Foundation-funded capacity building enabled Oregon immigration nonprofit to win at ballot box
Oregon’s reputation as a liberal state with innovative policies has lead many funders and donors to overlook the state’s critical battles.
Because Oregon has relatively small immigrant and refugee populations, it’s been a low priority for funding targeting those constituencies even though the state has been a bastion of white supremacists.
When an anti-immigrant hate group organized a campaign to overturn Oregon’s sanctuary law at the November 2018 ballot, the statewide immigrant rights group Causa knew it had a dangerous fight on its hands.
Causa didn’t quit after losing at the ballot in 2014
The same anti-immigrant group had placed a measure on the November 2014 ballot to overturn a law the legislature passed to provide driver’s cards to Oregonians without requiring proof of legal residence.
They won by a 32-point margin, even before Donald Trump’s relentless campaigning targeting immigrants and refugees.
So after losing the ballot measure in 2014, Causa doubled down on organizing constituents, strengthening its infrastructure and building a progressive coalition to defeat future anti-immigrant ballot measures.
By 2018, Causa was prepared. Having spent years building effective partnerships and strategies, they turned that 2014 loss into a 27-point victory.
“After that loss 4 years ago, we were in pain, but we were resilient,” said Causa Executive Director Andrea Williams. “We came out of that campaign stronger, more organized and more motivated than before. We promised to never let something like that happen again.”
Funding for a high profile campaign was critical, especially as President Trump elevated his anti-immigrant attacks to fever pitch during the midterms.
But as Williams describes, raising national money wasn’t easy: “Oregon isn’t seen as a nationally important state. We had to work really hard to make the case that losing sanctuary at the ballot would have national ramifications. When the ballot measure qualified in July, we only had $200,000 to start with, out of a $2.8 million budget we needed to raise. This was nerve wracking, delayed the hiring of essential campaign staff, and made it hard to plan our campaign.”
Key local and national foundations were vital allies. In Oregon, Northwest Health Foundation, which has both c3 and c4 funds, was able to facilitate contributions from national foundations.
At the national level, the Four Freedoms Fund educated their consortium of national funders and made the case for why this local ballot measure had national impact.
Increased capacity has Causa well-positioned for the future
Winning in November was critical; equally important was campaigning and winning in a way that sets up further, proactive successes down the road.
“Through Measure 105, we were able to win resoundingly, build organizing capacity and change the narrative about immigrants in our state in a manner that broadened support for proactive immigrant rights policies at the local level,” said Williams. “We built a bigger and broader coalition, grew our list of supporters and donors, developed leadership among organizers and campaign staff, and engaged hundreds of volunteers.”
Defending sanctuary at a time when it was under ferocious attack by the Trump Administration – and against the backdrop of an earlier loss – was an inspirational victory for immigrant rights organizers across the country.
It was made possible by the tenacity of groups like Causa and its allies, and by the investment of funders who understood the importance of such wins in places too often seen as out-of-the way. Local and national funders can help groups like Causa to continue to be nimble when opportunities like these arise by supporting long-term capacity building.