It’s not often that we publish an article in the print version of Stanford Social Innovation Review that is timely. After all, the magazine comes out only four times a year, making timeliness difficult, and most of the articles that we publish are about timeless subjects like leadership, financing, and innovation.
But the Summer 2017 edition of SSIR is different. Our cover story, “A Revamped ACLU Takes on Today’s Fights,” is indeed timely. It comes at the very moment that growing numbers of people, afraid about the direction that President Trump and the Republican Party are taking the United States, are turning to the ACLU to help lead the fight against those policies.
No, we aren’t trying to become a news magazine. And we don’t plan to become a partisan publication. Our focus will remain on finding solutions to social problems and helping organizations more effectively deliver those solutions.
This particular article tells the story of how a 97-year-old organization—the ACLU—has revamped itself to prepare for the next 100 years. The change has focused on finding ways to strengthen its affiliates, where much of the work of the organization takes place. (The ACLU has affiliates in all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.) The national office of the ACLU helps affiliates improve their fundraising, build their organizational capabilities, get publicity, and do all of the other things that affiliates need to do.
Before the reorganization, affiliates had stood pretty much on their own. Those in states that were able to raise money easily, such as New York and California, were well-funded and well-staffed, and hence relatively effective. Those in states that had a tough time raising money, like Mississippi and New Mexico, were underfunded, understaffed, and relatively ineffective. Ironically, and significantly, it was often those very underfunded affiliates that also had the greatest need for funds to protect the civil liberties of the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, and the underrepresented.
So about 10 years ago Anthony Romero, ACLU executive director, and Geri Rozanski, director of Affiliate Support & Nationwide Initiatives, set out to fix the problem. This article describes their decade-long effort and the impressive results that it achieved.
When Romero and Rozanski submitted their article to SSIR last summer, they, like most Americans, weren’t thinking that Donald Trump would be elected president. They simply wanted to tell their story in hopes that other organizations with affiliate structures could benefit from their experience. But the timing for the article, and for their work, couldn’t have been better.
Since Trump’s election, membership in the ACLU has quadrupled to 1.6 million. Trump’s travel ban on people from certain countries resulted in $24 million from online donations, a record amount for the organization. And the need for that money couldn’t be greater.
The affiliate support program helped ACLU of Arizona, for example, hire its first full-time development director, who in turn secured the affiliate’s first six-figure gift, just in time to combat the state’s anti-immigrant laws. ACLU of Florida was able to open offices in Orlando and Pensacola. Other affiliates have benefited similarly.
These changes didn’t happen overnight. They were 10 years in the making, the result of foresight and perseverance. Timely, yet timeless.
Read more stories by Eric Nee.