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Investing in a Brighter Future

How The Legacy Fund Empowers and Supports Central Ohio’s LGBTQIA+ Community

In 2000, a group of passionate community leaders announced the establishment of The Legacy Fund at The Columbus Foundation. Created by and for the LGBTQIA+ community, its mission is to safeguard the growth, vitality, and needs of LGBTQIA+ individuals and “build a stronger legacy for the central Ohio LGBTQIA+ community.”

For 23 years, The Legacy Fund—a Field of Interest Fund at The Columbus Foundation—has supported organizations like Stonewall Columbus, Kaleidoscope Youth Center, Black Out and Proud, Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus, LifeCare Alliance, and other nonprofits providing critical and valuable programs and services to our LGBTQIA+ neighbors.

We recently asked The Legacy Fund’s co-chairs, Karen Cookston and Ed Chin, in partnership with members Sara Colton, Jen House, Molly O'Shaughnessy, and K Terry Smith, to share a little more about the fund and how it continues to evolve to support central Ohio’s LGBTQIA+ community. 

Q: The Legacy Fund was established at The Columbus Foundation by and for the central Ohio Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/ Queer/Intersex/Ally (LGBTQIA+) community in 2000. Can you share more about why this fund was initially started? 

A: The Legacy Fund was created to inspire members of the Columbus LGBTQIA+ community and allies to give back in a different way. Its premise was based on providing a way through which individuals could give that would make an impact beyond their lifetime. There are many members of our community who don’t have children or family and they did not know where to leave their money so that it could have a lasting impact. Creating The Legacy Fund provided the opportunity to seek permanent, planned gifts so today’s donors help ensure that the LGBTQIA+ community can face any challenges that confront it now and for generations to come. The Legacy Fund gave these individuals and others a vehicle where their donations, coupled with the donations of others, had the power to make real change to build a stronger legacy for the central Ohio LGBTQIA+ community.

In 2000, when the Fund was founded, it was one of only a handful of dedicated LGBTQIA+ funds in the entire United States. Donors then and now believe that because The Legacy Fund is composed of a body of individuals involved in and connected to the community, it ensures that the donated funds continue to support current LGBTQIA+ issues, including those that have developed since a donor’s passing.

The Legacy Fund is a permanent endowment fund held by one of our region’s most trusted philanthropic partners, The Columbus Foundation. The fund is invested carefully so that it will grow over time. Each year, The Legacy Fund board allocates a percentage of the endowment to nonprofit organizations and aspiring college students.

Q: Part of your mission is to help develop strong LGBTQIA+ leaders in central Ohio. Why is this important?

A: Though we have seen improvements over time, LGBTQIA+ individuals are still underrepresented in leadership roles at organizations and businesses in central Ohio. By helping to support the leadership development of those in our community, we hope to help close this gap. The way we do this is twofold:


In addition to giving out grants to LGBTQIA+ community organizations, we also award scholarships each year to aspiring students who have contributed to the LGBTQIA+ community through strong personal character, leadership, service, and academic excellence. These pioneering and empowering characteristics were championed through Howard T. Short and Burdette “Bud” Augsburger, who graced Columbus with their presence for 38 years and establishing a scholarship fund in 2010. To date, 63 students have benefited from their generosity. Scholarships are open to gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender students pursuing post-secondary education at any central Ohio college or university, as well as Wilmington College in Wilmington, Ohio.

Board Service

Our board is comprised of members from the community of all ages and professions. We believe it is essential to have folks who understand our community’s current needs and can look forward to future needs. As the founders of our board matured, we felt it was essential to add passionate and active young professionals and leaders to ensure we had a diverse board empathetic to the diverse needs of the LGBTQIA+ community. We believe that serving on an endowment fund board provides a unique set of skills to our younger members and prepares them for additional service in the future.

Q: Can you share the types of organizations you support and the important services they provide to the LGBTQIA+ community?

A: In the early years, we invested in a partnership with the United Way of Central Ohio, The Columbus Foundation, and Abercrombie & Fitch to underwrite the cost of a Community Needs Assessment, commonly referred to as the LGBT census, to determine the needs and how best to serve our LGBTQIA+ community. To that end, with open eyes and hearts, our first large financial commitment was to spearhead and underwrite a critical community survey. This survey helped show our fund and countless other LGBTQIA+ organizations where support, funds, and resources were most needed. It also helped highlight some pain points where the community should work together diligently to make progress.

Since the release of that survey, we annually offer grants to fund organizations working on issues and concerns in our community. The problems do not have to be significant in scope to garner our financial support. The Legacy Fund has provided support for many things, including but not limited to:

  • Safe space projects for students,
  • Clothing to help trans-central Ohioans interview for new professional opportunities,
  • Programs aimed at supporting at-risk LGBTQIA+ youth,
  • Food and support for central Ohio LGBTQIA+ residents living with HIV, and
  • LGBTQIA+-led art projects.

Q: How do you feel the landscape has changed for the LGBTQIA+ community since the fund's inception? How has the fund, and your grantmaking, evolved as a result?

A: We have more organizations focused specifically on serving the needs of our community than ever before and since our organization was founded 23 years ago. While this network has grown, we have focused on our role as convener and supporter. The majority of our board members also serve in some capacity with another LGBTQIA+ organization. This helps us stay in the know about what is going on throughout our community. This has naturally led to The Legacy Fund serving as an unofficial facilitator and coordinator. We routinely share information about what is happening in the community and actively work to connect with others.

Regarding our grantmaking, we have always focused on providing funds that will make the most impact. Thus, we continue to monitor the needs of our community and then target our giving in the appropriate direction.

Here are three examples:

  • In 2019, Dress for Success Columbus launched its pilot program, the Inclusive Dress Initiative (IDI), to provide stylish and professional workplace apparel and career resource workshops to low-income LGBTQIA+ individuals seeking employment.
  • In 2020, we knew that many central Ohio LGBTQIA+ nonprofits struggled to stay open and continue providing vital community services amid the pandemic. Rather than making these entities go through our normal grantmaking process, we offered “COVID Flash Grants.” These grants bypassed our standard process, made funds available for necessary services faster, and allowed us to distribute our funds expeditiously that year.
  • In 2022, The Legacy Fund provided a grant to LifeCare Alliance’s Project Open Hand-Columbus (POHC), which fills a unique niche in central Ohio as the only agency providing individuals with HIV/AIDS with their most basic critical need: food. In addition, POHC offers a comprehensive array of basic needs and services to people living with HIV/AIDS, such as home-delivered meals, nutritional counseling, and support services like emergency utility bill support to evolve to meet the needs of the LGBTQIA+ community best.

We are committed to being agile and flexible in the future. Our goal is always to provide financial support in impactful and meaningful ways to support and build a stronger central Ohio LGBTQIA+ community.


Jun 30, 2023