All Those Donations Are Giving The ACLU And Planned Parenthood Room To Experiment

Since November, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood have seen their support skyrocket. Now, they’re adopting new grassroots strategies.

All Those Donations Are Giving The ACLU And Planned Parenthood Room To Experiment
[Source Photo: Flickr user Ron Cogswell]

Earlier this month, Jennifer Ande held an event in support of Planned Parenthood. She and a few dozen other people got together to make Valentine’s Day cards that they would then send to their local politicians in support of the organization. She had received the tools from her local Planned Parenthood in New Jersey. Through that she brought together fellow supporters to write dozens of cards to politicians in support of the women’s health organization. This was the first time Ande ran such an event.


As a cervical cancer survivor who relies on services like Planned Parenthood’s, Ande has been donating to the organization for over 20 years, but something changed late last year. “My activism literally took flight on November 8 at 9:40 p.m. when I realized who was going to be the next president of the United States,” she says. And she’s not alone.

Since the election, organizations that support liberal causes such as reproductive health and civil liberties have been seeing a profound uptick in interest. This has translated into huge cash infusions. Donations to the ACLU have ballooned in the last two months, well beyond what the group generally sees within a whole year of fundraising, according to CNN Money. Planned Parenthood too has been seeing donations roll in. It won’t give official numbers, but high-profile donors including Sheryl Sandberg and Elaine Wynn have donated millions of dollars in the last few weeks. Other groups that represent people affected by President Trump’s proposed policies have been seeing bumps, too. The New York Times reported last November that organizations like the Sierra Club and the Anti-Defamation League also saw marked interest boosts.

But people don’t want to just donate. They, like Ande, want to help out, too. And so these organizations are figuring out new programming to keep these citizens involved.

The ACLU’s Grassroots Activism

One example is the ACLU’s new grassroots activism program aimed at getting everyday people involved in the civil liberty defenders’ work. The organization brought on Faiz Shakir, a former adviser to Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, to be its national political director as well as to help lead this group. Shakir has also hired a bunch of digital organizers, many of whom worked on the Bernie Sanders campaign.

“There are a bunch of organizations on the right,” Shakir says, that have similar programs. “The NRA comes to mind.” These ideologically driven groups have used their power and money to bring about grassroots campaigns galvanizing their supporters. Typically, the ACLU hasn’t worked in this capacity, it focused more on the legal side of its activism, but with this new cash infusion, it’s ready to bring in as many people to its cause as possible. Shakir says had originally proposed a modest budget to get this program going. But after the ACLU saw more than $24 million donated in just the last few weeks, $13 million was budgeted for this new grassroots project.

The new program will bring together people who have pledged dollars to help out the ACLU as well as expressed interest in doing something beyond donation. It will offer resources for how to help its current legal battles as well as give information about events people can attend, like rallies or other political activities. The ACLU will also give people ways to do “counterprogramming” to the current administration’s work. Shakir offers the example of asking people to go to a mosque and hold signs with positive messages, or shaking hands with immigrants at naturalization ceremonies. The hope is to create a coalition of people who support and fight for the ACLU in a way similar to how the Sanders campaign was able to bring together frustrated citizens using grassroots methods.


Planned Parenthood’s “Defenders”

Similarly, Planned Parenthood is seeing a huge rise in interest. The women’s health group sees a boost in interest with every election cycle–especially when a politician proposes anti-women’s health legislation.

Related: This Is How Planned Parenthood Is Gearing Up For Its Hardest Fight Yet

This year, however, the level of support is unprecedented. Since November, more than 400,000 people around the country have donated to the organization, says Planned Parenthood. “We don’t have to explain to folks the urgent moment we’re in,” says Kelly Robinson, Planned Parenthood’s deputy national director of organizing. More than the money, however, people want to help. Like Ande, Planned Parenthood offices around the country are being inundated with inquiries about what people can do.

Robinson has started a new program called Defenders, which offers people resources and instructions on how to help Planned Parenthood. “It’s about giving individuals the tools they need to be the best advocates,” says Robinson. Defenders launched earlier this month and saw more than 20,000 people sign up online within the first few days. Now there are over 50,000 “defenders” who have committed to taking action at least once a week to support Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood has been a political target for its entire existence, and the organization has always offered ways for supporters to mobilize, including tools for events like the one Ande participated in, as well as other public events like rallies to help show support.

But Robinson says the Trump administration brings about something unique. “When this moment [of people offering their support] came after the election, we knew something different was happening,” she says. Defenders wants to harness a “grassroots energy” and help individuals organize. The program offers ideas for organizing meetups, ways to contact decision makers, and other training opportunities so that people know the best way to advocate for Planned Parenthood.


For both the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, the work is just beginning. Legislation is being put in place to make direct access to women’s health services more difficult–for example, the anti-abortion bill introduced in Oklahoma that resulted in a lawmaker describing pregnant women as “hosts.” The ACLU too has already begun a bevy of lawsuits aimed at fighting Trump’s executive orders; its most high-profile work is a series of lawsuits that focus on President Trump’s recent anti-immigration executive order.

To keep up the momentum, these organizations will need to keep their supporters engaged. This will likely involve more of the grassroots organizing the ACLU and Planned Parenthood are currently doing. Robinson calls this approach “leading from the back.”

“People voted again with their pocketbooks and their email addresses,” says Shakir. And these organizations are going to make sure their supporters keep voting with their actions.


About the author

Cale is a Brooklyn-based reporter. He writes about business, technology, leadership, and anything else that piques his interest.