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The Next Evolution: A Fundraising 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]und.

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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]

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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. 

 

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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.

Ten 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:

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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

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.”

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A Philanthropic Stimulus Plan for Progressive Nonprofits

Gara LaMarche is  president of the Democracy AlliancePhilip Radford is executive director of the Progressive Multiplier Fund, and Sonal Shah is professor and executive director of the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation at Georgetown University.

Originally published in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, 3/18/2020

The novel coronavirus — and the likely economic recession it will touch off — affects not only individuals but families, organizations, and small businesses.  Grant makers have stepped up to help with this pandemic — including the Bill & Melinda Gates FoundationRobert Wood Johnson Foundation, and others. Their work alongside governments, universities, and public-health facilities will help stem the spread and support research for a cure and vaccine development for Covid-19. But even as we focus on the science, this pandemic has exposed and exacerbated our communities’ needs and demonstrated the urgency of calls for a better health-care system, paid family leave, and real protections for workers and their ability to earn a decent income.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s latest Interim Economic Outlook, Covid-19 presents the greatest danger to the global economy since the financial crisis of 2008. Recessions affect the most vulnerable in our society the hardest – the sick, the elderly, people of color, and low-income Americans. This increases demand on nonprofits serving these people to do more with less. But that is not a solution. Instead we need systemic change — and that means empowering the nonprofits that can successfully press for it.

But nonprofits, especially groups providing and advocating for a social safety net, are typically underfinanced. A report released by Candid shows that half of all U.S. nonprofits are operating with less than one month’s cash reserves, leaving those organizations particularly vulnerable.

If normal patterns follow, we won’t see them getting the help they need from grant makers. Generally, foundations give 5 percent of the average value of their endowment from the previous three years, meaning a steady decline in giving during and after a recession. 

What’s worse, according to data provided by Candid, foundation investments in helping nonprofits achieve financial sustainability after the last recession dropped more precipitously than their overall giving. During recessions is precisely when we should be both supporting and strengthening nonprofits, especially those that serve the neediest and advocate for them.

Deepak Bhargava, a veteran social-justice leader and former executive director of Community Change, told us that “in economic downturns, we must do everything in our power to protect and expand the social safety net that offers a lifeline to those who are most deeply impacted and also strengthen the community-led organizations that advocate for that safety net. The community-based nonprofits that serve, organize with, and advocate for low-income people are on the front lines.  They are and yet are also most at risk during an economic crisis.”

What is putting these groups at risk?

Undiversified revenue.

Many nonprofits depend heavily on grants from federal, state, and local governments or foundations, which means most of their revenue is restricted for specific purposes. This means that nonprofits have little funding to test new revenue-generation ideas or expand what’s working. Research by the Progressive Multiplier, an organization that works to improve fundraising by advocacy groups, shows that organizations need the ability to test new approaches to earning revenue in ways that go beyond government aid and philanthropy, and they need funds that will allow them to build on what they learn.

Ups and downs of election-year funding.

Civic engagement and advocacy organizations face extreme boom and bust cycles. They receive excess funding in even years when elections are underway but inadequate funding in off years. This prevents organizations from building their reserves during off cycles to more effectively expand their reach during boom times. 

Limited investment in revenue generation during recession years.

 Candid data shows a significant drop in funding for financial sustainability and fundraising during and after the last recession. Nonprofits should not have to sacrifice long-term fundraising investments during economic downturns by cutting their budgets for recruiting and keeping donors. These investments are critical to helping groups learn new approaches to earning money and raising it; sustainability doesn’t happen without startup support.

What Philanthropy Can Do

Now is the time to put an end to these concerns. As the coronavirus spreads and the downturn deepens, philanthropy has the opportunity now to fund organizations to push Congress to mitigate the economic burden on Americans. One crucial way that philanthropy should support these organizations is to do what Congress does: adopt a stimulus package. Here are the components that would strengthen nonprofits in 2020 and beyond:

Help groups quickly test efforts to improve their fundraising efforts.

 During recessions, some individual donors give less or less often. For organizations that already run successful fundraising programs, investing in improving and expanding those now is paramount and lessens the blow from any future declines.  As examples, Progressive Multiplier provided $25,000 to PushBlack, the nation’s largest nonprofit media platform for black people, which engages 4.6 million subscribers with emotionally driven stories about black history, culture, and current events.  The grant allowed PushBlack to develop a model to “supercharge” its experiments with subscriber donations. As a result, the organization increased the number of people who make recurring gifts from 2,000 to 8,000, and is now generating $50,000 a month from those supporters.

Another grantee, People’s Action Institute, advances racial, economic and gender justice by investing in state and local organizations and campaigns to win real change in people’s lives. Thanks to experimentation, People’s Action has expanded its fundraising program to build a more robust planned-giving program.  It has secured more than $400,000 in planned gifts.

Show  groups how to turn increased public awareness into long-term financial viability.

While none of us would have hoped for this moment, the current pandemic places a spotlight on many of the issues that progressive nonprofits are working to improve — such as paid leave and universal health care. Moments like this offer a great opportunity to recruit new donors. However, organizations can only capitalize on this moment and turn new donors into an active power base if they have the funds, expertise, and capacity to do so. 

That trifecta is rare for most small and medium-size progressive organizations. Linda Wood, senior director of Haas Leadership Initiatives at the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, told us, “This is a time of great experimentation in fundraising, but grantees need to be able to take risks to try them out. We can help by releasing restrictions on grants.” Rachel Baker, the fund’s director of special initiatives, added: “And we can make additional grants so grantees can try out new fundraising and revenue-generation strategies and get the expert support they need to succeed. Now is the time to act.”

The National Immigration Law Center, which defends and advances for rights and opportunities of low-income immigrants, gained unprecedented visibility helping fight the Trump administration’s Muslim ban. Its very small pool of individual donors grew from 280 to 15,500 over 18 months. With a grant from the Haas Jr. Fund, the center’s leaders developed strategies to build long-term relationships with new donors and  a stronger pool of supporters to help with future policy fights. 

Tiffanie Luckett, the center’s senior officer for individual giving, said, “We caught lightning in a bottle by acting quickly in the aftermath of the Muslim ban, but our subsequent work to integrate fundraising and communications strategies while developing relationships with this newly mobilized audience has allowed us to turn this moment into a long-term strategy to strengthen our supporter base and diversify our revenue streams.”

Enable organizations to diversify their revenue streams based on what is “shovel-ready.”

An effective way for nonprofits to quickly develop new revenue streams is to play to their existing strengths. The Progressive Multiplier has been working with several grantees to create these new revenue streams based on available assets.

The Texas After Violence Project works to reduce the trauma created through the criminal-justice system. The organization has developed expertise in legal training so it created a continuing-education program that lawyers pay to attend. At the same time, the organization is creating a network of pro bono lawyers to support its mission.  The organization’s executive director, Gabriel Solis, said that support from Program Multiplier “allowed us to experiment with this concept without compromising our already limited funds.  Without it, this new channel would have never opened up for us.  [Now I’m] incredibly optimistic about the long-term viability of this organization.” 

Increase flexibility and loosen restrictions on low-interest loans and other program-related investments.

Remove restrictions on existing grants and make it easier for organizations to use foundation support to experiment with ways to generate revenue. Foundations should invest in revenue-generation projects like an investor, picking the important mission-focused projects most likely to allow nonprofits to produce new income streams rather picking a small number of grantees based solely on their program work. Going beyond making direct grants also makes a difference: Program-related investments allow foundations to give nonprofits the capital they need to make a difference; what’s more, they are often repaid in part or in full. It’s a lot better to get 50 percent of an investment returned than just making a grant that offers no return.

Economic downturns are inevitable. They create moments for leadership and change.  This is the time to invest in people and organizations. We know that every nonprofit organization will not survive a recession. But when we act with courage and rigor, we can drive change in the reach and capabilities of advocacy groups. If we expect to strengthen the social safety net, which has atrophied over the past three decades and especially during the Great Recession, then philanthropy must adopt a new strategy.

As Bhargava, the veteran advocate told us, “This is a time to stretch to support vulnerable communities and the organizations that support and fight for and with them.”

Gara LaMarche is  president of the Democracy Alliance, Philip Radford is executive director of the Progressive Multiplier Fund, and Sonal Shah is professor and executive director of the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation at Georgetown University.

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As Nonprofits Struggle, “Progressive Stimulus” Will Back Fundraising Innovations

Holly Hall

Originally printed in Inside Philanthropy

As the coronavirus pandemic grinds on, more than a dozen foundations have established the Progressive Stimulus Project, a new fund with a goal of raising $15 million to address fundraising challenges presented by the health crisis and resulting economic recession. The new initiative serves as a coronavirus-era expansion of previous work by the Progressive Multiplier Fund, which has provided nearly $2 million in financial and technical support for revenue-generating projects.

“Canvassing, galas and house parties are all off the table now,” said Linda Wood, senior director of the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, one of the foundations contributing to the Progressive Stimulus Project. Haas is known for its commitment to improving fundraising among charitable organizations.  

“Nonprofits need to innovate really quickly,” said Wood, who serves on the Progressive Multiplier board. “Now is a time for funders to step forward and invest in nonprofit groups finding new ways of raising revenue.”

To date, the Progressive Stimulus Project has raised some $4.5 million from grantmakers, including the JPB Foundation, Ford Foundation, Rosenberg Foundation, Four Freedoms Fund, the Overbrook Foundation, the Wallace Global Fund and others. The earliest and largest amounts of money for the Progressive Stimulus Project were given by the JPB Foundation and Wallace Global Fund.

“Philanthropy should be giving more, not less, in this time of crisis,” said Ellen Dorsey, executive director of the Wallace Global Fund. “Creative new fundraising strategies are vital to a sustainable future for progressive organizations.”

With a three-year goal of making grants totaling $5 million annually, starting this year, the Progressive Stimulus Project is confident about raising the rest of its $15 million goal over the next six months, said Phil Radford, the Progressive Multiplier Fund’s founder and executive director, and former executive director of Greenpeace USA. “Nonprofits need this support today,” Radford said. “That’s why we are launching now instead of later in the year once we reach our goal.”

The Progressive Stimulus Project will offer two types of payouts. The first type: outright grants that average $25,000 to help progressive groups test or refine fundraising techniques they have launched or pivoted to in meeting the challenge of the coronavirus-changed environment. An economic justice organization making a fundraising appeal to support work advocating for a higher minimum wage, for example, might want to test whether donors would respond to a new solicitation seeking emergency relief for workers impacted by the pandemic. An LGBTQ rights organization that has had to cancel its fundraising galas could test virtual events to replace lost revenue.

The second type of payment is a “recoverable grant” of up to $120,000 to help progressive organizations substantially increase a fundraising program with proven results. Organizations repay the grant out of the proceeds, but are not obligated to repay the full amount if a project does not meet its fundraising goal. If an organization has a successful donor-acquisition program that will lose funds because of budget cuts prompted by the recession, for example, a recoverable grant could be used to keep the program fully supported. 

While economic downturn often leads to reduced grantmaking budgets, a number of funders are responding to the current crisis by seeking out ways to increase their support for a hurting nonprofit sector. Two funders of the Progressive Stimulus Project, the Ford Foundation and Wallace Global Fund, are notable examples. Ford recently organized a group of foundations to commit to substantially increased spending by issuing long-term bonds. Wallace Global announced it would pay out 20% of its assets in 2020 (most foundations give closer to the 5% legal minimum), making it one of several smaller funders that have decided to spend more aggressively from their endowments to meet the challenge.

The Progressive Stimulus Project will begin accepting applications for both types of assistance in July. For more information, email Mina Devadas at mdevadas [at] progressivemultiplier.fund.

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Revenue Generation Challenges Brought on by COVID-19

What is our new normal going to be? As I’ve talked to fundraisers across the nonprofit sector, from those working at small local organizations to some of the largest national groups in the country, this question is the common theme.

We can look to the Great Recession for some answers. We know that both individual and institutional giving will contract during and immediately after a recession. But recession modeling does not give us all the answers we need now. Nonprofit fundraisers are grappling with uncertainties we couldn’t have imagined just a few months ago and ones that go far beyond a donor or a foundation’s capacity to give.

Can virtual events be successful replacements for all the canceled galas, walks, rides and house parties? Will canvassing ever recover, or will people come out of this pandemic less likely to talk face-to-face with a stranger? What model can immediately help backfill canvassing for this year’s donor acquisition goals? Will the major political 501(c)(4) organizations expect to see donations in the second quarter of an election year materialize? Can our reserves survive the increased demand for our mission services while our revenue contracts with the recession?

To ensure that nonprofits can continue to serve their missions through this pandemic and through whatever new normal emerges, immediate philanthropic investment in nonprofit independent revenue generation is paramount. The moment is overwhelming. But it is one that fundraisers in the progressive movement believe their organizations must thrive through.

“Families have so much need right now, it feels like this is the moment Parents Together was built for,” said co-founder and co-director Justin Ruben.

Parents Together reaches more than 2.5 million parents via Facebook, SMS, email and web with news content they need to take care of their families and communities. And what they need is changing daily during the COVID-19 pandemic. Providing what their constituents need now — like information on applying for unemployment and other benefits — has Justin’s team stretched beyond its skillset and bandwidth.

To create space and resources for these critical new lines of work, nonprofits, like Parents Together, need flexible independent revenue to support the rapidly changing demands on their missions. With additional resources, Justin said he would prioritize getting additional bandwidth and skill sets on his team, as well as leaning into revenue generation opportunities that accompany the pandemic.

“This could be the moment we breakthrough to new donors and brand partners because we can show more clearly than ever the positive impact we’re having on families.”

The pandemic has primed a breakthrough moment for Faith in Action as well. This faith-based organizing group, which trains those most impacted by injustice to mobilize their communities and lead campaigns for community transformation, has traditionally been a “feet-on-the-pavement organizing group,” according to individual giving coordinator Kelly Boehms.

“We’ve been on a slow transition to become more digital in both organizing and fundraising. But in this moment, more people are connecting authentically online. The pandemic has pulled back the curtain on the injustice that our communities have known all along. This time of crisis calls for Faith in Action’s kind of mobilization — it’s a moment we need support to live into most effectively.”

Kelly, like Justin, believes that support must include an expansion of the team’s skill set and bandwidth. With just two associates who have focused on this kind of digital work, pivoting the entire organization online has been an unprecedented challenge for the team. As they rapidly accelerate building their new digital fundraising and organizing model, Kelly believes strongly that to weather the crisis, beyond small dollar digital donors, the organization needs “funders who are thought partners, not hand holders.”

“We have to evolve our fundraising in a way that makes sense for the long game, and that answer is not going to come overnight.”

Expanding digital fundraising and organizing in the wake of the pandemic is also a top priority for Karen Middleton, president of Cobalt (formerly NARAL Colorado).

“What will stabilize our 501(c)(4) revenue is small dollar donor fundraising, which will primarily happen online.”

Cobalt’s spring fundraising gala, like so many others, has been rescheduled for the fall. The COVID-19 pandemic is also robbing nonprofits of expected faith-based spring giving centering around Ramadan, Passover and Easter. This drastic change in seasonal revenue, coupled with an expected decline in 501(c)(4) major donor commitments coming in April and May, will make taking electoral strides in Cobalt’s battle for reproductive justice in November more difficult.

If funding is secured, Karen plans to immediately take steps to expand Cobalt’s digital fundraising and organizing program, using her current staff.

“We have to keep the people in the movement whole and give them the opportunity to do the work that is increasingly needed by the people we serve.”

Erin Bridges, fundraising director at Sunrise Movement, is looking to her online small dollar fundraising program to sustain the organization through this moment as well.

“In 2008, nonprofits our size lost about 30% of their revenue the year after the Great Recession hit,” Erin noted.

Her team at the youth-centered climate justice nonprofit is trying to quickly build out its monthly sustainer program, as well as determine how to leverage the new Sunrise School in its appeals to small dollar donors. Built over just weeks in response to the pandemic that forced face-to-face organizing online, Sunrise School is an online training community that is welcoming those young people confined at home to build the skills and knowledge they need to actively confront the climate crisis.

“My hope is that people see this crisis as the opening act, because we are and have been in an emergency that requires us to demand what we need. From government, from each other and from philanthropy.”