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Content Club: The Future We Need

On July 12th, we co-hosted our first Content Club with New Left Accelerator and The Workers Lab. The conversation was rooted in Erica Smiley and Sarita Gupta’s new book, The Future We Need: Organizing for a Better Democracy in the Twenty-First Century.

Listen in as we explore independent revenue generation as a lever of power in the fight for collective bargaining and a healthy democracy free of white supremacy and gender discrimination.

To learn more about Progressive Multiplier’s programs and projects, contact Polly Stamatopoulos, Senior Director of Group Engagement at [email protected]

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Environmental Justice Cohort – Class 1 Briefing

On June 15th, the inaugural class of our Environmental Justice cohort shared stories of their journey to strengthen their independent revenue programs to build more power and scale. Now, as the first graduating cohort, these five groups will pilot a peer mentor/participatory grant-making model at Progressive Multiplier, advising on what groups and experiments to include for the incoming cohort. 

This program wouldn’t be possible without our founding funding partner, The JPB Foundation, and our expansion partner NorthLight Foundation, which is funding the stipends for Class 1 to peer-mentor our next round of Environmental Justice grantees. 

Watch the panel discussion to learn more about the impact that investing in rev-gen has in fueling Environmental Justice work:

To learn more about Progressive Multiplier’s programs and projects, contact Polly Stamatopoulos, Senior Director of Group Engagement at [email protected]

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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]

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Rev Gen And Democracy 2022 Vision 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]

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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]

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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.”