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Friendfactor: The LGBT equality organization for straight friends

United StatesSan Francisco, United States
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$100,000 - $250,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Friendfactor envisions a world where everyone who cares about equality and inclusion takes part in making it a reality. We help straight people become visible and active allies to the LGBT people in their communities, and aim to expand across lines of race, gender, class, ability, and others.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if every person woke up each morning committed to making the world around them a more inclusive place for people who are not like them?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Systems of inequality are perpetuated not by conscious effort to maintain a society of haves & have-nots, but by a lack of experiences that build understanding about the lives of people who are different from us. That’s why 77% of straight Americans care about LGBT equality, but under 15% do something about it. The workplaces and schools we find ourselves in every day are ideal environments to connect, build empathy, and drive people to action.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Friendfactor facilitates “Ally Challenges” that engage companies and business schools in friendly competitions to educate and activate as many people as possible as allies for LGBT inclusion. The Challenges utilize competition and intrinsic motivation to encourage emerging business leaders to recognize the subtle forms of inequality that exist around them and take action to build more inclusive culture, by awarding points for participation in educational and action-oriented activities. Participants take 4 specific steps to become stronger allies: they become informed, visible, vocal, and active. Friendfactor measures the impact of these efforts on company and school culture, ranking organizations against their peers to spur further action.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

In this year’s MBA Ally Challenge, 12 of the top 20 US business schools competed. The winning program, Columbia Business School, activated 770 students (60% of their student body) through 10 activities over the year, including an ally action training, Ask Anything panel, and LGBTQ leadership summit. These efforts engaged a new critical mass of students in conversations around inclusion at the school: by the end of the year 89% of students agreed that allies were a visible and active presence (up from 52% at beginning of year), and 55-75% said they had heard allies speak up about LGBT issues more than once (up from 35%). As a direct result, Columbia will become the first top business school to have a gender neutral bathroom this summer.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

The Ally Challenges have activated over 6,000 professionals in 2 years as allies for LGBT inclusion. Last year’s 12 MBA programs improved culture such that 50% more LGBT students felt comfortable being out on campus by end of year, and the program has expanded to 22 schools this year. The 8 major companies in our new workplace challenge engaged 2k employees in 2014 through 65 events and campaigns. This grant will expand the workplace challenge to a multi-dimensional focus, including LGBT, gender, race, class, & ability. We will pilot this expansion with a cohort of Bay Area companies, where empathy among employees (across race & gender in particular) needs vast improvement. Building on current relationships with Google, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft & others, the “Bay Area Workplace Ally Challenge” will catalyze a new standard for inclusion among up to 60k people at 15 Bay Area companies.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

Friendfactor’s goal is to create a new standard for individual understanding and empathy, inside and out of the workplace. The Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index set a standard for inclusive workplace policy that grew from 13 to 600 companies in 10 years; we believe the Ally Challenges can do the same for workplace culture. We aim to scale the MBA and Workplace Ally Challenges both in the US and abroad, reaching 350-500 institutions by 2020, and to extend the pipeline to undergraduate campuses to activate allies for inclusion throughout the professional lifecycle.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Because diversity and inclusion are good for business, the Ally Challenges will eventually become fully financially sustainable through registration fees, paid trainings, sponsorships, and value-added consulting services. We anticipate achieving sustainability through earned income within 3-5 years. Expansion programs to universities and other institutions will then be funded through a combination of sponsorships and grants.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Out & Equal and PFLAG’s Straight for Equality project do great work to address LGBT workplace bias through trainings and convenings, and many companies have established internal ally initiatives. These efforts build awareness, but are often one-time events or soon lose momentum because there is no urgency or accountability to do more. Practicing empathy is a continuous process, and Friendfactor’s Ally Challenges provide the cross-organizational comparison, quantitative evaluation, and accountability touchpoints that are needed to turn diversity initiatives into truly inclusive culture.

Founding Story

Joanne had been an MBA student for 3 weeks when a friend of 10 years came out to her, and shared her experience of coming out at their school. At a recent class she had sat next to a classmate as he argued that LGBT people should stay closeted at work, and not a single person in the room had spoken up in her defense. Joanne didn’t want to spend two years at a school with such a culture of silence, so she joined the LGBT club and started campaigning to build a stronger ally presence. To her surprise, dozens of students approached her wanting to help–they just hadn’t known how. The club membership quintupled, completely changing the campus culture in less than a year. That’s when Joanne saw the power of activating allies for social change.


Friendfactor is led by its Board of 7 mid-career professionals with expertise in business, politics, organizational behavior, sociology, marketing, and fundraising. Day-to-day operations are run by full-time CEO Joanne Sprague, who has a background in international development and an MBA in social entrepreneurship. A new and growing Advisory Council of seasoned executives, entrepreneurs and movement veterans is also aiding Friendfactor’s growth.
About You
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Project
Organization Name
How long has your organization been operating?

Organization Country

, CA, San Francisco

Country where this project is creating social impact
What awards or honors has the project received?
Funding: How is your project financial supported?

Friends and family, Individuals, Businesses, Customers.

Supplemental Information
On which of the following California counties does your project focus its impact? (check all that apply):

San Benito, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Other.

How does your idea help cultivate empathy skills to strengthen communities and equip young people to become leaders of change?

Friendfactor’s programs meet people where they are – in the workplace and school environments they find themselves in every day – and build their capacity to empathize with the lived experiences of people who are different from them in one way or another. Our Ally Challenges guide individuals to 1) deepen their understanding of others’ experiences continually over time, 2) turn learning into action to counter bias in their everyday lives through small changes in language and behavior, and 3) act as role models to engage others. Through this model, Friendfactor is building a critical mass of individuals and organizations committed to creating a more empathetic society.


Introductions to diversity/HR folks at Bay Area companies, local partnerships with diversity nonprofits


Resource materials on allyship, connections to national LGBT organizations, advice on sustainable revenue strategies

Tell us about your partnerships

In each of our 22 partner business schools and 8 partner companies, we work directly with the LGBT club or employee resource group to ensure that change starts from the ground up and initiatives are aligned with the organizational culture. We also partner with national LGBT groups Reaching Out MBA and Out & Equal Workplace Advocates to expand outreach and share learnings, and will add further partnerships as we expand to a multidimensional focus.


- Persuading organizations to take the risk of trying something this new and disruptive. Current relationships with Google, Lockheed and others will help, and the involvement of organizations like Ashoka and Packard Foundation would go a long way in helping internal champions sell the initiative to their supervisors.
- Defensiveness and shame among would-be allies as they learn how privilege and systemic inequities have benefited them and hurt others. Building in structured program steps and regular dialogues with peers is key to addressing these reactions and encouraging movement forward.

Does your project use any of the following approaches to cultivate community members as empathetic and collaborative leaders?

creating a safe space, developing emotional competency, building leadership skills, storytelling, identifying shared values and differences, instilling courage, enabling action.

Target Age Group(s)

18-35, 36-64.


Nga Trinh-Halperin's picture

Hi, loved seeing your work with LGBTQI allyship!

Have you checked out Lady Gaga's Foundation around this? Your organization is perfectly aligned...

Also, specific activity example would be good read about ;-)

Cady Voge's picture

This seems like such a wonderful program, and so needed. Excited to follow along with your journey!