The ACLU’s largest anonymous donor is no longer anonymous – and no longer a donor. As mentioned on Dan Flynn’s FlynnFiles, David Gelbaum can no longer afford to write his annual $19 million check – a figure which represents one quarter of the group’s annual donations. Combined with money he gave to the Sierra Club and groups that returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, Gelbaum’s withdrawal from philanthropy represents a lost $81 million in donations.
Anyone who has drawn a check from a non-profit group (especially one that is more political than charitable, as I have) can attest, economic years like 2008 and 2009 usually mean reduced donations, which lead to layoffs and budget cuts. Of course, it’s more work to have a donor strategy with more individual donors giving smaller amounts, but dispersing the financial burden of an organization is like building a car with a wider wheel base or a house with a wider foundation – it’s just more stable.
No organization in their right mind would turn down a yearly check of $19 million. At the same time, part of the reality of the non-profit world is understanding that at any time, any given donation can go away. Maybe the ACLU knows this, maybe they don’t, but in either case they have provided a cautionary tale for other non-profits.