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Looking Back at Four Years of Multiplying

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I love birthdays. The cake, the retrospective, the wishes for the future. The team here at Progressive Multiplier wanted to make sure that the organization got a proper party for its fourth birthday, which we celebrated earlier this month. 

There was indeed cake. 

And a retrospective.

Now we want to talk wishes.

In our fifth year, we wish for:


Progressive multiplier needs to grow to meet the demand for independent revenue generation project funding and strategic support (Which is, of course, rooted in movement groups’ need to scale up with flexible money). We just funded 16 grants out of our general operating budget, leaving us with 6 months of reserves. a risk? definitely. The right thing to do for the movement? You bet!

The bottom line is we need to bring more unrestricted money into PM for grant making. Stay tuned for the launch of our own independent rev gen projects.
Since our first round of grant making, you’ve heard us express the return on grants made as the amount of independent revenue generated by groups from the investment. This year, we want to start to get at the bigger truth. What difference is that revenue generated making for groups and the broader progressive movement? How has independent revenue quantifiably supported efforts to achieve justice, realizing democracy, and restore the environment?


Thanks to a recent grant we received, we’ll be partnering with a firm to design our ongoing impact analysis. We’ll be publishing results on an ongoing basis. If you’re interested, I suggest staying connected to be the first to know.


Last week, I read an article in the Harvard Business Review that defines thriving as being energized and empowered to do meaningful work. As a first time Executive Director who is looking at things like benefits to offer, onboarding protocols, how to embed JEDI in everything we do, etc. I am quickly realizing how much goes into creating a culture, business systems and collaboration processes that allows people to thrive in their work roles. And, most profoundly, I’m realizing how the gender, racial, and cultural trauma we carry with us – as women, as LGBTQ+ individuals, as BIPOC – uniquely influences what we need to thrive in our work roles. Our birthday wish is for Progressive Multiplier to be a “place” where all team members will thrive in part because the organization does everything it can to energize and empower them to do meaningful work for the movement.
Blogs News

Rev Gen and Democracy 2022 Briefing

Margaret Huang, President, and CEO of the Southern Poverty Law Center, moderates a panel with Progressive Multiplier grantee partners: Living United for Change Arizona (LUCHA), Equality Florida, and For The Many, where they discuss Independent Revenue Generation, Democratizing Philanthropy, and how they use narrative to advance their mission.

Key questions for the panel included:

– How does this revenue generation work that you are doing, scale and strengthen  the rest of the movement that we’re all a part of? 

– Why do you think philanthropy hasn’t supported this kind of work [long-term sustainability in progressive nonprofits] the same way that it supports leadership development or other things that affect an organization’s sustainability and growth?

– How does the narrative shapes the opportunities and challenges of fundraising


To learn more about Progressive Multiplier’s programs and projects, contact Bethany Maki, Executive Director, at [email protected]


So, what do you want to know?

Shortly after our founder sent the announcement that I would be Progressive Multiplier’s new executive director, our Chief Storyteller, Violeta Bermudez, asked me to write a blog about my vision for the organization. Sure, it’s a reasonable request. But vision? My brain is more spreadsheet than blue sky. I am at my best when I’m knee deep in data, trend analysis and rigor. I like to find connections that answer “why” and point to “what” needs to be done. 


So, I’m turning Violeta’s assignment into data mining, and more importantly, an opportunity to listen and be accountable to the communities most directly affected by Progressive Multiplier’s work. 

Each day for the next week, I’ll add to this blog with questions sent in by our partners across the movement. Have a question you’d like to add? Reach out to me at [email protected]

“Foundations and ultra-high net worth donors play an important role in funding movements and progressive social change organizations. What’s your vision for how Progressive Multiplier will engage with and influence this set of donors?”

If you had asked me this question even five years ago, I would have answered it differently. I grew up professionally as a fundraiser for direct service organizations operating within current power systems, not direct-action movement groups shifting power. So, my vision for great fundraising was one of “donor delight” – connect donors to what they care about and give them the experience they want. Show them their impact and keep them engaged. While that version of donor stewardship is great for revenue, it perpetuates systemic inequity and paves the way for capture of the progressive movement by philanthropy from the frontline.

That being said, fundraising is not an “f” word and I strongly believe its core to the mission of any progressive movement group. Fundraising is a key tactic for mobilizing the mass base, that includes foundations and ultra-high net worth donors.

My responsibility is not to delight donors – it’s to engage them in building progressive scale and power in a way that ensures movement groups have a sufficient foundation of money they generate independently.

That means Progressive Multiplier’s donor engagement is rooted in sharing our grantee partners’ revenue generation projects in context of our value proposition to donors. They can drive their current strategies while making a high leverage investment in movement self-determination, scale and sustainability.  

My vision for engaging with and influencing this set of donors is to make an irrefutable data-driven case that investing in independent revenue generation in parallel to organizing and programming is the most efficient and sound way to achieve justice and secure our democracy. A dollar invested by a donor in program and twenty-five cents in revenue generation will yield two dollars to the mission. Our grantee partners are on track to raise $3.80 for every dollar we grant out.

One of our grantee partners turned an $18K grant into $108K in independent revenue and hired an organizer with it. Imagine the scale and progressive power we would build if we funded all 60 affiliates of the same network across 24 states to do the same. That’s what we mean by high leverage.

Check out this and some of our other grantee partners’ stories in our recent articles.

“I’d love to know about how your vision seeks to empower and grow leadership for the up and coming generation of movement leaders and what kind of cultural shifts you’re seeing and working towards to hold young future leaders in this work?”


As we’ve been recruiting for an open position on our team at Progressive Multiplier, this question of growing leadership for the up-and-coming generation has been at the forefront of my mind. We collectively aren’t spending enough resources on purposefully developing holistic movement leaders. I think that’s becoming more recognized and some great programs, like the SOCIAL CHANGE FELLOWSHIPS through THE LEADERSHIP CENTER FOR DEMOCRACY AND SOCIAL JUSTICE, are aiming right at the core of this need for young future leaders. 


At Progressive Multiplier, I’m focused on how we can be part of developing cross-discipline movement leaders who are well-versed in revenue generation and how we can directly develop young leaders specializing in independent revenue generation as integral to social change. For the former, we’re partnering with collaborators like THE RESILIENCE INITIATIVETHE LEADERS TRUSTSOCIAL MOVEMENT TECHNOLOGIESNEW LEFT ACCELERATOR and others to be part of their broader development offerings that seek to provide well-rounded training opportunities for emerging leaders. This is a good start, but I want to find a way to expand beyond one-and-done trainings and into ongoing development and support. This part of the vision for our enhanced Center of Excellence that we’re hoping to launch in 2022-2023 (working on funding for this as we “speak”).


Directly developing young leaders specializing in independent revenue generation for social change has become a bit of an obsession for me. Or at least figuring out how to do it well. Kristie Kimball of Build Power Strategies is getting the basic training right with the MOVE MONEY BUILD POWER ACADEMY, an anti-capitalist fundraising course for movement makers (100% free and tailored for those with under two years management experience – apply now!!)
I’ve worked in fundraising for over two decades. You know how many fundraising professionals of color I know well? Three. Revenue generation as a profession has traditionally been a white field. And many of the donor acquisition and stewardship practices that fundraisers are taught are steeped in white supremacy and patriarchal standards. As we evolve how to resource the base and fundraise in ways that align with progressive values as well as provide financial scale and sustainability, we in parallel must recruit, train and support a new generation of revenue generation specialists. In 2022, I am starting discovery on a fellowship/paid internship program for young movement leaders who want to specialize in revenue generation. The long-term vision is that this program would grow into an alumni network with support for movement fundraisers throughout their careers. 



“You’d think from conversations in progressive philanthropy that we all agree that there are two sources of power in democracies: organized people and organized money. You might also think that progressives’ commitment to engage in self-governance on any semblance of an even playing field is through organizing… under-funding organizing makes the long arc of history towards justice much, much longer. It results in organizations that are less able to focus on community-defined needs, to sustain the capacity that is required to win long-term campaigns, and to build a local power at scale.”


Our founder Phil Radford, wrote this in an article for The Forge and it captures the why and what Progressive Multiplier is doing to build progressive power this year. We fund progressive direct-action groups that run campaigns, organize, litigate, and do civic engagement as well as public education and mobilization to achieve justice for and with marginalized communities. 


I don’t believe we amplify the voice or power of Black, Indigenous, People of Color, Immigrants, and Refugees. We help multiply the independent financial resources of groups led by and serve them to have even more power, reach and impact. Forty-eight percent of our grantee partners are BIPOC-led movement groups. Those partners are working in immigrant justice, environmental justice, corporate accountability, LGBTQ2S+ justice, mass incarceration, racial justice, economic justice, reproductive rights, and gender justice. 


In 2022, I am committed to growing that percentage so that frontline groups have the resources they need to shorten that arc.

A QUESTION FROM Jesse beason, president & ceo, northwest health foundation
“What do foundations often get wrong when it comes to supporting independent resource generation?

The short answer: 


Most foundations do not equate generating independent revenue with building power, so they don’t fund it as such.


The long answer:


My partner has an acquired brain injury that permanently impaired his executive function and short-term memory. He’s on long-term medical disability. When I helped him apply seven years ago and during each annual review process, we were asked if he can lift thirty pounds.


Sure, he’s a physically strong retired Marine. He can lift three hundred pounds if you ask. But he won’t remember that you asked unless you stand next to him and remind him to do it until it’s done. The disability insurance system is set up to investigate gross physical injuries, not nuanced cognitive ones.


That’s how I feel when applying to some foundations for independent resource generation (IRG) support. In general, philanthropy doesn’t have a refined understanding of IRG, so foundations are rarely set up to investigate a proposal in a way that will actually demonstrate its effects on the foundation’s mission. 


Many foundations that are interested in revenue generation, never start because they’re not clear about what their grantees want or need. Some funders, like Northwest Health Foundation, NEO Philanthropy’s Four Freedoms Fund, and Rosenberg Foundation, have partnered with the Progressive Multiplier to do deep discovery and consultative work with their grantee partners to design grantmaking solutions that included IRG training and strategic assistance specific to what groups need.


Foundations also struggle with where to house and how to support IRG projects from intermediaries like Progressive Multiplier because their portfolios don’t provide an easy fit. Independent resource generation is often housed in capacity-building portfolios or special projects. Both, unfortunately, put financial caps and too early expiration dates on support for projects that strengthen the foundation, scale, and agility of the movement.

Foundation program staff are often given the mandate to solve a societal problem, but are rarely given concrete, due goals of solving an issue and strengthening the organizations and leaders that they fund. This makes getting IRG work funded from program portfolios created to support realizing democracy, restoring the environment and achieving justice inherently difficult. Where we’ve found a home with program portfolio, again, we’ve been able to form strong partnerships in service of movement groups. Program Officers at JPB Foundation and Ford Foundation have made conscious decisions to approach their work with dual goals in mind: making an impact leaving the movement notably stronger in terms of resources that can be deployed as power over time (not only IRG, but people, relationships, capacities, etc) The David and Lucille Packard Foundation is a real bellwether here, both with providing resources to all program officers to fund organizational development work, and with their investments in the Leaders Trust and Resilience Initiative in coordination with their direct grantmaking.

I think the other critical point in time for funders to consider is leaving the movement notably stronger in terms of capacity is when they are planning to spend down or limited initiatives. This kind of thinking is one of the reasons Progressive Multiplier exists today – the civic participation Action Fund’s spend down grant funded our first grants as an intermediary. Wallace Global Fund has shown similar vision early in its spend down. We also recently partnered with the Southern Poverty Law Center to support their Vote Your Voice partners. In year two of this ten-year program, SPLC has engaged us to make sure when the VYV program ends in 2033, participating movement groups can make the money they need to continue voter outreach and civic engagement in the Deep South.

I’d love to see funders engage intermediaries more around revenue generation support like SPLC has.  When movement groups are directly funded to do IRG projects by their existing funders, they struggle because they don’t have the strategic or technical assistance they need to execute and grant funds are rarely flexible enough to hire fro that expert support. Intermediares like Accelerate Change, the Progressive Multiplier, and others are doing phenomenal work to help groups build sustainable capacity. 

I firmly believe that what’s “wrong” now when it comes to how foundations support independent resource generation is rooted in caution. IRG is a newer discipline for the movement, it exists to build power and that usually means multi-entity tactics, it’s really hard to measure direct mission impact during a single-year rant term, etc. 

Part of Progressive Multiplier’s job, or more specifically my job, is to advocate for a shift in how philanthropy invests in power building through IRG. It is THE linchpin for sustaining the capacity required to win long campaigns and building community power at scale. Alex Gomez co-executive director of LUCHA said recently at our 22 briefing, “… rev gen is allowing us to build an agenda to thrive while a lot of our funding focuses on how to defend.” That’s the pivot we need to make to address what some foundations are getting wrong – prioritize (in your systems, support, funding, and measurement) what it takes for movement groups to thrive. 


A QUESTION FROM paula morris, director, resilience initiative:


I start almost every public revenue generation presentation I do with a poll. The answer choices are anonymous direct quotes from some of our grantee partners

How much do you dislike fundraising on a scale of 1 to 4?

1. Fundraising IS mobilizing!

2. Fundraising is what it is, just part of the job.

3. I don’t mind picking the pockets of the wealthy.

4. It’s gross that we have to beg for the spoils of colonization. 

When I started at Progressive Multiplier. I’d say the average poll score was 2.5. I’d say now we’re at a solid 1.5. The progressive culture change around rev gen excites me the most!

Our grantee partner CASA, is on a great evolution when it comes to considering fundraising as donor organizing. Senior Director of Development Jesse Steele said, “There can be a temptation among movement organizations to think of donors and other organizations as externalities. We encounter so many well-meaning and dedicated folks every day in our work – we ask them to be ‘supporters’ but the only way they can support is another donation. Over time, this can tempt movement organizations into thinking of their development shops as a necessary distraction and their donors as simply ATMs. But the truth is everyone we encounter in our work is valuable to the struggle: whether they are potential members, potential allies, or potential external partners. At CASA, our members and their dreams, struggles, and ambitions are the sole focus of our work, but understanding that we have the capacity (and maybe even the duty) to organize these non-members as well – whether with us as allies or in coalition with us as partners – means that we can build power across new dimensions we might have interested in donors. We’re interested in donors. We’re interested in organizing lifelong allies who will show up in solidarity with our members. That re-framing has sparked change organization-wide.”

What’s better than that?!

Though I’m concerned that Philanthropy and intermediaries aren’t evolving quickly in how they support this culture shift as movement groups need them to. As groups embrace independent revenue generation as part of building power, they are deploying multi-entity strategies. Funding and technical/strategic assistance needed to support multi-entity work and not just be limited to c3 only.

A question from erika oseguera, director of planning, grants, and administration, the education trust-west

“What is one of the challenges that you foresee nonprofits facing over the next year where philanthropic partners/donors can play a key role addressing?”

Some of the challenges nonprofits face today are universal, and some are very specific to certain sectors. Each organization we work with as a grantee partner felt the hallmarks of the two years – the pandemic, uprising for racial justice, and threats to our democracy – differently. But the universal challenge that I believe philanthropic partners and donors need to support nonprofits in facing is The Great resignation. 

Nonprofits aren’t immune to the current labor shortage . According to the National Council of Nonprofits, the sector is down about 500K employees over the last two years. This is not a time when the sector charged with providing for our society’s social safety net and safeguarding our democracy and restoring the environment can afford to shrink. 

Groups need to be able to offer competitive compensation and benefits, in addition to safe and supportive workplaces and a path for career growth. Nonprofits being “scrappy” or hand-to-mouth can’t be a source of chagrined pride for our sector – under-resourced just won’t cut it anymore if we want progress for society. These staff members are doing valuable work and groups need general operating support from all donors to create better employee experiences.

Our people aren’t “overhead”. They are the ones who deliver our mission and there is no more important investment. 

A QUESTION FROM George cheung, director, more equitable democracy:


This is one of the few areas where having no professional background in institutional philanthropy before joining Progressive Multiplier actually helps me! I worked at large fundraising and marketing agencies supporting nonprofit clients for the last ten years. Every client had a contract that made very clear their investment level, the results they expected from me and my team as well as the assumptions baked into the results to which we committed. 

While this is far more transactional than our relationship with funder partners,I’ve approached building relationships in a related way. The key for us has been the upfront conversations about the assumptions that the results of our proposed project are predicated on  – we have to either have a good sense from movement groups of what they need, or we have to include a request for resources to discover them in our proposal. 

Once the project is underway, I report back on results but also on which assumptions are holding and which aren’t. Grounding in the data this way takes a lot of the anxiety out of the conversation because I can point to why something didn’t work and what we’re doing to follow where the results data tells us to go. This is the same approach we take with our grantee partners as well. As long as we fail forward and the project gives us the data to know where to invest the next dollar to advance the mission, I think we’ve been ethical stewards of the money and partnership.




There are many scholars and human resource experts I could reference here abut what makes a high functioning team. But I’m an unabashed Shonda Rhimes fan. Any self-described chubby geeky introverted child who grows up to build an empire that ensures someone sees people who looks like them and loves like them in mainstream media that lifts up stories so everyone can recognize themselves in people who don’t look like or love like them? YES!

In her book, Year of Yes, Shonda said, “I am smart, I am talented, I take advantage of the opportunities that come my way and I work really, really hard. Don’t call me lucky. Call me a badass”

My dream team is made up of badasses who want to build progressive power so that injustice can be realized for all people.

Everyone on my dream team shows up human, every day. They have blunt conversations with our partners about the white supremacist legacy of ‘donor delight’. They try to answer with our grantee partners how one can be an anti-capitalist fundraiser. They acknowledge that we’re a three-year-old organization working imperfectly through our equity statement and how to be real and not performative when it comes to JEDI. They fail forward – as teammates, as storytellers, as grant makers and grant seekers. They bring drive, collaboration, and a “figure it out-ness” to the work at hand, every day. They honor the amazing opportunity we have to be part of a sea change in philanthropy and to grow progressive power.

This dream is being fulfilled. We have a couple of new badasses joining us to focus ono building partnerships across the movement and scaling our programs for groups. We’ll be introducing them in just a few weeks, stay tuned to meet them

Blogs News

Four Reasons to Invest in Independent Revenue Generation

Originally published in the Johnson Center, 06/15/2021

What does liberation require of us?

At a conference I attended two years ago with Latinx, Black, Native American, LGBTQ+, and Asian American Pacific Islander leaders of state-based civic engagement nonprofits, the facilitator, Aida Cuadrado Bozzo, asked, “what does liberation require of us?”

I was dumbfounded both by the range of answers from these leaders and the lack of my own personal point of view on the question. That moment — filled with humility and hope — has since defined my work as a grantmaking intermediary.

Grantmaking intermediaries play an interesting role in the philanthropic ecosystem. To quote the MacArthur Foundation, “Working through intermediaries can facilitate collaboration with other funders and pooling of resources for re-granting to others. It also makes it possible for us to augment the efforts of our staff with those of individuals with specialized expertise… Effective intermediaries are well-run, knowledgeable organizations with the capacity to grant or invest our funds and oversee their use.”

In the case of Progressive Multiplier, the intermediary where I serve as managing director, our expert knowledge is to support specifically progressive nonprofits in fundraising and revenue generation. We find and fund, using resources from a range of funders and donors, scalable, repeatable independent revenue generation methods, and we share them with all progressive nonprofits through our online Center of Excellence, creating a community of peer learning and expertise. In this case, “independent revenue generation” refers to the methods nonprofits use to raise money outside of grants. That might be a monthly, small-dollar donor program, or a social enterprise, or membership dues. The possibilities are truly endless.

These revenue generation methods drive people and dollars that can be spent at the groups’ discretion to progressive nonprofits. In turn, these organizations grow stronger and can self-direct how they serve their missions. Simultaneously, our funders realize a high-leverage return on their investment that continues to build power for the movement (Our grantee partners are currently on track to earn about $6 for each one they’ve been granted!).

So, the keystone of our answer to what does liberation require? Independent, flexible revenue.

Our Partners: What Independent Revenue Generation Means to Them

Throughout the first half of 2021, I checked in with our grantee partners to see where revenue generation and self-sustainability fit into their vision and mission now that they had survived the multi-fronted turmoil of 2020 (while acknowledging that those crises largely remain unresolved). After we started having these conversations, it quickly became clear that 2020 showed all of us how critical independent revenue generation is for organizations to not just weather tough times but thrive during them.

Here are the four reasons why our grantee partners have made independent revenue generation a priority and are seeking a sea change in how philanthropy invests in it. 

1. Readiness

We’ve all heard the sayings. Chances favor the prepared mind. Catch lightning in a bottle. Nonprofits trying to generate their own revenue in the headline-rich year of 2020 proved these axioms again and again.

When the pandemic, uprising for racial justice, and an unprecedented focus on the November election intensified public interest in social, racial, and economic justice work, our grantee partners who were ready with ideas, staff, and independent investment dollars converted that interest into revenue and supporters for their organizations.

Photo: Erica SmileyJobs with Justice (JWJ), a workers’ rights and economic justice group, has prioritized creating independent funding through both donation programs as well as social enterprise and values-aligned investing for some time. When the crises of 2020 hit with a devastating effect on workers in this country, JWJ was ready to react.

“Having the plan ready to fundraise for a hardship fund for an economic crisis — like a non-strike strike fund — let us launch immediately. You have to be ready when the crisis comes, so investing in the development of frameworks that won’t have an immediate ROI is critical to long-term revenue,” said Erica Smiley, JWJ’s executive director, highlighting the importance of using independent revenue to support readiness. “The pandemic provided a rapid testing opportunity that we can now pivot back to our original concept, where workers can administer this kind of fund according to what members want and need.” 

2. Agility

Photo: Maria Tchijov“Pivot” has been the unofficial theme of the chaotic last year and a half. “The movement often needs immediate response, but philanthropy doesn’t move at that speed,” said Maria Tchijov, vice president of advocacy and membership at UltraViolet.

Despite an unprecedented outlay from philanthropy during the pandemic and uprising for racial justice, independent revenue allowed our grantee partners to pivot faster to crisis response than the speed of institutional funding often supports. 

“Having a sustainable, member revenue-generating system allows us to move … at the speed, velocity, and size that the moment demands.”

For UltraViolet, a national advocacy organization that drives feminist cultural and political change, one of these urgent moments happened on March 13, 2020 when Breonna Taylor was murdered. The group immediately began collaborating with Black Lives Matter activists in Taylor’s hometown of Louisville, Kentucky to demand justice for her — placing ads calling for the firing, arrest, and charging of the officers responsible for Taylor’s death and pressuring the area’s major employers to join the fight. Tchijov credits UltraViolet’s members with being able to help fund this collaborative work quickly. “Having a sustainable, member revenue-generating system allows us to move in those moments at the speed, velocity, and size that the moment demands.” 

3. Scale & Sustainability

The demand on nonprofits for mission delivery was unprecedented during the first year of the pandemic. While COVID vaccines and a rebounding economy have meant fewer news headlines about things like essential workers’ rights, the pandemic’s deep toll on women’s workplace equality, and more — the national crises around equity and justice have not gone away. UltraViolet needs to have 5x its current budget to meet the demands of fighting digital disinformation’s impact on women, advocating for sexual assault survivors, and working to defund the antichoice movement.

Photo: Andrew FriedmanAndrew Friedman, co-executive director of Center for Popular Democracy, is also focused on the need to scale to meet the demand. “We’re nowhere near our aspirations. Even when you have a robust organization, great staff, and a deep commitment, raising independent revenue is hard.”

Friedman’s team is dedicated to conquering the hard, blending tried and true small-dollar donor tactics with alternative revenue generation programs like the Litigation Partnership Project (LPP). The LPP aims to ramp-up and streamline litigation work with CPD/A affiliates, community-based organizations, and the private bar, in a way that will access justice for members, increase CPD/A’s impact, and increase capacity for organizing. “Scaling up investment allows us to have access to more independent revenue over time to have more agility to set the priorities for our work. With enough independent revenue, we don’t risk having a change in a foundation funder’s priorities reset the priorities of our work.” 

4. Accountability

Photo: Marilyn WillmothMitigating the risk of funder priority shifts is a welcome tradeoff for the accountability independent revenue generation creates with individual donors, according to our grantee partners. “We have thousands of members supporting us and that gives us the backing to [do] work aligned with our mission and withstand corporate influence,” said Marilyn Willmoth, membership organizing director at Corporate Accountability (CA).

Unlike most nonprofits in the progressive sector, CA is about 85% funded by individual donors and the group strongly believes that that is where the power is — with people who have invested in the fight. “We want our work to be people-centric and to serve the communities most impacted by corporate abuse, so we need to be accountable to people across all race and class backgrounds… Any gift amount is meaningful and power-building.” 

“At the end of the day, we are about building power, and when people are more closely connected to each other and our organization, we win.”

Photo: Nadine SmithNadine Smith, executive director at Equality Florida, the state’s largest civil rights organization dedicated to securing full equality for Florida’s LGBTQ+ community, echoed Willmoth’s belief in the accountable connection between power building and raising independent revenue. “If you give $3, you’re in it. We take you seriously — you’re a shareholder and a stakeholder, so it changes people from thinking of us as ‘you’ to ‘we.’ At the end of the day, we are about building power, and when people are more closely connected to each other and our organization, we win.”

Photo: Julian WalkerPushBlack, the nation’s largest nonprofit media organization for Black Americans, wants to be accountable to the community it serves. Independent revenue generation is a priority tactic because it allows the organization to focus on what the community wants and is core to the organization’s philosophy of empowerment in the Black community.

PushBlack CEO Julian Walker said, “PushBlack is powered by generosity and has a diverse funding base. In order to maintain its editorial independence, generate unrestricted revenue, and be accountable to the community it serves, PushBlack has invested in growing its small-dollar donor program. In 2020, the organization raised $1.4M from subscriber donations.” 

What can philanthropy do?

Photo: Marcia Whitehead“They fund membership fundraising?! We were giddy.” This is what Marcia Whitehead, managing director of development at Corporate Accountability, recalled about the moment she found out about what Progressive Multiplier funds through the partnership of our funders. That’s a solid indicator of how under-resourced revenue generation is in the nonprofit sector.

Our grantee partners want philanthropy to invest more in the revenue generation work and infrastructure that enables readiness, agility, scale and sustainability, and accountability for groups like theirs. Beyond that, they want to see a more authentic way of evaluating investment in revenue generation. It’s not just dollars and cents raised within a grant period. It’s balancing short-term returns with investments that have a longer trajectory for greater revenue impact. It’s about having a harm reductionist model to capital. It’s about democratizing philanthropy to build a movement for and by the people it centers.

Blogs News

What (Economic) Liberation Requires

The Problem

You’d think from conversations in progressive philanthropy that we all agree that there are two sources of power in democracies: organized people and organized money. You might also think that progressives’ commitment to realizing democracy for every American would come with the following realization: that the only way for many communities of color and low-wealth communities to engage in self-governance on any semblance of an even playing field is through organizing. Unfortunately, philanthropy invests a fraction of one percent of its giving in organizing. To make matters worse, progressive organizing groups lag behind almost all other sectors in the nonprofit space in scaling independent revenue generation programs to fill the void. 

In 2003, I was hired to build Greenpeace’s grassroots department. My ambitions far outstripped my $20,000 annual budget. I knew that philanthropy barely funded organizing. If I wanted to scale Greenpeace’s organizing work, I needed to scale my team’s independent revenue. Our first organizing program invested in student leaders and was substantially funded by the Greenpeace Semester, a tuition-based, semester-long training program. Our field organizing program was funded largely by the canvass that my team started, which raised about $25 million of unrestricted 501(c)(4) donations per year from dues-paying members. All told, we raised about one quarter of a billion dollars of unrestricted 501(c)(4) funds from my team’s programs over my tenure. This gave us independence, the (c)(4) resources to do candidate work and direct action, and a member oriented mindset.

Most progressive local, state, and national organizations don’t have the resources to invest in such programs. They don’t have reserves to finance their proven revenue generation projects. And while philanthropy provides some general support, that general support is often restricted for work on a set of issues.

There is a role for philanthropy to play, not only to fund more organizing but to provide catalytic funding to achieve what Jason Garrett, long-time organizer, entrepreneur, and now program officer at the Ford Foundation, calls the 50/50 rule: fifty percent of organizing groups’ funding should come from philanthropy and fifty percent from their base and businesses.

Many foundations and philanthropists understand the importance of organizing: Ford Foundation, Open Society Foundations, and Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation, to name a few. But fundamentally, philanthropy writ large has failed to embrace power building through community organizing as a key tool for change, relying on a theory of change that is rooted in research, analysis, and communications. According to an analysis provided for this article by the National Council on Responsive Philanthropy, “grassroots organizing” funding only made up about 0.1 percent of total grantmaking from 2014-2018. Among the few funders that do believe change happens because of organizing, many focus on a narrow portfolio of issues; they are willing to support base-building to win victories on that issue but not to build power more broadly.  

Under-funding organizing makes the long arc of history towards justice much, much longer.

In her book, The Self-Help Myth: How Philanthropy Fails to Alleviate Poverty, Erica Kohl-Arenas showed how grassroots groups morph their work into “nonthreatening service or ‘civic participation’ programs in keeping with [philanthropy’s] current funding priorities,” crippling progressive organizations’ ability to focus on community-defined needs that would build their base and credibility. Kohl-Arenas rightly argues that “this model…doesn’t produce permanent community-based power or the capacity needed to sustain it.”

We in philanthropy rely on organizations with organizing capacity to exist for the times when our strategies require that capacity. But we fail to invest in the long-term base building necessary to maintain it. We see this in the boom and bust cycles of civic engagement funding and with each strategic shift to new issues within each foundation. This kind of inconsistent investment means that — at the moment when we need power on the ground — progressive groups have often been starved of resources. If good strategy is what you do with your resources to achieve your goal in a changing world, then we’re neglecting the very foundation of good strategy: the resources and capacity of the movement. 

Andrea Serrano, executive director of OLÉ New Mexico (one of my organization’s grantees), explains the damage election-based investment can cause to organizations on the ground: “When you’re knocking on someone’s door in an election cycle, they’re like, ‘Great, you’re just here because you want my vote.’ But when you’re talking to someone in the middle of April, off cycle, and you’re just asking that person, ‘What’s important to you?,’ that creates a different kind of relationship with our community.” Serrano is prioritizing non-institutional funding efforts this year so that her team is “resourced to have these conversations daily.”  OLÉ’s membership has been fighting for permanent funding for early childhood education in New Mexico for eleven years.  The state legislature recently approved a ballot measure for a constitutional amendment that would guarantee a right to education to children younger than five years old, thus diverting money from the Land Grant Permanent Fund to provide a consistent stream of funds to offer universal preschool for three and four year olds, improve childcare and enhancing home-visiting programs for new parents.

Eleven years in the making. Thousands of door knocks. This kind of long-term work to build infrastructure and move issues requires long-term support.

All politics is local. Federal change happens when we’ve built enough power locally. Ending police violence will take organizing town by town to pressure police departments, mayor’s offices, and district attorneys. On climate, there’s plenty of money for clean energy on the table from the federal government, but there are 30,000 people serving as mayors, school board members, city and county councilors who also need to be pushed to actually switch to the clean energy, electric buses, and green buildings that the Biden Administration is championing.

So, What Do We Do?

Philanthropy should do more to fund organizing capacity, full stop. But that is not the entire answer. At the Progressive Multiplier, where I serve as CEO, we work to provide financial and technical support to organizations developing scalable models to fund organizing, supporting organizing groups to achieve scale, self-determination, and sustainability. This is an incredibly high-leverage approach: for every one dollar we’ve granted to groups, they’ve raised $5.85. I’m privileged to have a bird’s eye view of the creativity of groups on the ground working with the PM and our allies in Accelerate Change, Worker’s Lab, New Media Ventures, New Left Accelerator, as they tackle the challenge of building revenue generation models to fund organizing. Here are a few examples that illustrate the types of work movement leaders are doing across the progressive movement: 

  • Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA) has a vast number of students who go through its rigorous political education courses.  The group is formalizing its curriculum to offer it in a traditional charter school. This will create revenue streams from the state, which pays $5,390 per enrolled student, as well as from donations to the school. Other organizations, like Texas After Violence Project, turned its training program to reduce the trauma associated with the criminal justice system into continued learning education credit courses that attorneys and social workers pay to take to remain professionally accredited.
  • Citizen Action of Wisconsin pioneered an incredible model where each organizer spends their first three months on the job recruiting 250 monthly members, who fund the majority of that organizer’s salary. Citizen Action in little time hired six year-round organizers, and a membership in which 65% of the dues paying members volunteered each month, and 82% were still contributing at the end of the year. 
  • Nobody Leaves MidHudson (NLM), a community organizing group in upstate New York, is leveraging its leaders’ organizing skills to create independent revenue to support organizing.  Using the  snowflake model, NLM is empowering member leaders to organize teams to directly ask their networks to donate during a membership drive. NLM is on track to raise $340,000 on a $25,000 investment from the PM. This pilot can be scaled to raise far greater sums of money and replicated across many organizing groups. 
  • Organizing Networks are working successfully to create replicable revenue generation models that can serve as plug and play programs for their grassroots partners or affiliates. U.S. Climate Action Network (USCAN) is training its partners to have their activists do peer-to-peer member recruitment while taking part in actions, recruiting people who can’t be there with them in the action to be there with them as a member. The Center for Popular Democracy (CPD) and People’s Action are leveraging their email lists to recruit supporters to become planned giving donors. With a $25,000 budget, People’s Action was able to secure $413,000 in bequest commitments. With an $8,300 budget, CPD secured over $650,000 in bequest commitments.

None of these pilots can be tested without funding, and none can scale without financing. Transforming the capacity of the movement requires a combination of technical and financial support for such pilots, shared learnings across the movement, and a sizable pooled recoverable grant fund to finance successful organizations.

None of this, like in organizing, is easy. For progressive nonprofits, building scalable revenue programs requires a team leading the work that is more outcome oriented than process oriented. A team that is  driven, rigorous, passionate about constant improvement, and accountable to very measurable outcomes. It requires an openness to experimentation and failing forward fast until you succeed. A culture that celebrates tests failing as long as the team executed the test well enough for real lessons to be learned. It requires getting out of old mental traps of being risk taking or risk averse, and instead learning to manage the risks we choose to take so that you can succeed.

For philanthropy, we can no longer assume that someone else will fund the groups we stop funding to maintain their capacity for the next time we need that group’s capacity. We need to invest in the leaders on the ground building the power that makes all of our hopes possible.

We all need to stop putting policy ideas before power, program strategies before the people who we need with us.

At the onset of the pandemic, organizers at Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE – an affiliate of Community Change) asked 2,500 people around the Northern Virginia region “If you could change one thing to make life better, where would you start?” People shared heartbreaking stories about being on the verge of eviction. So the organization centered its work there and did the critical advocacy work of keeping people in their homes, asking their members and friends of VOICE to step up around what would make an immediate and significant impact on the community.  VOICE can truly serve its community because they are primarily funded through membership dues and individual donations. Senior organizer James Pearlstein believes, “We’re accountable back to local leaders and that makes everyone’s investment run deeper. It changes the nature of who feels ownership of the organization and its responsibility to create something better in the community.” 

Interestingly, Pearlstein credits the fact that he received a peculiar type of funding from philanthropy to meet the moment of the pandemic housing crisis in Northern Virginia. “[philanthropic support for fundraising] was critical in that it gave us the ability to invest just in fundraising itself – we didn’t have to do it “on the cheap” like we usually do. We turned an $18K grant into $108K – that’s a 6:1 return.”

What did the $108K in revenue allow VOICE to do?  What they have done again and again with the dues they raise: hire yet another organizer.


To learn more about Progressive Multiplier’s programs and projects, contact Mina Devadas, Director of Strategic Partnerships, at [email protected]

Blogs News

The Next Evolution of Fundraising: A Discussion

Discussion with National Immigration Law Center – Immigrant Justice Fund (NILC-IJF), Organizers in the Land of Enchantment (Olé) and UltraViolet as they discuss the next evolution of fundraising after coming off of a boom year and pandemic.

Key questions for the panel include:

  • How is the shift from fight mode to work mode post-election affecting how you view your priorities and the revenue they require in the next year?
  • Throughout the pandemic and election season, many small dollar donors gave as rapid response or emergency donors. What are the opportunities and challenges to building a relationship with them? What support do you from philanthropy need to capitalize on the opportunities?
  • We’re in a new reality with this chapter of the pandemic. What are the long term impacts of the last 12 months on your work and your organization? What support do you need to navigate the new landscape?


To learn more about Progressive Multiplier’s programs and projects, contact Mina Devadas, Director of Strategic Partnerships, at [email protected]

Blogs News

Mass Extinction or Mandatory Evolution:

The toll of the now year-long pandemic on the people, institutions and fabric of this country is almost unfathomable. The last 12 months have been unlike anything I’ve ever experienced – as the caretaker of an elderly mother and severely immunodeficient partner. Or as a progressive woman. Or as a fundraiser.

I’m a pretty hardened fundraiser, 21 years into this calling of helping organizations grow in scale and self-determination, and I’ve come to know what to expect from presidential elections, shaky economies, natural disasters and all the other things that typically affect a nonprofit’s independent revenue. But these last 12 months felt like getting whiplashed every few weeks. Look at these headlines:

A new mission for nonprofits during the outbreak: survival. (NY Times, 3/27/20)

Charity is facing an extinction level event. (Inside Charity, 5/3/2020)

Half of charities expecting drop in donations in 2020 and beyond. (Association of Fundraising Professionals, 7/13/2020)

Nonprofits in trouble: One-third of organizations may not survive pandemic, recession. (Washington Post, 8/3/2020)

Racial justice giving is booming. (The Conversation, 10/5/20)

Hot Second Quarter Boosts 2020 Giving Past Last year. (The Nonprofit Times 10/6/20)

Year-end fundraising results were mixed. Digital outreach was critical. (Chronicle of Philanthropy, 2/9/21)

Fundraising revenues from the 30 largest U.S. P2P programs dropped more than $400 million last year. (Peer to Peer Professional Forum, 3/2/21)

The Progressive Multiplier’s portfolio of grantee and technical assistance partners is wide ranging in size and area of focus. Each organization felt the hallmarks of the last year – the pandemic and uprising for racial justice – differently. While their outlooks are now tinged with a hope they didn’t have at this time last March, all of our partner organizations are trying to define the best path forward in terms of revenue generation opportunities that will give them scale, sustainability and self-determination. We asked four groups to share their stories of fundraising through the last year and what they need to make their financial vision, and ultimately their ability to deliver on their mission, a reality in 2021 and beyond.

Movimiento Cosecha (Cosecha)

All aspects of Movimiento Cosecha’s work were completely shifted by the pandemic. Cosecha is a diverse, decentralized nationwide network of organizers fighting for permanent protection, dignity and respect for undocumented immigrants in the U.S. During the pandemic, hundreds of thousands of those in Cosecha’s network were labeled essential and forced to work under dangerous conditions to sustain the economy. Many others lost jobs and sources of income. At the same time, they were denied access to even the most basic government aid, such as health insurance, unemployment benefits, or stimulus checks. “On the ground organizing is what we fundraise around and that shifted drastically because our leaders and base were affected so deeply by the pandemic,” said organizer, Christine Miranda.

Cosecha leaned into its guiding principles to meet the moment – rapidly responding to the needs of the immigrant worker community with a solution designed by the community. The Undocumented Worker Fund was launched in March 2020 to support immigrant families with direct cash assistance. Cosecha redirected its Progressive Multiplier grant from a general Facebook advertising fundraising experiment to support donor acquisition to the Fund. “Once we were able to recalibrate our internal goals and priorities to launch this effort, the external context of the pandemic actually created conditions that boosted our fundraising reach and potential. For instance, federal $1,200 stimulus checks — and public discourse about the exclusion of undocumented immigrants from this government relief in the early days of the pandemic — impacted at a mass scale many people in our target audience’s intent and ability to give.”

From its $5,000 (c)(4) grant and technical support provided by the Progressive Multiplier’s team, Cosecha generated over $50,000 in donations from more than 500 individual transactions, which were redistributed to 173 immigrant families across the country who applied for COVID-19 relief. In total, the Undocumented Worker Fund raised over $2 million, with about a fourth of all donations coming directly from Facebook ads optimized by what was learned through the funded project. Facebook ad fundraising enabled the organization to expand and sustain a two-month window of a very high volume of donations, which allowed it to redistribute funds to over 3,000 additional families. “Having an investment that allowed us to raise independent (c)(4) revenue for the Fund felt wonderful and freeing in this pandemic moment. It allowed us to make the choice when we were structuring where to house the Undocumented Worker Fund. Ultimately, we chose to house it within Cosecha’s 501(c)(4), because this tax status gives us the most flexibility in what information we must collect and share about individuals receiving direct financial support.”

The Undocumented Worker Fund not only provided direct material assistance to thousands of families affected by COVID-19 it also built key leadership development opportunities for Cosecha immigrant leaders who created and administered the infrastructure to operate the fund. Leaders and volunteers reported feeling empowered and connected by their role in this project; it gave them a sense of agency and mutual support as the pandemic was affecting them, as individuals and organizers. Likewise, the administration of the fund helped local organizers connect with hundreds of new people in their communities, who they then followed up with to participate in other Cosecha campaigns and projects.

Miranda believes that the power built through the Undocumented Worker Fund campaign will translate to Cosecha’s larger fight for permanent protection, dignity, and respect. “The conditions exposed by the pandemic uplift Cosecha’s message and goals – our meta vision is around the labor power of immigrant workers that is constantly exploited but can be organized as the greatest antidote. This is a moment for national mobilization,” she said. On May 1, 2021 – in conjunction with International Workers Day and the completion of President Biden’s first 100 days in office – Cosecha will be launching a national campaign to ensure the promise of immigration reform by this administration is fulfilled.

Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE)

(an affiliate of Industrial Areas Foundation)

Going to your synagogue, mosque or church. Going to school. Simple things we took for granted and built our life and social networks around. And in Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement’s case, built an organizing powerhouse around. VOICE is a non-partisan coalition of over 50 faith communities and neighborhood organizations that work together to transform communities and build local power. Power, as senior organizer James Pearlstein shared, is organized people, who have a focus, and organized money. VOICE has been organizing both person-to-person for thirteen years. When that kind of interaction ground to a halt in March 2020, Pearlstein was in uncharted territory for VOICE. “We had capacity to work in the digital space, but our work is based on the belief of meeting in person, especially when organizing across lines of difference. And also, when you’re organizing low income and working-class people, it is essential to meet them where they are and be on the ground. That respect and acknowledgement is deeply embedded in our culture.”

Some VOICE leaders transitioned to meeting in-person, outdoors, then evolved to fully virtual organizing. They spoke with 2,500 people around the Northern Virginia region to understand what was going on in their lives, asking the question, “If you could change one thing to make life better, where would you start?” People shared heartbreaking stories about being on the verge of eviction. So, the organization centered its work there and did the critical work of keeping people in their homes, asking their members and friends of VOICE to step up around what would make an immediate and significant impact on the community. “Their gift was going toward the most serious need in this moment. And in this time when people were so deeply separated, it made people appreciate what VOICE has meant in their lives, a chance to create something better and more just. This past summer’s racial justice protests again reinforced desire to see something new in the community and not repeat the same pain – our work around evictions was centered in a reckoning on race,” Pearlstein said.

As was the case for many nonprofit organizations not doing direct service work, VOICE found it’s hard to expand its base during the pandemic. “Our experience has been you can maintain existing relationships but it’s hard to expand over Zoom. So, we took the 13 years of organizing we’d done, and those relationships and collective understanding of systemic injustice got really tested,” Pearlstein stated. “What worked was that those relationships intersected with this sense of crisis about the worst public health crisis to hit the country in 100 years. It was new to everybody and that made a difference in how people felt called to dig deeper. We spent 13 years making sure VOICE is a trusted organization to make real change and that mattered deeply in this moment.”

An element of what makes VOICE’s relationship with its members so strong is how it funds its work. VOICE supports its work primarily through membership dues and individual donations, relying very little on institutional support. Pearlstein believes, “We’re accountable back to local leaders and that makes everyone’s investment run deeper. It changes the nature of who feels ownership of the organization and its responsibility to create something better in the community.” He credits the grant VOICE received from Progressive Multiplier with helping VOICE be able to meet the moment of the pandemic housing crisis in Northern Virginia. “The funding support was critical in that it gave us the ability to invest just in fundraising itself – we didn’t have to do it “on the cheap” like we usually do. We turned an $18K grant into $108K – that’s a 6:1 return. The kind of support that Progressive Multiplier is trying to do is so absolutely essential if we want local and state organizations to have real power. The infrastructure it takes to run campaigns and expand into unorganized places takes this kind of investment. We have a new standard to meet that will allow us to do more at this critical time in our history.”

Abortion Care Network (ACN)

Brooke Thomson, Development Director for Abortion Care Network, got the call at the beginning of the pandemic no fundraiser wants to get. A major institutional donor told her they were going to cut their donation by 30% because of the unstable stock market. Down a major donor and sitting on a 2020 fundraising goal that had been expanded to accommodate the demand for ACN’s services by its independent member clinics – that often serve individuals and families with the fewest resources and in the most rural parts of our nation – Thomson looked to quickly evolve fundraising to meet the moment.

The COVID-19 crisis brought two needs into immediate light. Not only had the country gone virtual practically overnight, ACN’s member clinics were besieged with new challenges to providing care – like staff reductions, travel restrictions and anti-choice state politicians exploiting the pandemic to further restrict abortion access through executive orders. For Thomson, this meant putting the organization’s Keep Our Clinics campaign (KOC) out front and in a virtual spotlight. KOC provides funds directly to member clinics to pay for things like equipment and services that preserve patients’ access to care as well as legal costs associated with complying to state executive orders. A successful all-day all-star Instagram Live at the end of April started the KOC campaign on its path to eventually meeting its budgeted 2020 fiscal goal.

Unfortunately, during budgeting the previous year no one could have anticipated the need the pandemic would cause, and the clinics’ application for funds outpaced revenue available six-fold. The demand for KOC funds rose again seven months into the pandemic with the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court. Independent clinics lead multiple legal challenges to medically unnecessary abortion restrictions at every level in the court system – and any day now, one of these cases could be the next abortion case brought in front of this Supreme Court. By the end of February, states had already introduced 384 anti-abortion measures and enacted eight abortion laws.

As the need for ACN’s services grows, Thomson is making two shifts to her fundraising approach. After a deep dive into 2020’s revenue performance, she identified that one-time and major donor retention were surprisingly stable. Where ACN took a hit to their independently raised revenue was from sustaining donors canceling their monthly gifts because of personal budget crunches during the pandemic. So, Thomson plans to re-launch ACN’s sustainer program with a lower dollar ask. Community-centered and collaborative fundraising will provide the second pillar of ACN’s 2021 fundraising strategy. “We’ve been so accustomed to living in a scarcity mindset that it feels weird coming into it from a perspective of abundance. But we actually have a lot of allies and our partners in the movement are relying on each other to find funding and raise money for the critical work we do together – this is how we’re trying to replace that 30%.”

Marked By COVID

“The coronavirus has made it clear that there are two Americas, the America that Donald Trump lives in, and the America that my father died in,” Kristin Urquiza said during her speech at the Democratic National Convention in August of last year. She lost her father, Mark Urquiza, to COVID-19 just six weeks earlier. To honor his life by continuing to fight for others affected by COVID-19, Kristin co-founded Marked By COVID with her partner, Christine Keeves.

“We have first and foremost been really focused on doing the work. What we mean by that is that there is an acute need to support budding COVID activists and no one else is doing it. The overwhelming amount of people coming to us we had to absorb through action,” said Urquiza. Marked By COVID has been doing actions centered around its Five R Plan. This policy platform – centered around response, recovery, restitution, resiliency and recognition – lays out a comprehensive short and long-term pandemic response and prevention plan that they intend to implement with elected officials at the federal, state, and local levels.

Urquiza sees the disproportionate effects of the pandemic on communities of color in their activist universe. “The majority of people we work with are people of color. As a person of color, it’s amazing to work with so many people who have never thought about activism as a mechanism to see their power,” she said. “To get to see that development happen knowing that this is such a healing way for people to deal with losing loved ones and expand their agency to tackle more systemic issues in their communities is amazing. This is why it’s important that we stay connected to the activists and respond to their needs.”

The challenge to having prioritized the work to meet the moment over building capacity and infrastructure is financial stability. Keeves, who also serves as Marked By COVID’s chief of communications, added, “We started doing the work that needed to be done – we didn’t pause and talk to foundations before we got up and running.” This creates a very hard scale and sustainability challenge for nascent groups like Marked By COVID. “We’ve been reactive to a very fluid environment throughout the pandemic and the reckoning for racial justice in order to give the activist community the tools it’s asking for. All of that means there isn’t a roadmap for organizational development. To secure institutional funding you need that, but to meet the moment for activists we have to center on what the community needs and be opportunistic.” Urquiza added, “There will come a point where we can more acutely describe thematic elements institutional funders need in a case for support, but we’re going to have to rely on small dollar donors to prove our concept and get to that point.”

Urquiza and Keeves share a concern that this post-election year will see waning donor interest in their organization. “Back in August and September, I naively assumed that because Joe Biden found me, institutional funders would find me too. But beyond Progressive Multiplier, they haven’t,” Urquiza said. “Our activists have been there when called to help flip Arizona blue, and speak at the DNC, and mobilize people. We want to ensure that impacted people who so often are looked at in elections and shoved aside when it’s time to make policy have a seat where the decisions are being made that effect their lives.” Keeves added, “The people who were outraged six months ago…have disbanded and a sense of complacency is taking back over again. These gaslit COVID activists who haven’t felt heard by the government are now feeling that from community members who are generally on their side. We have to be on the frontline to keep these supporters from checking out, rallying them around a much more nuanced policy platform versus a single point like an election.”

As Marked By COVID works rapidly to attain the next level of program and funding maturity a year into the pandemic and the organization’s existence, the team looks to its independent revenue generation to fund the work. Urquiza said, “Our small donors have been keeping us afloat. They are engaged on actions and organizing money, and with the Progressive Multiplier’s grant, we’ve been able to test out and optimize our fundraising tactics. We are humbled by how generous this list – many of whom have been directly impacted by COVID – is.” Keeves echoed Urquiza’s respect for the people Marked By COVID serves, saying, “We will never be willing to deprioritize this community’s needs. We are experiencing social disruption at an unprecedented degree and this is the moment to try out new ideas to serve new needs.”

To learn more about Progressive Multiplier’s programs and projects, contact Mina Devadas, Director of Strategic Partnerships, at [email protected]

Blogs News

Meet Our Environmental Justice Grantee Partners

I can’t think of a better way to start my work as Progressive Multiplier’s managing director than by welcoming five amazing grantee partners to our inaugural Environmental Justice Cohort.  This cohort was supposed to be our primary focus in spring 2020 when we were planning it back at the end of 2019.  2020, as we all know, had other plans. 

The Progressive Multiplier team’s March 5th trip to our founding EJ funder partner’s office to kick off this program was the last any of us would take in 2020.  Just two short weeks later, we had pivoted our attention to respond to the revenue crisis facing the nonprofit sector because of the COVID-19 pandemic.   Over the past year we’ve had the privilege of working with all of our grantee partners, including the first wave of recipients of Progressive Stimulus Project grants,  to evolve or launch their grant projects to meet the challenges and opportunities of fundraising through a pandemic and uprising for racial justice.

As that constant fundraising strategy evolution became our normal by early summer, we were able to refocus on preparing to build the EJ cohort, researching common revenue generation needs among groups.  The JPB Foundation focuses its environment grant making in low-income communities and underserved communities of color.  These communities have borne a disproportionate burden from environmental injustice and racism, and the frontline environmental justice organizations working to address these problems have suffered chronic disinvestment. Through its partnership with The JPB Foundation, Progressive Multiplier aims to build financial strength across the environmental justice movement by investing in groups’ testing, replicating, innovating and scaling mass market revenue generation techniques to accelerate the growth of unrestricted, flexible funds available to them.

The following organizations are testing revenue generation techniques that, once proven and distributed, have the potential to make a real impact on the sustainability of the environmental justice movement.  We congratulate these groups in their creativity, rigor and drive to scale their independent revenue and share their learnings with the sector.

Climate Justice Alliance:  CJA is working on a lead generation to donor conversion project that aims to grow their email audience and cultivate them into EJ activists and small dollar donors helping frontline communities build the regenerative economy.

Kentuckians for the Commonwealth:  KFTC wants to continue to shift the narrative about what’s possible in Kentucky, and through this grant project, test into what types of messages inspire people to see themselves in the work and to actually take action through advocacy and small dollar donations.   

Power Shift Network:  Through quarterly prospecting events, PSN will build a large major and mid-major donor program.  The group will be testing different follow up communication tactics and offers to its potential donors, defining what yields the most revenue to support mobilizing the collective power of young people to mitigate climate change and create a just, clean energy future.

US Climate Action Network:  USCAN has launched Arm in Arm, a peer-to-peer fundraising program that couples grassroots activism and revenue generation, to ignite a transformational era that ends the climate crisis by centering economic and racial justice.

The Water Collaborative of Greater New Orleans:  TWC is launching Water and Climate Tours, dedicated to the historical and future relationship New Orleans and Southeast Louisiana has with water, climate, and the built environment, and how it shapes the city’s culture, traditions, and attitudes. The education should bring a focus on equitable practices to sustainably live and thrive in this and other coastal communities effected by environmental injustice. 


Blogs News

Meet The Progressive Stimulus Project’s Grantee Partners

Decades of organizing efforts deserve a great deal of credit for the new chapter we started as a country last week. Among vital lessons learned in 2020 is that strengthening groups focused on systemic change is essential to forging pathways to power. For the Progressive Multiplier, it reaffirms our commitment to building a sustainable, self-determined progressive movement with the scale to win. As we enter the new year, we are energized to start a new chapter for our organization as well.

These nonprofit organizations have begun working on independent revenue generation experiments through the Progressive Stimulus Project. We are thrilled to be partnering with these grantees as they navigate fundraising challenges and opportunities that are unique to their organizations during this uncertain economic time:

Blogs News

Progressive Multiplier Grantee Partner Fundraising Successes During the Election

“____ days.”  At the start of every phone call we’ve had with our grantees during these past few months, that countdown until Election Day has been their universal answer to the question, “How are you doing?”  As that clock winds down until next Tuesday, we wanted to highlight some of the great revenue generation work these organizations are doing, as well as share lessons they’re learning and thoughts on what we think could be next for electoral-adjacent fundraising.

People’s Action

Eddie Van Halen, Dave Grohl and….People’s Action?  These venerable rock and roll icons weren’t the only ones making headlines in Rolling Stone this fall.  People’s Action (PA) is a national network of state and local grassroots power-building organizations united in fighting for justice.  The organization’s  innovative electoral deep canvass experiment was covered by the legendary publication in September ahead of the release of PA’s study confirming that the tactic can significantly reduce Trump support in rural and small-town America in key battleground states.

The study’s findings are particularly poignant at a moment when division rules the political landscape.  Deep canvass conversations, rooted in, as George Goehl, director of People’s Action, told Rolling Stone “curiosity and compassion” proved to be 102 times more effective at changing an undecided voter’s mind than traditional presidential voter persuasion tactics.  The deep canvass campaign made over 1 million phone calls by mid-October and is continuing straight through Election Day.

Kelly Boehms, the group’s Digital Outreach Organizer, said, “There is a whole new level of experimentation going on at People’s Action.”   PA built upon its deep canvass experiment by testing television and radio ads as well as garnering earned media opportunities in the districts where they are deep canvassing.  They have also tested fundraising appeals to current supporters through email to fund these ads or advance the deep canvass. Historically, People’s Action has primarily focused on supporting base-building for affiliates in states across the U.S. “People’s Action has never had a national base of distributed volunteers at this scale – so we’ve never had this kind of data to work with,” Boehms stated.  “We’re trying to find the best balance between building a national political home for these new supporters and helping our network meaningfully absorb these people too.”

Since its inception in 2016, People’s Action has embraced agile experimentation as a path to scale on the inexorably linked fronts of organizing and independent revenue generation.  The organization partnered with Progressive Multiplier to test a c4 planned giving program, garnering over a half million dollars in bequests from the $25,000 Recoverable Scale Grant.  Looking at post-election, Boehms, in partnership with PA’s fundraising and movement politics teams, wants to further test how the organization can fortifying donor organizing within the context of deep canvassing and the thousands of volunteers and supporters it has brought into the organization.  She believes that “…donor organizing is the key to our collective liberation.”  This may be in the form of a deep canvass to defend democracy if the election is contested.  It may be around COVID-19 relief and recovery at both the national and state levels.  The data and these next critical weeks will define their direction.  

It Starts Today Missouri

In 2017, statewide Democratic votes surged by 2% in Virginia because of an effort to turn out voters in less competitive (and uncompetitive) state legislative races, increasing the vote for state-wide candidates. This proved to be a cost-effective method to get out the vote because these voters—especially those who are invisible to the voter file—are often ignored by resource-strapped statewide campaigns.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if your ability to fundraise wasn’t a prerequisite to run for elected office?” This question led Jonathan Zucker to found It Starts Today (IST), a 527 that enables crowdfunded public financing of Democratic candidates through low-cost monthly subscriptions. Founded on election night 2016 and launched during the Women’s March in January 2017, IST has raised over $472,000 to fund every U.S. House and Senate Democratic candidate.

To test the crowdfunding model on state legislative races, in late 2017 Zucker partnered with Michele Hornish to found It Starts Today Missouri (ISTM). Because Missouri law allows 527 organizations to accept 501(c)(4) donations, Progressive Multiplier Action Fund was able to make a grant for ISTM to test different audiences and creatives through Facebook donor acquisition advertising to scale the MO subscriber base. “60% of Missouri has seen nothing but GOP candidates for cycle upon cycle. Democrats who do run in those districts have little infrastructure on which to rely and significant fundraising challenges to overcome. With no support and limited ability to do outreach, they become just a name on a ballot…voters are left without a real choice,” Zucker said. “We are changing that.”

ISTM’s revenue generation experiment results were impressive. With a $15,000 PM grant, the organization expects to bring in more than $81,000 in subscriber donations over the next three years. “We’ve figured out how to harness full cycle recurring donations to fund candidates. While some incumbents are able to do this, no challenger can. Most candidates (even incumbents) enter a state race 6-12 months out and there isn’t much time for recurring donations to pile up,” Zucker stated. “The way we approach electoral funding is we engage donors who contribute for the full cycle: for example a donor we recruited in December 2017 is here for 2020, and they’ll still be with us in Jan 2021.”

The benefits of this revenue generation model go far beyond the direct funding of candidates and building the subscriber base in Missouri. Hornish believes, “It’s a lot easier to recruit great candidates when we can tell them we’ll have cash for them when they are the nominee, especially in red states like Missouri… In scarlet red areas where they’ve had no Democrat running for so long, conservatives have become radicalized—and Democrats demonized. With more Democrats running in these districts, the candidates can challenge what their neighbors thought they knew about Democrats. They’re also able to rebuild infrastructure in places where cash-strapped state parties can’t invest. They can hire young people for campaigns, they can train volunteers (and give them pizza), they can help habitualize voting for people who didn’t see a need to—all while building their own experience and spreading a Democratic message. This is the long game and it builds the bench.” 

The group’s goals for 2022 are to expand its crowdfunding for state legislatures to several states facing competitive statewide (Governors and Senators) elections. At the same time, it plans to activate the It Starts Today national network of donors to start recurring donations that will fund key Senate races in 2022 and beyond–coupling their sophisticated understanding of campaign finance with an understanding of low dollar asks that lets them get money where it can actually transform democracy every cycle. 

“We have found a way to harness this amazing grassroots community that has come forward since 2016. People are looking for a way to stay involved,” Hornish said. “They may not be able to dedicate time, but they can donate $10 a month. It’s strategic, it’s simple, and makes people feel like they are part of an important community.”


PushBlack is the nation’s largest non-profit media organization for Black Americans, currently serving 9 million people monthly across all its platforms.  Subscribers are activated, through the power of narrative, to build their agency and create lasting economic and political impact.  Core to PushBlack’s theory of change is building daily relationships with subscribers by serving groundbreaking Black history and news content.

These strong relationships, built not just during election season when many groups show opportunistic interest in the Black community, position PushBlack to be an authentic voice for their audience when it comes to non-partisan get out the vote (GOTV) campaigns.  Chief Product Officer and Co-Founder Tareq Alani said, “We are on track to reach millions of Black voting age people with important and relevant election news and information this election cycle.”

PushBlack has applied the same testing rigor it applies to its GOTV work to its revenue generation campaigns in partnership with the Progressive Multiplier.  Core to its theory of change is the organization’s commitment to self-determination.  “Our goal has always been to be self-sustainable outside of grants.  (Our work with the Progressive Multiplier) creates a discrete contract and deliverable around financing for us,” said Alani.

Progressive Multiplier (PM) provides growth capital for groups that are ready to scale up. In 2019, PushBlack ran a series of fundraising tests with a test grant from the PM. Among the breakthroughs was adding the “no” button to donation forms. While the button did not decrease total gifts, it prompted people to post a fundraising message on their social media, which resulted in $.65 per person who said no to giving.  PushBlack’s testing efforts turned $25,000 into about $400,000 of expected income, helping the organization pass $1M in earned revenue in 2020 from small dollar subscriber donations.

Based on their success, PushBlack has secured Recoverable Grant financing from PM to invest more heavily in scaling its fundraising program. With an eye toward growing its subscriber community and the Black electorate before 2022, PushBlack will be using its grant to apply its fundraising formula to its new Black Finance content offering.

Thinking about what comes next, Alani said, “After the election, we’ll plan out what we need to do before 2022.  Right now, we’re working on formulating a Black agenda through surveys and focus groups so we can understand the positions our subscribers hold and how they align with ours as an organization.  Whatever we discover, we’ll incorporate into our message and revenue generation testing.”