AL Advising

Philanthropic and Political Consulting

Philanthropy is like wine: good grapes plus good terroir makes good wine. Candidates and organizations are the grapes you wish to cultivate; they need care, pruning, monitoring, and yes, sometimes they need to wither on the vine. Terroir includes the resources you start with and what you can add such as mission, staff, and money.

AL Advising is the winemaker: we work with both donors and organizations to maximize impact.

Needed Investments in the Trump Era

I have spent the past week talking to friends, colleagues, donors, and progressive activists about where we go as a party and a movement. To my delight (and, I must admit, surprise) not one person said, I’m done. Across the board, people are ready to re-commit themselves to our progressive values.

As the Monday Morning Quarterbacking begins and debates rage about the working class voters vs. the Obama coalition vs. college-educated women, I think it is important to remember the bigger picture: this was not a mandate election. We must do a better job of talking to all of these groups – and they are not mutually exclusive. Hillary Clinton won 1.7 MILLION more votes than Trump. More people voted for Democratic congressional candidates than Republicans. The American electorate succumbed to fear and were uninspired by a demonized and imperfect candidate.

In the ruins of 2004, organizations like Media Matters, America Votes, and the Democracy Alliance emerged and helped change our political landscape. They laid the groundwork needed to take back the House in 2006 and elect Barack Obama in 2008. There is hope for a similar re-calibration of progressive organizations. There remain, however, too many groups with too much overlap and too many progressive groups led by old, white men.

I have broken down funding needs into several broad categories (and by no means expect one donor to help fund them all):

  1. Immediate Needs: Helping Those Most Impacted by President Trump
  2. Fighting Back and 2018 Investments
  3. Building Long-term Power

The organizations most crucial to our movement are desperate for funds. The first six months after a presidential election are always the hardest for non-profit fundraising (and I include 501c3, 501c4, 527s, etc in that catch-all). We need to fund these efforts now and for multiple cycles to come (ideally with multi-year grants, for their planning purposes).

I welcome feedback on the recommendations outlined below.

1.    Immediate Needs: Helping Those Most Impacted by President Trump

Hate crimes are on the rise. Families live in fear of deportation. IUD requests have risen 900% since Election Day. The most vulnerable among us will face an unprecedented set of challenges under a Trump presidency.

The Resistance: Black Lives Matter and DREAMer activists have been well trained in protest tactics. We need to expand this training so activists know how to protest effectively and safely. Activists also need training in secure communications as well as a bail fund. These are the people on the front lines and a small amount of funding can go a long way. Solidaire, a donor network with the purpose of supporting organizations focused on people of color, has supported this work in the past and can be a resource for more information.

The People: Here, I recommend supporting national organizations with a deep reach in numerous states as well as trusted local, direct-services organizations. People of color, immigrants, women, and other communities are already under siege. Immigrant rights organizations will be among those most targeted and most in need of funds, both to provide direct services as well as to fight bad legislation and executive actions. In Silicon Valley, this includes SIREN locally and then United We Dream, National Immigration Law Center, and MALDEF for national giving. Planned Parenthood health centers (especially those in deep red states) and other women’s service providers will see dramatic cuts in federal and some state funding. Their national 501c3, 501c4/PAC and local affiliates will need ongoing funding. Color of Change is a national grassroots organization well-suited for pushback within the black community.

2.    Fighting Back and 2018 Investments

The Supreme Court: Groups like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU will need to pivot immediately to fight a right-wing Supreme Court nominee. In the past, a coalition effort has formed with groups taking specific “lanes” for pushback and activation. These efforts will need substantial funding but exact vehicles are not yet clear.

Voting Rights: A Trump Presidency and Republican-controlled states will gut remaining voting protections and expanded voter access. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (who run the non-partisan election protection coalition) nationally and state-focused legal and grassroots organizations will need funding for this work. Organizations like the Bus Federation affiliates and Common Cause work on these issues at the state level.

The Media: Both an immediate and long-term need will be funding an independent media and investigative journalism. This includes media outlets as well as individual journalists. Peter Omidyar and the Democracy Fund have led on this work and there is an existing donor network for through Piper Fund to fight the corporatization of media as related to their money in politics work. Both will have suggestions for impactful grantees.

Candidates: There are 10 female incumbent Senators up for re-election in 2018, some of who are in red or purple states. Despite some policy disagreements with a few of them, they need our early support. Their votes are the difference between a Democratic majority or Mitch McConnell running rampant. The Electing Women Alliance and EMILY’s List continue to lead here.

There will also be 36 Gubernatorial elections, Attorney General races, and state legislative races across the country – all are critical for redistricting, which will set the political landscape for a decade. America Votes is leading these efforts.

Party Committee/SuperPACs: While I believe some ongoing support is needed for party committees and SuperPACs, I do not believe they are the most effective means for long-term impact. They are largely focused on paid TV ads, which have a very short shelf life and simply help enrich media consultants. I would use giving as an opportunity to pose the following questions:

  • What percentage of consultants and vendors are women? What percentage of the total respective budget (i.e., 5% of polling budget) goes to those vendors?
  • What percentage of consultants and vendors re people of color? What percentage of the total respective budget goes to those vendors?
  • When engaging female voters and voters of color, how are you ensuring authentic engagement?
  • How is you measuring impact in real-time? What are your plans for evaluation after the election?

These groups are often not held accountable post-election and leadership turnovers prevent a tough analysis from cycle to cycle. Clearly, the so-called “tried and true” tactics are not working and their strategy needs to change.

State and Local Organizations: Small organizations in battleground states and key 2018 targets need to keep their members energized and activated for national work as well as state legislative sessions in 2017. Many of these groups participate in state “tables” – coordinating entities nationally and in key states that provide financial, technical, and other resources; help reduce duplication of efforts; work on state legislation; and focus on voter registration, education, and mobilization efforts. On the 501c3 side, State Voices is the national/state entity; on the 501c4/501c6 (labor)/527 side, America Votes plays that convening role. I would recommend funding these groups nationally as well as in key states. Again, multi year grants are most helpful.

To that end, I suggest an “adopt a state” strategy: one in the south (GA, NC, VA), one in the Midwest (MI, OH, PA, WI), and one out West (AZ, NV). In each, create a comprehensive giving strategy for each state, focusing on 501c3 and 501c4 groups as well as state and local candidates. There are also state donor tables in many of these states that help vet organizations and provide the collective resources needed (voter files, data services, research, communications, etc).

Double Down on Women: Threaded throughout all of the above is the need to double-down on women’s organizations and women candidates. From Planned Parenthood and NARAL protecting choice and women’s health to sexual assault survivor assistance through groups like RAINN to creating the candidate pipeline with Emerge, EMILY’s List, and the Electing Women Alliance, this funding has never been more crucial. Federal and state policy fights on issues like paid family leave, equal pay, and raising the minimum wage will also need resources; the Rockefeller Family Fund helps coordinate giving in these areas.

Research: We can’t have the same consultants telling us what went wrong and why when they got it so wrong themselves (and I say that as someone who works closely with pollsters and other consultants and respects many of them). We need to seek out alternative research to help us understand 2016 so we prevent making the same mistakes again. This must include extensive focus groups of key voting blocs, alternative polling (online, door-to-door, etc) of those groups, new messaging playbooks, and the development of innovative policy ideas. Project New America (a client), the Roosevelt Institute, Demos, and others can lead here.

Silicon Valley is uniquely situated to support research and experimentation. We need to test old theories of engagement and be comfortable with failing up in learning new tactics. Groups like the Analyst Institute need resources that are not tied to a specific client in order to accurately gauge success. We also need to support innovative data companies like TargetSmart, Catalist, Blue Labs, and Civis Analytics.

3.    Long-term Investments

State and Local Organizations: This is a 2018 play with long-term implications. Funding locally-led, field/grassroots driven organizations with leadership that is reflective of the New American Majority (people of color, young people, unmarried women) is crucial to long-term success in the states. Again, groups like State Voices, America Votes, the Bus Federation, and others have multi-state affiliates and multi-issue strategies.

Cultural Organizing: Artists, musicians, comedians, actors, athletes, and other cultural leaders need resources to speak to their audiences effectively. We also need to directly support artists of all kinds directly. I am far from an expert in this area but groups like Revolutions Per Minute and Citizen Engagement Lab work with artists and will have ideas for what is needed.

California: We need California to remain the Blue Beacon for progressive policy. Too many Democratic state legislators and local electeds are Democrats in name only and are only shills for corporate policies. The 2018 Gubernatorial election along with 2020 redistricting provide opportunities to ensure long-term progressive victories. States truly are the laboratories of democracy and we need California to continue to push the envelope. The new California donor table coordinates these efforts.