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The Time to Give is Now

Charlie Rounds, CLA alumnus and entrepreneur
December 12, 2014

Charlie Rounds

Charlie Rounds
Charlie Rounds
The company:
Series of vacation travel
companies

The mission:
Provide travel options for
the LGBT community

Charlie Rounds remembers the first time he visited the U of M campus. A Burnsville high school junior, he loved the campus’ size and diversity, but what really drew him in was the tangible relief he felt when he saw the posters: The student-body president was running for reelection. And he was openly gay.

“In 1971, you didn’t go to the high school counselor and say, ‘I’m gay,’ or ‘I’m being shoved up against lockers,’” Rounds says. “After feeling so hopeless, I now understood I could make it through the next year and a half. This was a time of change, and the gay community was leading it.”

“There are advantages to both big
and small, but at the U you have to
take advantage of the size and
opportunities,” Rounds says. “Don’t
be intimidated by it. Trust me: I got
everything I could get out of the
University.”

Today, if you were to call Charlie Rounds a successful entrepreneur because he has started or led highly successful companies, you would be correct. But you would be missing the soul of his story. When he graduated from the University in 1973, he already knew what it felt like to be marginalized and what it felt like to be safe. Now he joined the Peace Corps, and his three-year stay in Cameroon intensified two of his great passions. One was travel (nurtured in childhood while living among the families of Minneapolis-based airline pilots). The other was social change (while living in Cameroon where conditions included “cockroaches the size of small birds”). In retrospect, the ingredients of his life almost made the result inevitable: He would create vacation travel for LGBT persons.

“There are advantages to both big and small, but at the U you have to take advantage of the size and opportunities,” Rounds says. “Don’t be intimidated by it. Trust me: I got everything I could get out of the University.”

“In 1985, gay travel was about creating safe space,” says Rounds. “Teachers could be fired for being gay. No fortune 1000 companies had LGBT protections.”

Joining the Minneapolis-based firm RSVP, where gay-rights activist Kevin Mossier was already running one of the first-ever GLBT travel companies, Rounds eventually became president and shareholder. By the time Rounds was ready to sell the company in 2004, he faced an enviable choice: He could either sell his share and retire with his partner Mark, or he could give the money away and keep working.

“Deciding to give it away was easy,” he says, recalling that Mark didn’t hesitate for a second. “We went down to Wells Fargo with the check, cashed it, and took the cash right over to the Minneapolis Foundation.”

The story from there is about how Rounds and Mark, his then-fiancé (the couple married October 5) are using those Foundation funds—and their endless energy and creativity—to support the causes they are passionate about.

Funding CLA internships is one of those causes. Over the next four years, for example, all CLA students will be eligible to apply for internships made possible by nearly $200,000 in funds from the Foundation, as well as the couple’s personal assets.

“The pride in it is that any intern applying sees that it is a gift from the LGBT community,” says Rounds. “It sends a clear message: ‘We don’t discriminate.’ The internships are open to everyone, but it’s LGBT money.”

Another cause is expanding the scope of LGBT travel. Among their new vacation-travel firms, for example, is one called Brand g Vacations, through which Rounds hopes to provide a trip to the Czech Republic for parents of LGBT children, giving them a chance to talk in person with their Czech counterparts.

And there’s GiveOut Day, which debuted last year. Modeled on Minnesota’s Give to the Max Day, the intended annual event encourages people to give to LGBT nonprofits. The causes and the scope seem only as limited as Charlie Rounds’ imagination.

“Our aim is that 100 years from now, special funding for gay rights won’t even be needed,” he says. “We’re set up for impact, not longevity. The time to give is now.”

“We need to start showing Minnesota that as LGBT people, we didn’t deserve gay marriage, we earned it as taxpaying Minnesotans. We’ve gone into the trenches. We are school teachers; we are police officers. We collect your garbage. We are everybody so we have every right to be at the table.”

What he says:

“Listen to your client. Don’t let your ego get in the way. Learn to manage expectations, anticipate questions, evaluate, motivate, anticipate and always be transparent.”

“Take a variety of subjects in college; try to figure out what intellectual tools you’ll need. Don’t limit yourself. Seek out mentors, advisors, and professors.”

“The liberal arts gives you skills in reading, literature, non-verbal communication and persuasion. In short, it gives you valuable insight into why people do what they do.”

“Always be positive about yourself, because everyone is going try to knock you down.”