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10/21/2015 | Launching the Sustainability Initiative

Seeding Justice: Revenue-generating membership and fundraising canvasses for community organizing: Lessons from the field

In the fall of 2013, the Center for Popular Democracy and CPD Action (CPD/CPDA) launched the Sustainability Initiative in order to explore with our partners across the country various costeffective membership recruitment models that could contribute to their greater financial resiliency.

Contents

    Summary

    In the fall of 2013, the Center for Popular Democracy and CPD Action (CPD/CPDA) launched the Sustainability Initiative in order to explore with our partners across the country various costeffective membership recruitment models that could contribute to their greater financial resiliency. While foundation funding plays a crucial role in enabling grassroots organizations to achieve their goals, it ebbs and flows and, in most cases, comes with mandates that reflect the priorities of foundation leaders. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, many social justice organizations have been forced to rethink their overdependence on foundation funding. Following the Great Recession, the community organizing sector experienced a significant decline in funding from foundations, which had undergone profound and widespread asset losses. The subsequent decrease in funding has set a new—lower—normal for foundation funding of social justice work. Even as American giving in 2014 exceeded the previous high-water mark from 2007, giving to public-society benefit organizations still has not returned to pre-Recession levels.

    Meanwhile, giving from individuals in the United States has risen for the past five years. In 2014, individual Americnas gave $258.5 billion, exceeding the previous high-mark in 2007. Whereas, 15 percent of total giving comes from foundations, 72 percent comes from individuals. While many of these individual donations were very large gifts (grater than $200 million), giving by non-itemizing individuals, who tend to give smaller amounts, grew by 4.1 percent. Yet, most social justice organizations have failed to leverage this revenue stream. Building a diverse funding base with revenue-generating canvass operations and small-donor programs can enable base-building organizations to scale up their work and enjoy a higher degree of insitutional stability and independence.

    CPD's Sustainability Inititiave aims to help the community organizing sector solve the core challenges of financial sustainability and scale. In the first phase of the initiative, from May 2013 to May 2014, CPD/CPDA partnered with seven membership-based organizing groups around the country to launch revenue-generation experiments based on recruitment canvass operations and small-donor fundraising programs. During this phase of the initiative, we also interviewed key staff at organizations with successful canvass and small-donor operations to identify best practices and challenges; we created a user-friendly training manual for canvass and small-donor recruitment staff at base-building organizations; and we completed the first phase of our experiments, providing sustained technical assistance and support to our partners.

    In this report, we share our learnings so far. The first section fleshes out key findings from our interviews with a range of successful canvass practitioners. The second section presents the findings from our first phase of field experiments. The final section describes the bridge activities we have undertaken to prepare for the second phase of experiments.