Leading Freedom (and Fundraising) Forward
In 2004, the American Civil Liberties Union was up against it. Its membership had hit the 550,000 mark, yet its major-gifts strategy was anemic at best and planned giving wasn't exactly a priority. And despite the fact that it was on the front lines of what some feel was the greatest civil-liberties crisis in the United States since World War II, the highly visible and aggressive organization was operating under an internal inferiority complex that was undermining its ability to raise a sustainable source of income.
Anthony Romero, the ACLU's executive director and — by his own design — chief fundraising officer, was struggling with an endowment-building campaign that was missing its mark. So there was no great cry of despair when Director of Institutional Advancement and Special Projects Donna McKay suggested the organization close it out.
But before Romero could exhale, McKay was greasing the wheels for the next campaign, which promised to be bigger, bolder, more comprehensive and — yes — probably more exhausting than the last one.
"George Bush was in the White House, and John Ashcroft was our attorney general," McKay says. "We [felt we] were in the midst of one of the greatest civil-liberties crises in the country's history, a crisis of epic proportions, a crisis that is still going on today.
"It's not a time to be putting money away for tomorrow," she says, explaining a possible reason for the organization's difficulty in raising endowment monies.
Soon after, the Leading Freedom Forward (LFF) campaign was launched. With an unusual dual focus of increasing both major and planned gifts, it raised $407 million over the past five years, surpassing its original goal of $250 million. The campaign launched in January 2005 with the goal of raising $100 million in cash gifts and $150 million in planned giving. When it closed in mid-September, it had brought in more than $150 million in cash gifts and more than $250 million in planned giving.