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Launching the Sustainability Initiative

Establishing Financial Stability from the Ground Up

In Fall 2013, the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD) launched the Sustainability Initiative to address one of the greatest challenges facing base-building community organizations: the need to generate new revenue independent of institutional funders and achieve financial stability to scale up organizing.
 
A major barrier to building a scaled-up, national voice for low- and moderate-income families in the United States is the lack of a workable financing model. Since 2008, social justice organizations have experienced widespread financial instability as heavy reliance on...

In Fall 2013, the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD) launched the Sustainability Initiative to address one of the greatest challenges facing base-building community organizations: the need to generate new revenue independent of institutional funders and achieve financial stability to scale up organizing.   A major barrier to building a scaled-up, national voice for low- and moderate-income families in the United States is the lack of a workable financing model. Since 2008, social justice organizations have experienced widespread financial instability as heavy reliance on institutional support has been confronted by a national economic crisis and a consequent reduction in foundation giving.

At the same time, although nationwide individual giving has actually risen by 2.7%, social justice organizations have failed to increase their individual donor capacity.

In the face of these challenges, CPD’s Sustainability Initiative promotes broader-based models of organizational funding by focusing on small donors and development of a dues-paying membership base. CPD will work with national and state-based partner organizations to research and test canvasses and small donor generation programs, evaluating their effectiveness and distilling best practices into replicable models.   The Sustainability Initiative will develop resource materials and offer technical assistance so that base-building organizations across the field are able to develop and implement successful membership and small donor fundraising programs.

facts & figures

Our interviews pointed to some best practices in the field.

  • The most effective canvasses build organizational power by engaging community members to:
    • Identify issues and offer feedback
      • Become new members and develop into leaders
      • Participate in building power through the organizations
      • Raise money
    • Successful base-building and fundraising operations require:
      • Talented, engaged canvassing staff
      • Ongoing training
  • ...

Our interviews pointed to some best practices in the field.

  • The most effective canvasses build organizational power by engaging community members to:
    • Identify issues and offer feedback
      • Become new members and develop into leaders
      • Participate in building power through the organizations
      • Raise money
    • Successful base-building and fundraising operations require:
      • Talented, engaged canvassing staff
      • Ongoing training
  • Effective data management, targeting and turf management Our experiments in the field deepened our analysis of best practices for canvasses. We worked to:
    • Ensure that field directors are experienced, with strong data management and training skills.
    • Integrate canvass training with general organizing operations for best results.
    • Include goals for member retention and development in canvass targets.
    • Focus on generating “sustaining” members who give regularly and automatically.
  • Invest in a long-term strategy for the canvass in order to achieve self-sufficiency. As we prepare for the second phase of the Sustainability Initiative, we are implementing some of the lessons learned. These efforts include:
    • CPD is developing internal infrastructure and a strategic partnership in order to better support partners.
      • Hiring a Director of Sustainability Initiatives to work directly with and develop tools for partner organizations’ canvasses.
      • Partnering with Membership Drive to conduct site visits, analyze canvass operations, provide resources and training, and conduct financial analysis.
      • Creating a comprehensive Canvass Toolkit, including a training manual, canvass needs checklist, recruitment tools, tracking tools and templates for canvass materials.
    • CPD has worked with partner organizations to identify key needs for phase 2.
      • Development of data technology infrastructure to cut turf, track contacts, and eliminate pre-debit attrition.
      • Strategies to minimize the rate of member attrition and maximize the value of life-time membership