President Donald Trump’s election and his first two weeks in office have become both cash cow and membership catalyst for social activism groups across the Twin Cities.
No matter what side of an issue the group promotes, leaders say each Trump executive order or threat to a segment of the population brings huge donations, a spike in membership and volunteers and greater attendance at events and rallies.
For some organizations, the numbers have reached historic levels. Since November, the membership of Minnesota’s American Civil Liberties Union has nearly tripled from 5,760 to 15,960. A man who has donated more than $20,000 to the ACLU said in jest that Trump was going to make him broke because “he will probably do something next month to make me give more money.”
“It’s boggling my mind,” said Chuck Samuelson, who has been the state ACLU’s executive director for 21 years. “People are walking into the office and giving money, which has never happened before. It’s crazy in a good way, but the amount of work we have to do is staggering.”
Last weekend alone, the national ACLU received more than $24 million in online donations from 356,306 people. Big names in Hollywood and the music world made large donations to the ACLU and publicly pleaded for people to give. Even ride-sharing company Lyft pledged $1 million.
Groups that don’t solicit donations have experienced renewed interest in their agendas. The Minnesota Catholic Conference, the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Minnesota, is hosting an event at the State Capitol next month to allow people an opportunity and venue to engage in issues in a positive, proactive way.
“This is instead of feeling like they are powerless and that other forces beyond their control are shaping the discussion,” said Jason Adkins, the conference’s executive director. “People want an entry point to participate in a principled, not partisan, way and we are providing that.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations-Minnesota (CAIR-MN) had already planned to grow its public awareness campaign before Trump was elected. But the president’s call for a travel ban from seven Muslim-majority countries has brought unexpected attention to the organization.
CAIR-MN has received more than 200 new volunteers and raised $7,000 in the past month. It also has sold one-third of 1,000 tickets for a March event to help people counter hate and xenophobia, said Jaylani Hussein, the group’s executive director.
Many of the new volunteers and donors aren’t Muslim and are nontraditional supporters, he said. The spike in support is welcoming and surprising, he said.
“There are many allies out there,” he said. “A lot of people aren’t hearing about the tears and frustrations of Trump’s new and threatened policies. That’s why people are stepping up.”
When executive director Jane Graupman arrived at work Monday at the International Institute of Minnesota, the front door was adorned with balloons and signs of support. The organization helps refugees and immigrants achieve full participation in American life through resettlement.
Since the election, volunteers have been streaming into her building and asking to do anything to help, including marketing and web design. People from Minnesota and out of state have been dropping off loaves of bread, diapers and winter coats for clients, she said.
“In my 27 years, I’d never seen such public outpouring,” Graupman said. “People are walking in the door and say that Trump doesn’t speak for them.”
Her group and others, like Planned Parenthood, expect to lose federal funding, so donations become even more critical. The institute’s budget will be cut by $250,000, which means the group will settle 400 fewer people this year.
The Minnesota Family Council receives donations from supporters who are grateful for Trump’s recent actions to stop the use of taxpayer funds for abortions in other countries, said Stephani Liesmaki, communications director.
But the council hasn’t seen any change in its level of support since Trump’s election or his recent executive orders, “probably because we haven’t tried to exploit those things for fundraising,” she said.
Shortly after the election, the national ACLU ran a full-page ad in the New York Times that said the organization would fight any civil liberty violations under the Trump administration. The campaign appeared to spur donations, as the Minnesota chapter of the ACLU received $120,000 in the past two months. By comparison, Samuelson said revenue from donations earned in 1996, his first year with the ACLU, was $66,000.
Immediately after Election Day, Tony Libera was already planning a fundraiser for the ACLU on Trump’s Inauguration Day. He arranged to have a couple of bands and a DJ play at the Norseman Distillery in Minneapolis. The 28-year-old General Mills employee charged $25 a ticket and he raised $1,400. He’s already thinking about another fundraiser.
“I just wanted to do something to make a positive impact in the world,” he said.
$10,000 donation, twice
Carol Stoddart, director for development for Minnesota’s ACLU, recalled getting an e-mail out of the blue after the election from a man who wanted to donate $10,000 with a matching challenge. And this week the man, who wants to remain anonymous, pledged another $10,000.
Although he’s donated to local causes for children, the man, who works in the financial industry and is the son of immigrants, has never given to a group like the ACLU. With Trump’s election, “it hit me that our personal civil liberties were at risk,” he said.
“There are already bills the ACLU will have to battle in the state,” he said. “And the Trump administration is going down a slippery slope. I will skip a vacation in order to give money to the ACLU.”