I unwrapped the package from Simone Joyoux and out fell a card bearing this moving quotation from Constance Baker Motley, the first black woman in the U.S. to become a federal judge:

“Something which we think is impossible now is not impossible in another decade.”

Inside the package was a remarkable gift of a book — a book I want to tell you about. The story of making the impossible possible.

When women winWhen Women Win:  EMILY’s List and the Rise of Women in American Politics by Ellen Malcolm with Craig Unger is the inside and impressive story of the re-invention of political fundraising — the 3 million member organization — EMILY’s List

There’s good reason every aspiring movement fundraiser, organizer or board member should read, study, underline and dog-ear this gem: it’s the story of how a revolutionary approach to fundraising can help change history.

Change history? Yep.

When EMILY’s List was founded in 1986 there were only 12 Democratic women in the U.S. House and 0 in the U.S. Senate. Today, 30 years later, funds from EMILY’s List have helped elect 11 women governors, 19 women U.S. Senators and 110 Democratic women to the House of Representatives.

EMILY is an acronym for “Early Money Is Like Yeast” (because it makes the dough rise — a very un-Washington-like name in a town filled with ‘federations’, ‘coalitions’, ‘associations’, etc.).

The BIG fundraising idea? Rather than organize as a political action committee (PAC) that would be limited to $5,000 per candidate, Ellen and her band of pioneers decided to dramatically increase the resources available to Democratic women candidates by seeking $100 from each EMILY List member/donor to be contributed directly to the  candidate. 1000 donors giving $100 each to a candidate = $100,000! 20 times more than any PAC could contribute. Bingo! The re-invention of political fundraising!

The detailed and gripping story behind the creation and growth of this remarkable engine for political change should serve as a classic textbook for generations of fundraisers and social change advocates. It clearly shows what a small group of committed friends, volunteers and skilled professionals willing to abandon old playbooks can accomplish when the essential ingredients of vision, tenacity, flexibility, courage and collaboration are mixed together.

When Women Win is chocked full of inspiring story within inspiring story, including Ellen Malcolm, the founder’s, own story. And, the story of electoral progress and victories for women from the election of Barbara Mikulski as the first Democratic woman elected to the U.S. Senate, the defeat of Todd Akin (of “legitimate rape” infamy) by Claire McCaskill of Missouri; and Elizabeth Warren’s dramatic win over incumbent Massachusetts senator Scott Brown.

Then there’s the high drama of Anita Hill’s sexual harassment testimony against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas and the catalytic effects on triggering a tsunami of women’s engagement in electoral politics. And, so, so much more. Frankly, this is one fundraising book that can truly be called a ‘page-turner’.

Tom and I worked with Ellen in the early days of Common Cause and watched with admiration as she flew that nest, spread her wings and soared upward to make political history.

When Women Win is a powerful tribute to the change that courage and creative fundraising makes possible. Thank you Simone.

And even more thanks to Ellen.






This article was posted in: Direct mail, Donor acquisition, Donor retention / loyalty / commitment, Fundraising philosophy/profession, Innovation, Major donors, Nonprofit management.
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