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Make the Road: Developing a Membership Model that Builds the Power of Immigrant and Working Class Communities

By: +Acumen, Open Society Justice Initiative

Make the Road is the largest nonunion immigrant membership organization in New York, in the United States. This case study explores Make the Road’s experiments with innovative financing.

To support this work, the team at Make the Road has developed a robust and diversified funding model. In 2019, the vast majority of the organization’s overall budget comes from government and foundation grants. Small percentages also come from unions and other entities, individual donors and special events. They also generate some income each year by winning legal cases or collecting fees from clients who are paying modest fees for Make the Road classes or services.

Yet, the organization has found that winning large grants and bringing in some earned income is not enough. They’ve also invested in developing a membership model, where they collect dues from the over 23,000 immigrant and working class people living across New York City, Long Island, and Westchester who have decided to become members of the organization. This is an impressive number of members, yet their dues cover a relatively tiny portion of their overall budget. Despite this, revenue from Make the Road’s membership model is a valuable source of unrestricted funding, as it can unlock their ability to pursue other grant and government funding, which often come with cash flow challenges.