ACLU Announces Historic Fundraising Success, Exceeding Goal And Building Civil Liberties Infrastructure In Battleground States

September 15, 2010 10:32 am

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Group Will Celebrate Completion Of Campaign At Ellis Island Gala Tonight With $407 Million In Donations

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NEW YORK – As it celebrates its 90th anniversary, the American Civil Liberties Union tonight will announce the historic success of its Leading Freedom Forward campaign, the largest fundraising campaign on behalf of civil rights and liberties in American history. The campaign has been an unprecedented effort to build the ACLU’s infrastructure by increasing funding to its key state affiliates nationwide, enhancing advocacy capabilities and securing both current and future donations to provide for long term sustainability.

“This campaign will build a civil liberties bulwark in the states where civil liberties are most under assault. The funds we have raised will be used to build vibrant programs across the nation and ensure that the ACLU will remain a permanent and essential part of the American landscape for generations to come,” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. “We are incredibly grateful to our amazing donors and honored by the trust they have put in us to defend American freedom. We will not let them down.”

The ACLU will thank key donors for their support tonight at a gala celebration on Ellis Island sponsored by philanthropist and long-term donor Peter B. Lewis.* Singers Debbie Harry and Joan Osborne and comedian Greg Proops, among others, will perform readings related to landmark Supreme Court decisions at the event, and Philip Glass will close the evening by performing a new musical piece created for the ACLU’s 90th anniversary. The New York City mayor’s office declared today, September 15, to be “ACLU Day” in honor of that milestone.

Success Comes Despite Challenging Times:
The success of the ACLU’s campaign is particularly remarkable given that it coincided both with a difficult economy that hurt many non-profit organizations, and the election of President Obama, who came into office on promises of restoring civil liberties lost in the post-9/11 Bush administration era. The ACLU did suffer financially as a result of the recession. But as a result of the group’s aggressive campaign, committed donors of all levels of financial ability stepped in to help compensate for those losses.

“Given the challenging economic times and the changed political landscape, the success of this campaign is nothing short of extraordinary,” added Romero. “The fact that our donors stepped up to the plate over the last few years is a tribute to their understanding that while political and economic conditions may change, the need to vigilantly protect our fundamental freedoms remains a constant.”

Through its Leading Freedom Forward campaign, the ACLU raised $407 million over the last five years, far surpassing its original goal of $250 million. The campaign was launched in January 2005 with the goal of raising $100 million in cash gifts and $150 million in planned giving. To date, the campaign has raised over $150 million in cash gifts and over $250 million in planned giving, including a $13 million contribution from Joan and Irwin Jacobs and a $12 million contribution and an additional challenge grant from George Soros’ Foundation, the Open Society Foundation. The campaign secured some of the largest gifts ever made to the organization, some of which were the most significant gifts donors had ever made to any organization.

Goals and Results of the Campaign:
A major goal of the campaign was to substantially increase the ACLU’s grassroots presence and effectiveness from coast to coast by significantly increasing the programmatic and institutional capacity of its state affiliates. The Strategic Affiliate Initiative (SAI), the centerpiece of the campaign, was based on a strategic decision to invest in states where civil liberties were most under assault, and where opportunities outweighed the local resources. These states included Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Montana, Mississippi, Michigan, Eastern Missouri, Tennessee and Arizona.

Smaller affiliates located mainly in the South and in the country’s heartland were bolstered by increased resources from the campaign that enabled them to hire full-time attorneys, launch new advocacy programs and expand communications and public education initiatives. Through the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Affiliate Impact Fund, the annual subsidy for these 25 state offices increased from $165,000 to $250,000.

“Joan and I strongly endorse the broad efforts of the ACLU to achieve for all Americans the ideals of equality, justice and fairness embedded in our Constitution and Bill of Rights,” said Irwin Jacobs. “We are excited to expand these efforts by strengthening ACLU chapters in areas of our country where resources have been inadequate to fully protect the civil liberties of all who live there.”

“One of the greatest aspects of this campaign is its ability to provide for the work of our national office – be it defending detainees in Guantánamo, fighting racially-charged immigration laws, working for prisoners’ rights or challenging patents on human genes – as well as our state affiliates that fight civil liberties infringements on the ground each and every day,” said Donna McKay, Director of Institutional Advancement and Special Projects for the ACLU. “Our donors are some of the most visionary and generous individuals I have ever met, and their legacy will allow the ACLU to continue to defend civil liberties for generations to come.”

Various Gift Types And Wide Donation Base:
The campaign’s success and its ability to ensure long-term sustainability are largely a result of its inclusion of different types of structured donations from a wide and multi-faceted donor base.

For example, the campaign encouraged donors to participate in planned giving by leaving gifts to the ACLU in their wills. The noted private investor and philanthropist Robert W. Wilson, through the Robert W. Wilson Charitable Trust, offered a matching challenge of a cash gift of 10 percent of every planned giving pledge of up to $100,000. As a result, the Wilson Legacy Challenge attracted donors from multiple financial levels to support the campaign, earning the organization $217 million in planned gifts and immediate matching funds from Wilson in the amount of $6 million.

In addition, the campaign successfully attracted a significant number of young donors who will also help ensure the permanence of the organization for years to come. Individuals in their 20s and 30s contributed to the campaign, and 40 percent of donors who made contributions over $10,000 were younger than 50.

There were also several multi-generational gifts from supportive civil libertarian families. Kalpana and Jamie Rhodes, Rhodes’ sister Carrie and his brother George all made contributions to the campaign in honor of their grandparents Ellsworth C. “Buster” and Nancy Alvord, noted Seattle-based philanthropists who also contributed significantly to the campaign.

“Giving to this campaign means helping others to exercise and maintain their rights. The ACLU has a critical role in enforcing the rights that we have, and making sure that the bedrock of democracy isn’t worn away but is strengthened over time,” said Kalpana and Jamie Rhodes. “This campaign allows us to help the ACLU direct resources in a way that both addresses issues of today and systematically expands access to resources nationwide.”

The ACLU’s Leading Freedom Forward campaign inspired longtime ACLU supporter Eleanor “Ellie” Friedman to convene the next generation of nine of her family members ranging in age from 19 to 29 to explain the goals of the campaign and why it was an ideal opportunity for all of them to support the ACLU. The family agreed to make the campaign a collaborative philanthropic priority. Friedman herself was raised with a strong belief in the sanctity of civil liberties; her father, Howard, was president of the ACLU of Northern California in the 1950s.

“We don’t just give to causes, we give to people,” said Friedman. “My hope is that my family’s multi-generational commitment to the ACLU and its mission will inspire others to follow suit. My family and I are incredibly proud to play a role in helping the ACLU become a stronger organization whose reach extends to every corner of this country, particularly where there are egregious violations of individual civil rights and civil liberties.”

In addition to attracting new supporters to become engaged in building a long-term civil liberties infrastructure, longtime supporters were inspired to dramatically increase their gifts to the organization as a result of the campaign. One such donor, investment banker and philanthropist Floyd Jones, made a $2.5 million contribution, significantly increasing his giving to the organization. He was inspired to give to the campaign in large part due to the memory of his late wife, Dolores. The couple had been actively involved with the ACLU since the 1950s.

“My wife was very liberal in her thinking and also adamant about the plight of the underdog and the underprivileged,” he said. “Part of being a good citizen is, I think, sharing, and you will gain in life if you are generous and you support causes that you believe in. On my wife’s death, one of the things I told people was that most of all she was a good citizen.”

*Please note that the gala is not open to the public. Media attendance is limited, and those who wish to attend must inquire and make arrangements in advance.

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