—and she is counting on the community to step in with financial support.

On Thursday, July 16, Wingspan held an emergency meeting at the Community Foundation of Southern Arizona with almost 60 donors and supporters to announce these changes. The organization also announced a move from its 6,000-square-foot building into its 2,000-square-foot EON Youth Lounge space across the street. Wingspan's offices are closed this week while the move is completed, and while new workspaces are created for the organization's core services—such as youth and transgender support programs, and its anti-violence program.

The agency is now left with the equivalent of almost six full-time employees, who are expected to focus on those core services.

Wingspan, Garcia says, has suffered from a decrease in both grants and community funding of about 40 percent. For fiscal year 2009, Wingspan's budget was $1.2 million. The board of directors recently approved a $748,000 budget for fiscal year 2010, but the recent cuts lowered that budget projection to about $400,000.

Some in the community wondered if the agency could wind up completely closing its doors—but Garcia strongly responds that such speculation is unwarranted and completely premature. What is happening is all about survival and "making sure this never happens again," she says.

Garcia says a point of the July 16 meeting was to let supporters know about the major changes the agency was making public the next day. Those changes included executive director Jason Cianciotto's resignation, effective July 31. (From now through the end of the month, he's volunteering his time.)

Garcia says accepting Cianciotto's resignation was particularly difficult. When he was hired 18 months ago, Garcia says, she and the board felt they had finally found the right man to lead the organization after a lengthy search. (See "Executive Homecoming," July 24, 2008.)

While the emergency meeting detailed the move and staffing changes, it also included a plea for help. Garcia says the agency needs $125,000 by the end of October to create a reserve fund. A campaign is also underway to solicit 1,000 donors to give $25 a month. Board members have personally pledged $20,000, and since the emergency meeting, Garcia says, calls have come in from donors wanting to increase their contributions.

The agency also decided to cancel its annual fundraiser dinner, usually held in September. Wingspan has to shell out upfront costs to pay for the dinner, Garcia says. "Those are dollars we just don't have right now. Our reserve has been wiped out. We are living, like many in the community, paycheck to paycheck."

Administrative and human-resource functions are being taken over by board members volunteering their time. Garcia points out that some programs not supported by grants, such as Senior Pride (a program for senior-age LGBT people), will now be run solely by volunteers.

According to Cianciotto, some specific financial duties—such as payroll and taxes—will be done by finance staff at the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation, through a management contract between the two organizations.

The arrangement could be a window into Wingspan's future. Cianciotto says Wingspan, SAAF and the Tucson Interfaith HIV/AIDS Network received a $25,000 grant this year from the Community Foundation to look into ways the agencies could collaborate. Could these agencies eventually work together under one roof, or as one?

"I actually see it as the vision for the future prompted by economy. But even if the recession didn't happen, I see the importance of all of us looking at each organization that has some client overlap and figuring out how we can do what we do more efficiently, rather than see the need for separate organizations," Cianciotto says.

The outgoing executive director admits it was difficult to talk about the agency's challenges with Wingspan stakeholders—and to know he won't be part of the organization's future. After all, he credits Wingspan with saving his life when he was 19 years old, after he joined its youth program. That was almost 15 years ago.

"What was heartening was when people said (during the emergency meeting) that they can't imagine their community without Wingspan," he says. "But this was about an economy that ended up being a tidal wave of change that swept over our organization. It seemed like we were now on a sandbar. The changes came too fast and too furious, and we simply couldn't adjust operationally."

One big expense for the agency was the $7,400 in monthly rent on the Wingspan building. The organization has paid 4 1/2 years on its five-year lease, and Cianciotto says the agency is in negotiations with the landlord.

During the transition, Wingspan's anti-violence hotline remains operational, and the EON Youth Lounge is open from 3 to 8 p.m. The new Wingspan hours will be Monday through Friday, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., while EON will open from 3 to 8 p.m., weekdays.

On the day of the emergency meeting, Cianciotto says, there was plenty of activity to remind him why it was important to protect core services.

"Before the meeting, we had a 19-year-old from Sells, discovering their gender identity, drive all the way in to find out what help and resources they could get. Later on, after the meeting, I went back down to the office, and there was a therapist who had driven a 17-year-old gay youth, from a town about 30 minutes north of Oracle, down to our youth program," Cianciotto says.

"That's why we're here ... why we want to remain here."