Monthly Donor Spotlight: Montana’s Cathy Cooney

Cathy Cooney is one of my favorite people in Montana. Cathy lives in Bigfork, MT, with her husband, Ned, and has been a champion of Pride Foundation since our regional expansion in January 2011. She’s hosted events and volunteered on last fall’s grant review. I asked Cathy to share with the wider community why she’s inspired by Pride Foundation and chooses to invest her time and money in Montana’s equality movement.

How did you come to be involved with Pride Foundation?

I met Caitlin on her first visit to the Flathead as the new Montana Regional Development Organizer. We attended a meeting of the local PFLAG and Flathead Valley Gay Alliance. Caitlin facilitated a great discussion that led to the first alternative prom in the Flathead a few months later. I recognized that Caitlin’s energy and leadership skills—paired with the Pride Foundation’s philanthropic resources and expertise—were an ideal combination. I became a donor right away. Caitlin and the other Pride Foundation staff have been such a catalyst to the LGBTQ community in Montana. I want to support that work.

What is most impressive to you about Pride Foundation’s work in Montana?

I am so impressed with the huge commitment of staff resources and grant funding that the Pride Foundation has invested in Montana. They invest so much more than they are receiving back in new donations. Montana seems to be a labor of love for the Pride Foundation. Everyone I’ve spoken to, from the Executive Director to the administrative staff, are so enthusiastic about their work here. I get a very warm reception when I call or visit with Pride Foundation staff. I also am seeing the impact of their advocacy grants. This is a crucial time for LGBT advocacy, and I’m so grateful that the Pride Foundation decided to invest in Montana in such a significant way.

What was your favorite part about volunteering through the grant review last year? What did you learn from the experience?

My favorite part was doing the phone calls to the applicants to gather additional information before we made the final grant decisions. I love talking to dedicated volunteers and staff whose passion is their nonprofit work. They are making a huge difference and are truly unsung (and often unfunded) heroes. For many of these organizations, the Pride Foundation is the first foundation to validate their efforts and provide funding. Montana is also a “philanthropic divide” state, which means we have very few foundations in the state and attract very little funding from urban-based foundations in other states. That makes the Pride Foundation’s investment that much more important.

You give to so many Montana causes. Why Pride Foundation?

My husband and I both work in the nonprofit sector, and we see lots of great organizations doing important work. However, as a Unitarian and feminist, social change is my passion. I was a very young woman during the early days of the feminist movement, and it was excited to witness such monumental changes in our society. Now, I get to support another part of the civil rights movement, this time for the LGBTQ community. Pride Foundation is an important player in this movement and, by being a donor, I can make an impact too.

What do you want to say to other straight allies who are considering investing their time or resources with Pride Foundation?

I have friends who are being discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. It’s not right, and it’s unacceptable in a civilized society. We can’t just ignore blatant injustice because we aren’t personally affected. I have been an ally for a long time, but, I must admit, that my concern about this issue has been greatly increased recently because now we have someone in our family who is probably transgendered. When she grows up, I don’t want her to become a tragic statistic: another LGBTQ teen who took his or her own life because of the bias and hatred that our nation condones through our outdated  attitudes and religious beliefs. ALL straight people have fKriends and family members affected by discrimination against LGBT Americans, whether they realize it or not.

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