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Indivisible’s Fundraising Philosophy: Fueled by Small Donations

Ezra Levin - 05/15/2017


Before Funding

Back in January when we incorporated the “Indivisible Project” as a nonprofit (more about our org-building work in the last IndivisiBlog post here), we were conflicted about the right strategy to raise money for it. For weeks we didn’t put a donate button on the website for two reasons:

  1. We didn’t want to divert people to donate to us instead of taking action locally and building up their own local Indivisible groups.

  2. We didn’t want to look like we were taking the energy we’d tapped into in order to get money for ourselves. This should be about the local leaders, not us.

After a lot of hemming and hawing, the conclusion of these early concerns was: we were going to need money to do this right. Our volunteer army back in January was (and is) amazing. But it wasn’t enough. We were missing opportunities, our volunteers were working wildly unsustainable hours, and we knew there was more that we could do if we had resources. We realized that we needed funding to responsibly support this incredibly important work and that requesting donations would help build the movement – not detract from it. So we put a donate button on the website.

Small Donations Start Fueling Indivisible

And then a crazy thing happened: people started donating! From every state and every congressional district, folks started contributing. $15 here; $75 there, and so on tens of thousands of times over. By March, we had the resources we needed to start hiring staff and to move out our living room into a shared office space. We had two big responses to this influx of money:

  1. This is amazing.

  2. We have a huge responsibility to use these funds right to support the movement.

As we began to think about other sources of funding—including foundations or higher-dollar donors—we quickly realized that we needed to develop guidelines about funding in order to adhere to our principles. How should we accept money? Are there types of funding that we categorically won’t accept? How do we avoid getting co-opted by other interests, and how do we ensure we always stay responsive to the field? How do we draw the line?

Developing a Fundraising Philosophy

We realized that these were not one-off questions—they were going to keep coming. So rather than make decisions on the fly, we put our heads together on this fundraising philosophy document. It explicitly states our mission, our guiding principles, and how we put those principles into action when it comes to fundraising.

The bottom line is we need money to effectively support the Indivisible Movement. We can’t hire the staff and build the tools we need without that support. But we also need to commit to a funding strategy that protects our core mission: fundamentally we exist to serve a growing movement of local Indivisible groups. That means we’ve got to be stay independent and responsive to local leaders, while accepting resources that will allow us to build an effective organization capable of tackling the enormous challenges posed by this horrific Administration. In practice, we believe this means that the single largest source of funding must always be small donations from the movement.

The Consequences and Benefits of Principles

Following these principles isn’t always going to be easy. In some cases it’s going to mean turning down real money. And in fact, we’ve already turned down major potential donations because the conditions didn’t align with these principles. But if you follow principles only when they’re convenient, you can’t really call them principles. Principles have consequences, and we have to be prepared to accept that.

We’re committed to building up Indivisible, but we’re not willing to sacrifice what makes us special to do it. We think sticking to these principles, especially when inconvenient, is in the long-term interests of both Indivisible the organization and Indivisible the movement. We have a responsibility to the local leaders who are building this Indivisible movement, and so we take seriously this commitment to grow the organization responsibly. We stand with them, Indivisible, and our organization must too.

Indivisible Fundraising Philosophy


Align resources behind Indivisible’s goal of empowering local groups to defeat the Trump agenda.

Guiding principles

  1. We know that organizations are responsive to their funders, so we are committed to being driven by small donations from the Indivisible movement.

  2. We will seek diversified funding to maintain stability and ensure Indivisible will always be strategically independent rather than donor-driven.

  3. We will only accept funds from those who support and uphold our progressive values.

  4. We will take a fundraising second approach, recognizing that Indivisible’s mission is to support grassroots leadership, not to raise money for itself.

Policies & Practice

Small donations

  • Small-dollar donations will always be the single largest source of funding for Indivisible.

  • We will invest in tools and systems to ensure small-dollar donations account for the majority of our support over time.

Diversification and Independence

  • We will not accept more than 20% of our annual budget from any one source, including foundations and individuals.

  • We will seek funding from three primary sources: (1) small individual donations, (2) large individual gifts, and (3) family and public foundations.

  • We won’t accept funding from political parties, their leaders, and candidates for office to avoid any appearance of influence on our strategy.

Progressive Values

  • We will vet any contributor who provides large donations before accepting those funds.

  • We will never accept funding from corporations.

Fundraising second

  • We will not send annoying fundraising emails every day.

  • We will decline gifts that restrict our independence or ability to pursue our strategic vision.

  • We will not—in good faith—compete with local groups’ fundraising efforts.

  • We will actively seek to assist local groups’ fundraising efforts.