CHARLOTTE — Steve Bentley, executive director of the LGBT youth services and support organization Time Out Youth, believes local philanthropy is important, especially when foundations are willing to help fund operating budgets.

Thanks to the Charlotte Lesbian and Gay Fund, a giving and endowment initiative of Foundation For The Carolinas, Bentley’s organization is able to receive the funding and support it needs to survive.

“Very few foundations give money for operating purposes,” he said. “For small non-profits, and most LGBTQ-type non-profits are very, very small — operating expenses are the core of what we do. That’s keeping your doors open, paying for electricity and telephones and computers, and salaries for staff. Without organizations like the Lesbian and Gay Fund, we’d be hurting for sure.”

In addition to creating more pro-LGBT visibility in the greater Charlotte community, Bentley also thinks the Fund helps to stimulate local LGBT giving.

“The Lesbian and Gay Fund encourages members of the LGBT community to be philanthropic and share what they have with their own community,” he said.

This sense of charity is what prompted local businessman Sandy Berlin to issue a $100,000 matching grant challenge to the Fund this year. Through May 2010, Berlin will match each personal donation dollar-for-dollar up to $100,000.

“I wanted to encourage the Charlotte community to contribute to the Charlotte Lesbian and Gay Fund and thought of no better way than to match their money with my own,” Berlin said in a press release. “I believe the overall success of our community is dependent on promoting understanding and inclusion.”

Berlin continued, “The Charlotte Lesbian and Gay Fund moves us toward this goal by funding organizations and programs which support lesbian and gay individuals and their families in the Charlotte area.”

Jamie Banks, head of the Fund’s marketing committee, told Q-Notes Berlin’s gift has helped to increase donations to the Fund.

“It was announced the day of our annual event. We actually raised about $30,000 at the event toward the match,” she said. “That was a big rallying point for the people in the room because they could see their dollars would go farther.”

Denise Palm-Beck, chair of the Lesbian & Gay Community Center of Charlotte, agrees matching gifts can stimulate extra giving.

“Their purpose is to stimulate and they are usually more successful at bringing in more dollars,” she said. “It is wonderful when any philanthropic organization has someone who steps up to the plate like that and it very generally does increase donations.”

The Community Center was one of this year’s Fund recipients. They were gifted a $10,000 operations grant. Other Center funders have included Southern Country Charlotte and their annual Queen City Stomp, the Wesley Mancini Foundation and the White Party, among others and private donors.

Palm-Beck said she’s been impressed with the local philanthropy of the LGBT community, and believes they give more per capita than other groups.

“We certainly wish the Fund a very successful drive and the matching gift is fantastic,” Palm-Beck said. “We salute Sandy Berlin for having the heart to do that.”

In addition to grants for non-profit operating budgets, Banks said the Fund looks especially for mainstream organizations and non-LGBT organizations seeking to serve or represent LGBT people or issues in the work they do.

“The [community connections] grants are really more for mainstream organizations reaching out to the lesbian and gay community,” she said. “We’re looking for other organizations to make an impact, not solely organizations that support lesbian and gay issues.”

An example, she said, was a grant to Abdi Osman, an artist-in-residence at the McColl Center for Visual Arts. The Fund’s grant to him will be used for a photography exhibit and art project exploring LGBT issues and people in the local community. Osman, a Somali-Canadian photographer, focuses his work on “questions of black masculinity as it intersects with Muslim and queer identities,” according to a biography.

Bentley’s Time Out Youth received $18,000 toward their operating budget and an addition $3,000 for their speakers’ bureau program, which trains young adults on important LGBT and youth issues and connects them to organizations, schools and boards that want to learn more about the community and needs of local youth.

In addition to the Community Center, McColl Center and Time Out Youth, the Lesbian and Gay Fund’s 2009 grant recipients included: Campus Pride, Gay Men’s Chorus of Charlotte, One Voice Chorus and the University of North Carolina-Charlotte Department of Counseling. The Fund distributed a total of $57,500 in grants this year.

Foundation For The Carolinas’ Lesbian and Gay Fund is overseen by a volunteer board and all donations are redistributed to the community. Since its inception in 2004, the Fund has provided over $162,500 in operational and community connections grants.

Other LGBT-focused charitable giving organizations across the Carolinas support local groups in their communities. In Charlotte, the Wesley Mancini Foundation has funded LGBT-inclusive theatre productions, a speaker series at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte and other community initiatives. Greensboro’s Guilford Green Foundation distributes tens of thousands of dollars each year in local grants for Piedmont-Triad area organizations, gifting more than $70,000 in 2008.

Winston-Salem’s Adam Foundation and Raleigh’s Crape Myrtle Foundation raises money for local causes and HIV/AIDS prevention and support.

— Lainey Millen and Matt Comer contributed to this story.