by Debra Porta
As a community-led 501c3 nonprofit organization, Pride Northwest prioritizes transparency and accessibility-in all the ways that can be defined. We need and value the community’s input, feedback, and support.
That last piece — support — is something that we haven’t been very good at asking for. Although Pride Northwest has several programs and community support priorities, it is the annual Portland Pride Festival and Parade for which we are most well-known. That is what I want to talk about here.
In contrast to comparable Pride celebrations, corporate sponsorship only makes up about 20 percent of our revenue. In recent years, the Portland Pride celebration has become significantly more expensive (over $200,000), at the same time that gate donations and beverage sales have declined. To be clear, that is NOT because there are fewer people attending the festival and parade. Despite the impact of weather, attendance and participation continue to climb. Last year’s parade was over three hours long and Portland Police estimate 25,000 people on the streets cheered it on. The lines to get into the festival grow more and more each year.
Portland’s Pride Festival has been a world-class, large-scale Pride event for some time, and will only become more so. Community expectations continue to grow, and we deserve a celebration worthy of us.
Pride Northwest is deeply committed to ensuring that Pride continues to be accessible to everyone, regardless of ability to pay. Though counter to our organizational culture and community vision, we have looked at a mandatory gate fee. The problem — aside from excluding community members — is that a mandatory gate fee will TRIPLE the fees and charges that we pay for the use of Waterfront Park. City ordinances and park policies govern these things. For us, a mandatory entry fee is a lose-lose proposition.
So, what to do? How do we increase organizational revenue in order to keep the festival accessible for all, and happening at all?
We are decreasing costs wherever possible, while maintaining the quality of the celebration. Internally, we have built a brand new website and streamlined processes —things that might typically have cost us in excess of $10,000. We are building fantastic partnerships with fellow organizations to bring value to Portland’s Pride celebration with little to no additional cost, at the Waterfront and around the city. We have added avenues for revenue to the Pride Guide and our website, as well as opportunities for smaller businesses and organizations to gain visibility. Sponsorship dollars are — and will continue to be — a delicate balance of revenue and retaining that local, Portland community feel.
We are implementing a multi-layered fundraising strategy. Our first ever ticketed fundraising event is in March (which we are also using as an opportunity to spotlight the contributions being made by this region’s LGBT community). We are developing a sustaining donor program and value-added packages for festival attendees wishing to purchase them. Those will be rolling out soon. We are working to increase Portland’s Pride celebration as a destination for people from around the entire Pacific Northwest, and beyond.
While our new funding efforts will help to cover the costs of what we do — and continue to allow us to support community efforts — Pride is by no means immune to economic realities. We need our community’s support. In order to maintain and improve the quality of the Pride experience for current and future generations, it will take all of us; it will take community-wide financial support.
You may ask, “Why should I care about Pride or contribute to its continued success?” While I could cite many reasons, there is one in particular that I want to focus on. Pride has an undeniable economic and social impact on Portland and our LGBT businesses and organizations; the visibility that small businesses and other nonprofit organizations receive by participating in the Pride Festival and parade is tremendous. At the same time, LGBT businesses and community organizations — which bring dollars into our community, which give us our voice and provide our services and safety nets — have been hit especially hard by the economy, and periodically struggle to take advantage of Pride’s visibility and connection.
My point is this: if everyone who attends Pride were to contribute, not only could we minimize the dollars needed from community and nonprofit organizations — for providing space at the festival and in the parade — we could come close to eliminating them altogether.
Think about the message that would send — to know that the entire LGBT community not only supports their own visibility and celebration, but that we also support and stand behind our businesses and community organizations, that we celebrate and confirm our commitment to their (and our) success. That $7 donation at the gate is the heart and soul of how YOU can ensure that we are able to continue to present one of the largest Pride celebrations on the West Coast — and is an investment in our entire community.
President, Pride Northwest, Inc.