Ready to Respond: Real-Time Lessons in Preparedness from the Headlines and the ACLU

January 30, 2017 Robyn Mendez

This article was originally published on npENGAGE

Over the weekend, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) received $24,164,691 from 356,306 online donations. To put this surge of donations into perspective, the ACLU raised a typically raises $4M in online giving annually.

In one weekend, the ACLU raised 6x what they typically raise online in a given year.

No matter where we fall in the political spectrum, it’s important for us as fundraisers to keep an eye on the issues and the news so that we’re ready to act when the issues we are passionate about become national news.  When the number of people who share your passion for your cause suddenly balloons, are you ready to provide a meaningful way for them to respond?

Here are 5 Lessons We Should All Take from the ACLU’s Response over the Weekend:

1. Their Response to a Nationally Significant Event Was Immediate

As soon as the news broke about this weekend’s executive order banning immigrant entry from specific countries into the US, the ACLU was ready to respond publicly.   Is your organization clear on your position and action plan if your cause becomes a major local, national or international issue?  Is your leadership team clear on how you will respond, and do your marketing and advocacy leads have insight into what your position is?

2. Their Impact was Clear

According to their CEO, ACLU lawyers filed the lawsuit that was upheld on Saturday night, resulting in some provisions of the Executive Order being stayed.  People passionate about this cause could see a tangible way that the ACLU was responding.  Do your donors and supporters understand the unique, specific value that your organization brings and the specific actions you take to respond to issues?

3. They Amplified their Voice .

Once the ACLU responded to this issue in a tangible way, they  proudly displayed the message on the front page of their website and across social media channels like Twitter and Facebook.  Supporters and the public could quickly understand the role the organization is playing in this issue. Are your program team and your marketing teams connected and ready to amplify your voice?

4. The Call to Action Was Clear

The ACLU used clear, simple language to call to action, providing an easy solution to individuals wondering how they could contribute..


ACLU Donation Button


Think, also, about how you can tie the call to action to the overall message of your broader movement. In this case, the ACLU let supporters know that by donating they are directly contributing to the “fight for immigrants’ rights.” During times of crisis,  do you make it easy for supporters to take action?

5. Influencers Were Mobilized

We’ve heard from experts about the importance of influencers before, but at an increasing rate we’re seeing just how crucial they can be for your cause in these time-sensitive moments. A little over a year ago, social media expert Austin Graff shared about his experience building an influencer program at International Justice Mission (IJM).

Not only did we reach out to our existing influencers asking them to sign and share on social media, but we got in the weeds and researched which IJM followers on Twitter had significant followings of their own. We then tweeted at them and got their e-mail addresses. Literally, hundreds of new influencers shared about the campaign. And they did it all for free.Austin Graff


And we’re seeing just how impactful high-net-worked individuals have been to the spreading of ACLU’s message. Sia tweeted a $100K matching donation to get her fan-base motivated and then Rosie O’Donnell followed with an additional $100K matching donation.

While we don’t know exactly what happened behind closed doors, we do know that influencers were important to the fundraising effort.  Are you prioritizing relationships with both high net worth and high net-worked individuals? Both their resources and their voices will be crucial if your organization is called upon to react to a major local, national or international event.

help our queer & immigrant friends. send me your donation receipts for the @aclu & I will match up to $100K #RESIST

— sia (@Sia) January 28, 2017


and i will match your 100K donation sia – #resist

— ROSIE (@Rosie) January 29, 2017


Then, Sarah Paulson asked listeners and viewers to consider making a contribution to the ACLU in her SAG award acceptance speech.

The primary lesson at this point is preparedness.

The ACLU had the internal mission alignment, systems, relationships and infrastructure in place to move quickly. It was the weekend, but their lawyers, development staff, and marketing team were on the front lines fighting for their cause and ready to mobilize all those who wanted to join them.

It will be important for this sector to watch and learn from how the surge in giving impacts the ACLU’s mission and charitable giving overall. As we saw with the #IceBucketChallenge, the donations didn’t move the needle for charitable giving as a whole, but we did see that incredible things can happen when an army of generous and caring citizens come together for good.


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