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Using data to make LGBTQ+ elders and their needs visible 

A group of elders providing feedback at the SAGE center.

Direct services. Advocacy. Training. Technical assistance. For a large organization working in all four areas to improve the lived experiences of a traditionally marginalized population, achieving impact requires the application of evidence-based insights. 

SAGE (Advocacy and Services for LGBTQ+ Elders) is the only national organization dedicated to addressing issues related to LGBTQ+ people and aging. While serving on the organization’s board for seven years, I saw how the collection and analysis of constituent data helped SAGE identify needs, enhance its programs to meet those needs equitably, and advance its mission. SAGE’s successful efforts might serve as an inspiration and a model for how other nonprofits could leverage data to enhance their work.

Analyzing data to ensure program impact and effectiveness 

With an annual budget of $21.8 million and a staff of 123, SAGE comprises three divisions—SAGEServes, its direct service programs in New York and southern Florida; SAGEVenture, a laboratory of social enterprise programs, including a national cultural competency training program for elder services and long-term care providers; and SAGECollab, a network of partner organizations engaged in LGBTQ+ advocacy, outreach, and services—as well as its national projects department, its policy advocacy team, and its research and equity focused Center of Excellence. 

A five-person team of data and evaluation professionals gather, analyze and disseminate data to assess the effectiveness of SAGE’s programs and services. This includes data that SAGE generates from constituent surveys, intake interviews, and focus groups, as well as data from external sources, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System and the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. 

SAGE uses this data to answer questions such as: 

  • Do our service programs meet the needs of the people they serve? Has engaging in SAGE programs improved the lives of our constituents? 
  • Who aren’t we adequately serving? How well are we equitably responding to the needs of the most underserved and marginalized members of the elder LGBTQ+ community? 
  • What public policies are needed to address the unmet needs of our constituents? What gaps exist in government data collection on LGBTQ+ aging that is leading to gaps in policy protections and services?  
  • Are our training programs for elder services and long-term care providers effective in improving the quality of life for the LGBTQ+ elders they serve? 

For example, SAGE assesses the long-term impact of its nutrition programs by asking participants to regularly complete a 10-question self-assessment that produces an overall score of low, moderate, or high nutritional risk. Data from elders who attend SAGE’s five senior centers in New York City has shown that SAGE’s congregate meal programs, grab-and-go meal programs, and food pantries have helped participants improve their nutritional risk from high to medium risk to low over time. 

Gathering qualitative data to better understand needs 

Answering these questions requires internal systems that gather, analyze, and disseminate both quantitative and qualitative data. The latter is essential to gaining a better understanding of constituent satisfaction and uncovering unmet needs. For example, SAGE discovered through intake interviews a high incidence of housing insecurity among its constituents. That information led the organization to expand its housing programs. Today, SAGE runs the National LGBTQ+ Housing Initiative, which provides technical assistance to elder housing developers and community members looking to create elder housing that is inclusive and affirming of LGBTQ+ elders. In addition, SAGE partnered with developers to build two housing developments in New York City that now serve hundreds of low-income LGBTQ+ elders, some of whom were formerly homeless.  

In an effort to better understand what it means to be an LGBTQ+ elder in the United States, SAGE launched its own biennial national survey—the State of LGBTQ+ Aging. The survey seeks to better understand issues that impact LGBTQ+ elders’ lived experiences, including experiences around health care access, the degree to which they have experienced discrimination, their social connectedness, and their resiliency. Both the quantitative and the qualitative data from this survey can inform new public policy and programming needs as well as define an agenda for ongoing research.  

Raising the visibility of LGBTQ+ elders through data 

SAGE’s reputation for gathering and using data to better serve its constituents has led to requests for technical assistance from partner organizations and agencies. In one instance, the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center (NADTC) contracted SAGE to analyze the sexual orientation and gender identity data it had collected from its clients. SAGE examined NADTC’s data using an intersectional approach—focusing on multiple marginalized identities such as transgender individuals living in rural areas. By disaggregating the data at this level, SAGE was able to help NADTC gain a better understanding of its clients’ unmet needs and provide better transportation options. 

SAGE’s tagline is “We refuse to be invisible!” Across all of its programs, SAGE is leveraging accurate and relevant data—and the many insights it yields—to raise the visibility of LGBTQ+ elders and ensure that they can live productive and vibrant lives.  

And through thoughtful data collection and analysis, other organizations could also advance their missions by surfacing unmet needs and ensuring that their communities are seen. 

Photo credit: SAGE


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  • Kate, Digital Communications Manager, Candid says:

    July 11, 2024 11:57 am

    SAGE does have some international partners and is looking to expand their international network. Learn more on their website:

  • Achini Bazil says:

    July 11, 2024 8:38 am

    Does SAGE group exist in Uganda?

  • Ric says:

    June 4, 2024 8:27 pm

    Is there a sage group in Kansas City, Missouri?

  • Jerry Chasen says:

    June 3, 2024 8:10 pm

    Terrific post Cindy!