Out of the thousands of organizations whose evolution and track record the Altruist League follows, we keep 1-2% in what we call the Altruist Index. So, when members come to us and say, “Which organizations should I support if I have no topical or geographic preference?," we answer, “Those!”
But a question often follows: “Yes, but which ones are the very best?” To answer this, we have put in place a metric we call Velocity. Its formula is relatively complex. Our methodology captures dozens of parameters for each organization. Some of them come from analysts' manual research. Others come from our machine learning model and various environment scanning tools.
Here are some of the organizations with the highest Velocities as measured by the Altruist League for the month of September 2020, globally:
1. Black Lives Matter - Velocity 84.4
Unsurprisingly, Black Lives Matter (BLM) tops our list. Racial injustice, along with the pandemic, is the dominant theme of 2020, and not just in the United States. BLM has seen its visibility and funding increase exponentially. A movement often criticised for lack of clear leadership and direction has gained in coherence as articulate, inspiring voices have emerged to represent it. Its operations on the ground are becoming formidable. It has become progressive America’s conscience and your neighborhood company’s cause of choice.
The coming period will be more difficult for the movement than it would seem at the first glance. It is now firmly in the crosshairs of right wing media, ready to pounce on its messaging (“defund the police”) and the looting that comes with the protesting; indeed, BLM’s popularity has taken a hit recently. The corporate world will be looking to co-opt its message and water it down. BLM still needs to define a strategy that influences the opinions of the more conservative people in the middle of the political spectrum. Still, given its ability to lead change and the moment in which we live, Black Lives Matter is in a unique position among grassroots movements to make a difference in the coming period.
2. LUCHA Congo - 79.1
If there ever was a movement that operated in difficult conditions and by the power of grassroots organizing alone then LUCHA is one. The youth-led group, active in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the past ten years or so, wants peace, democracy, and an end to corruption in its country. They have spoken truth to power with grave consequences, and have been persecuted, arrested and killed with alarming regularity.
And yet they continue, shaping a new generation of Congolese people, urging the youth to vote, to take action, to refuse to accept the status quo as normal and inevitable. LUCHA operates with remarkable tactical awareness and operational competence in circumstances that make challenges faced by Western activist movements seem laughable in comparison. They are not unique in the region by any means - the tradition runs from Y’en a marre through Bour li deor and beyond - but are certainly the most notable of late.
3. The Good Lobby - 78.8
“Lobbying” has for the longest time been a dirty word among progressive movements. Somehow, the world is supposed to fix itself just by the power of our protests and voices. It doesn’t work that way. In Europe, we have seen organizations such as Corporate Europe Observatory and Lobby Control try to understand and expose corporate influence on politics. This proto version of counter-lobbying has had some success. In the U.S., organizations that train grassroots activists (Rhize, the Wildfire Project and many others) sometimes include education on lobbying.
The Good Lobby makes things more focused and more explicit - it instructs the civil society to organize and lobby for itself, by understanding European institutions and law and using the power levers to its advantage. The Brussels-based, Italian-dominated organization still has ways to go - its communication style can be dry, its resources limited, but it is nonetheless an essential trailblazer on the continent. Influencing the political process should be part of every social movement’s core strategy. The importance and the replicability of the Good Lobby’s model are a major component of its Velocity in our book.
4. Sunrise Movement - 78.1
The Sunrise Movement is unashamedly political because, well, climate change needs political solutions. A favorite target of conservative media, Sunrise has doubled down and involved itself explicitly in political races, both the presidential and the congressional ones, with plenty of success. They seem to have learned the lessons from the failure of Occupy to produce change, often attributed to a lack of strategy, narrow support base and unclear demands.
Sunrise has attracted support from philanthropy heavyweights already, while keeping its public perception as independent and grassroots-led. One of its challenges in the coming period will be, just like for Black Lives Matter, to not only mobilize its base of the young and the angry but also reach towards the middle ground and change the minds of the undecided. Another will be to keep its supporters motivated as its often unrealistic ambitions and a sense of urgency keep clashing with the slow, cynical reality of the political process.
5. FEMNET - 76.9
Umbrella organizations can be notoriously bureaucratic and ineffective, owing to their often vague mandate of “raising awareness” and “connecting stakeholders.” With time, they can become an impediment to change. Kenya-based FEMNET (in full, The African Women’s Development and Communication Network) is an exception. In its several decades of existence it has remained led from the ground, and on-message. It is one of few organizations out there whose membership, according to our polls, uniformly sees them as providing concrete value.
Yes, FEMNET talks about 10-year plans and “people reached” the way ineffective organizations do. But its commitment to its mission - one, clear mission of empowering women on the continent - has been unwavering and practical in nature throughout its existence. The organization is now present in nearly all African countries. FEMNET is a study in how organizations can grow without becoming obsolete, with lessons for both nascent grassroots movements and soul-searching international organizations in the UN system and beyond.
6. Extinction Rebellion 76.3
XR used to be higher on this list. It took the world by storm in late 2018, showing audacity and tactical awareness hitherto rare in activism. They explicitly adopted being arrested as part of their strategy. They struck a nerve and polarized opinions. Visibility and membership skyrocketed. Money started flowing in. Whatever you think about XR, for a while it seemed like there was only one environmental organization out there.
Then things started going off the rails a little. Some of the subsequent stunts failed to attract membership or media support. The organization’s leadership, seen as autocratic by some in the youth wing, became a problem. The movement was accused of lacking diversity. It has since been hit by the lockdown measures in the context of the pandemic - demonstrations and public stunts are the core of its strategy. But critics are too quick to write XR off. The organization has demonstrated a model that works and that many other organizations are adopting and improving on. We expect it to be back with more humility, more focus and, ultimately, even more effectiveness.
7. Mesa de Mujeres de Juárez - 76.1
When investors approach us and ask about the best model for an organization that protects and supports women, we point to Mesa de Mujeres de Juarez. Ciudad Juárez, situated in Northern Mexico, used to be the most dangerous city in the world; the murders and disappearances of women remain a horrifyingly regular occurrence. Throughout, committed citizens have been putting their own lives at risk in order to help.
The Mesa has been around for a couple of decades now. It helps women in a variety of ways - through psychological assistance, safe houses, legal representation, political lobbying for legislation, to name just a few. It is for the most part unknown to donors or the general public outside of its region. For us, it has been a living case study on changing minds, building coalitions and remaining firm in the face of extreme adversity, managing to maintain a committed, dedicated membership core. Those factors, in addition to the wide applicability of the Mesa’s model, contribute to its Velocity.
8. GetUP! - 76.1
Australians know their campaigning. The average Velocity of the hundreds of organizations we track over there is higher than that of any other country. The infrastructure helps. Many sophisticated campaigning agencies operate over there, with the specific aim of helping progressive organizations lobby and spread their message - normally a rarity in other countries.
GetUP!, an LGBT rights organization, has been a key factor in the passage of the 2017 Marriage Amendment Act, legalizing same sex marriage in Australia. The campaign’s flagship video still gives you goosebumps. In recent times, the movement has become a formidable political actor in the country, so much so that conservative money found it necessary to create an organization with a specific aim of countering its influence. Some of GetUP!’s recent campaigns have been hit and miss, but if there ever was a grassroots movement that moved the needle in a country then they are it.
9. Operation Libero - 75.3
Switzerland can be a very traditional environment where things happen at a snail’s pace and mind are hard to change. Operation Libero has taken on this challenge. On their agenda are the rights of migrants, marriage equality, climate action, and similar progressive topics. The organization has all the facets of some more established organizations globally - a strong core team with good tactical underpinnings, a solid social media presence and the ability to transfer this into successful campaigns.
What do they need to scale up and become a household name? Well, money. For us, tracking of the funding structure of an organization like Libero over time is a very useful indicator of the readiness of a society to embrace change. If Operation Libero survives, it will, just like Black Lives Matter and others, expand its donor base from grassroots and individuals to activist foundations and then slowly into the corporate sector and the mainstream. This will be an indication of a maturing donor market in Switzerland.
10. Honorable (?) Mention: The National Rifle Association - N/A
Often, our members assume that grassroots organization implies progressive ideas. Far from it. If anything, conservative donors (e.g. the Koch brothers in the U.S.) have historically been better at promoting their agenda through diversified investment into institutes, thought leaders and lobby groups that have shaped the public opinion to an astonishing extent.
An emblematic example of this is the National Rifle Association. To be clear, the League neither tracks the NRA’s Velocity nor agrees with its positions, let alone suggests investing in it. But we are students of its effectiveness. The organization that has blocked gun reform in the U.S. practically single-handedly, despite the fact that just a fraction of Americans fully identify with its positions. The NRA has invested far and wide into clubs, campaigns, education initiatives, as well as into bringing up a whole new generation of supporters. Crucially, it has done so with few strings attached (i.e. by trusting its grantees, often the Holy Grail of progressive philanthropists). They understand and embody what some writers have called New Power. Recent NRA corruption scandals have drawn sharp criticism even among its members and sympathizers - to be seen if that can truly shake a formidable operation.
Donors often spend their entire careers trying to avoid taking a political position. But fundamental change requires one. Many of the League’s members had become fatigued with decades of fighting hunger and poverty without much effect, only to understand that improvements won’t happen without solving systemic issues first: boosting democracy, achieving racial justice, protecting the climate, promoting economic opportunity and gender equality. It's time we stopped "doing philanthropy" and began improving our societies, just like these amazing activist organizations have stopped "raising awareness" and begun creating real change.