Benefits Organizing and Earned Revenue Steal the Stage

By Joanna Woodson, Mile 22 Associates

The Mile 22 Associates Lunch and Learn which took place on Tuesday, March 20th, revolved around Benefits Organizing and Earned Revenue. The intent was to create a space to discuss long-term strategies for increasing revenue, building power, and growing membership in organizations across the youth empowerment space. Invited participants had the chance to share learning from tactics they are trying, interact with folks working on the forefront of these issues, and explore opportunities for working together to fill gaps in the field. The presenter was Ben Brown, the founder and CEO of the Association of Young Americans.

According to the Stanford Social Innovation Review, when we think about this space there are generally two types of organizations which come to mind: issue based and value add. Issue-based organizations are exactly what they sound like: organizations such as the Sierra Club collect money and it goes directly toward activism on behalf of the donors. But the other type of organization, value add organizations, twists the model — and does so successfully.

AARP, the NRA, Planned Parenthood,, and AAA are all examples of value add organizations. When you think of AAA, do you automatically picture slick professionals lobbying on behalf of the automobile industry, or do you think of a tow truck lending a helping hand? At least for me, as someone who drives a 13-year-old Beetle, AAA represents a necessary component of my ownership — insurance, check; license and registration, check; AAA Roadside Assistance, check!

The point is, we utilize these services every day, and unless we’re involved in politics, the organizing comes second to the benefits. With this model, an organization can reach a much broader population than it would otherwise — think, how many people require roadside assistance or quality healthcare when underinsured, versus those who have expendable income to give toward an organization which is solely dedicated to a few major issues.

The Association of Young Americans (AYA), the organization of which Ben Brown is founder and CEO, is dipping into this method of organizing. He bills AYA as “AARP for young people,” with benefits such as discounts on Lyft rides, AMC Theater tickets, and MegaBus. Ben is pushing for a smarter way of organizing, and we are taking notes!

What we learned from Ben during the presentation is that AARP is the most widely read print publication in the nation as of December, at 38.3 million subscribers; and we know that Planned Parenthood serves 4.6 million people per year through health services, as well as reproductive health education. We’re taking notes from them, as well.

So now the question is pointed at all of us. What can the coalition of national and statewide organizations working on youth engagement do to diversify our own fundraising portfolios? Are we having the appropriate conversations or are we scooting these issues under the rug? What tactics are we trying, and have we had failures and successes in these trials? How can we make this type of organizing more accessible to all of us? If we want to survive for the next one hundred years, we have to ask ourselves these questions, and we have to be prepared to act, and do so nimbly.