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.

Before Giving Tuesday

With end of the year giving on our mind and Giving Tuesday just a few days away, I wanted to pass on some advice for how to maximize your donations and impact.

Many philanthropists have monthly or annual commitments that they fulfill towards the end of the year. It’s a good time to reflect on why and how you give. Shameless plug: you can complete my Giving Assessment (either just to start a conversation with your family or to take a deeper dive with my help) here.

TIPS FOR GIVING

A few general tips:

  1. Be proactive rather than reactive. Consider your personal priorities and budget to set initial parameters. This also makes it easier to say no!
  2. Resist the urge to spread the love in order to maximize your giving impact. Pick one or two priorities (such as women in the Senate, purple state Governors, or immigrant rights) and 3-4 candidates/entities or organizations.
  3. Give to both national and state/local organizations as well as federal and down-ballot candidates. When in doubt, go local; the budgets are smaller and your donation goes further.
  4. Save 10% of total giving for last minute or urgent needs like disaster relief.
  5. Consider at least a 70/30 split on 501c3/other giving (501c4, candidates, PACs, etc). Consult with your accountant or financial advisor for larger 501c3 (tax deductible) gifts.
  6. Whenever possible, give general support funds and make multi-year gifts. Trust that the organizations know how to spend the money effectively and help them budget better by anticipating next year’s funding.

Many online resources such as Charity Navigator, Givewell, and GuideStar exist to help you make more informed 501c3 giving choices. I urge you to use these tools as just one way to evaluate an organization’s impact. Overhead usually means staff and, especially for smaller organizations, good staff is essential to good work. No one goes to work for a non-profit to get rich and too often we do not pay people what they are worth or even a true living wage. So measuring overhead vis a vis overall budgets may or may not be a good barometer of effectiveness. Most organizations will create end of year emails or materials for members and donors. If you are a major donor to an organization (what percentage of their budget does your gift encompass or ask what constitutes a major gift), you will likely receive a more detailed report. Keep in mind that smaller organizations often do not have the resources for graphic designers or fancy pamphlets. This is a good thing! It means your money is being used wisely.

WHAT DIFFERENT TAX STATUSES MEAN

Yes, you can use 501c3 (tax-deductible) donations to further your political goals. This generally means funding non-partisan voter registration and get out the vote activities, which can legally be targeted to marginalized communities such as people of color, young people, and unmarried women, as well as issue-focused efforts that do not name a candidate or fall within certain time frames around elections. Many leadership development and training organizations also fall into this category.

It is important to note that I am not an attorney. I recommend that you consult with your financial advisor, accountant or other tax advisor, foundation representative, and the like before making large donations. But here’s a basic primer on what different tax statuses mean for political giving.

501c3:

  • Programmatic activities can include non-partisan voter registration, education, and get out the vote campaigns; voter education on issues; voting mechanics (where and how to vote); leadership development
  • Cannot name, support, or oppose any candidate
  • Can take issue positions including favor/oppose ballot initiatives
  • May also have affiliated 501c4, PAC, SuperPAC, etc (often the 501c3 will include Education Fund in the name while the 501c4 will have Action Fund)
  • No limits on giving
  • Must disclose donors over $5,000 but can anonymize through various means
  • Tax deductible
  • Examples include Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Sierra Club Foundation, National Immigration Law Center

501c4:

  • Programmatic activities can include issue advocacy & lobbying
  • Can support or oppose candidates on issues (49% of total budget)
  • No limits on giving
  • General support funding usually not disclosed
  • NOT tax deductible
  • Examples include Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Sierra Club, America Votes, EMILY’s List

POLITICAL GIVING RECOMMENDATIONS

Established organizations such as the ACLU and Planned Parenthood have seen a huge surge in financial support. Their local and state affiliates, however, still must raise their own budgets so giving locally can have even more impact. Frontline organizations fighting for marginalized groups – particularly those working on behalf of immigrants and refugees – need general support to protect their communities, fight bad policies, and engage electorally. Much of this work can be done with 501c3 dollars.

If you are looking to support Resistance organizing, there are several organizations I recommend below. I note where I have a direct connection to a group; I do not receive financial compensation from any of these groups through Board or consulting arrangements. I just love them and their work. Don’t forget that national organizations like Sister District Project and Swing Left need general operating support (501c4) to make their work possible in addition to direct donations to candidates they support.

These are a few of my favorite (national 501c3 or 501c3/c4) organizations:

Alliance for Youth Organizing / Action

501c3 and 501c4

I am on the Board of Directors for A4YAction

The Alliance for Youth Action grows progressive people power across America by empowering local young people’s organizations to strengthen our democracy, fix our economy, and correct injustices through on-the-ground organizing. The Alliance runs a national network of youth-led local organizations across America. They are the folks who launched the national Automatic Voter Registration campaign (now in 10 states and counting). If you want Return on Investment (ROI), there is simply no match for what these groups can do on a relatively small budget.

Movement Voter Project

501c3 and 501c4

I am on their Advisory Board

MVP vets and funds national, state, and local organizations, primarily communities of color, young people, and other marginalized groups; everywhere, not just “swing” states; fund national Resistance groups (they gave Indivisible their first grant). You can donate by state, constituency, or give directly to MVP and they’ll put the money to good use.

RAINN

501c3

In this moment, with more and more women (and men) bravely coming forward about instances of sexual assault, we need to ensure adequate funding for critical counseling and other support services.

United We Dream Network / Action

501c3 and 501c4

United We Dream is the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the nation, with over 100,000 immigrant youth and allies and 55 affiliate organizations in 26 states. UWD is led by and primarily serves DREAMers - young people who were brought to this country as children without documentation. They are leading the effort to renew the DACA program.

Vote.org

501c3

I am on their Advisory Board

One-stop shopping for all your voting needs! Vote.org uses technology to simplify political engagement, increase voter turnout, and strengthen American democracy.

Voter Participation Center

501c3

Voter Participation Center’s mission is to increase civic engagement among the Rising American Electorate: unmarried women, people of color, and Millennials. They use proven, research-driven techniques to register and turn out these hard to reach voters.

Women’s Media Center

501c3

I attended their signature training and I am listed in the SheSource database

Media shapes us, informs our ideas, policies and politics. It tells us who we are, and what we can be. WMC works toward media equality using interconnected strategies of research, original stories and articles, promotion of women experts and media training. Additionally, WMC SheSource is an online database of media-experienced women experts who we connect to journalists, bookers and producers looking for sources.

Also, groups like State Voices, America Votes, Center for Popular Democracy, and others have multi-state affiliates and multi-issue strategies. Allied organizations play an important role in the progressive movement. Funding locally-led, field/grassroots driven organizations with leadership that is reflective of the New American Majority is crucial to long-term success nationally and in the states. America Votes is also a leader on national and state-based redistricting strategies.