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55 posts categorized "Advocacy"

Indexes Are the New Infographics

April 19, 2014

(Ryan Reynolds is design director at MSDS, a New York firm specializing in design and branding for nonprofits, financial service firms, and technology companies. A version of this post appears on the Communications Network blog.)

Headshot_ryan_reynoldsThe nonprofit sector seems like the last place you'd find indexes in widespread use. After all, indexes are built on data; well-established ones like the Consumer Price Index take a vast amount of consumer good prices and pack them into a neat little number, which can then be plotted longitudinally to give us a barometer of inflation over time. As nonprofits begin to leverage the troves of data they've been sitting on, however, it is changing the way the rest of us look at data.

To understand how numbers can help nonprofits tell better stories and affect meaningful change, we need to start with a little history lesson. It used to be that nonprofits such as UNICEF or the Red Cross would try to raise awareness of and compel action on an issue like hunger or disaster relief by focusing on those who needed help. Images of hungry children or homeless families helped drive home a reality that even the most hard-hearted person found hard to ignore. Need to sound the alarm on climate change? Roll out a photo of a polar bear on a melting iceberg and you had the ingredients for an old-school nonprofit marketing campaign.

Not anymore. While images can function as a powerful call to action, cause-driven marketing has evolved since the dawn of the information age. Audiences have become more educated and sophisticated. And they've come to expect more transparency around solutions designed to address an issue or problem. Increasingly, the heart-tugging narrative accompanied by anecdotal evidence just doesn't cut it. In this new environment, cause-driven organizations can't just ask potential donors to take their word for it. Donors thinking about supporting an organization need two things: to understand the issue the organization is working on, and to see evidence that the organization's efforts are bearing fruit.

To be sure, nonprofit organizations have come a long way in terms of the former. MSDS has built a practice around helping cause-driven organizations articulate who they are, what they do, and why they matter. But for a nonprofit to truly scale its impact, it has to compete for — and win — its share of donor mind-space, and that means delivering a consistent, compelling brand experience that resonates with potential donors and helps move them along a knowledge continuum from "not familiar with" to "expert" on the issue in question.

But what about turning them into advocates for your cause? That’s where data comes in: increasingly, sophisticated audiences want concrete evidence. And therein lies the problem — the more data you present to them, the harder it is for them to make sense of it.

Indeed, this fundamental paradox helped spawn the infographic boom: as organizations adopted digital tools to help them do and communicate about their work, they quickly found themselves awash in data and realized they needed to package that data in a way that made it more accessible and appealing. The result has been an explosion of data visualizations that combine quantitative and qualitative content with snappy graphics. While some of these are little more than "cartoonized" presentations of a handful of statistics, at their best infographics distill important information into an easily digestible format while helping audiences gain a new perspective on an issue or cause. Like so much in this digital era, however, the infographic is proving to have a relatively short shelf life, as organizations look for new and less cumbersome ways to present a lot of data to their various audiences.

Enter the index. One advantage of an index is that it simplifies the complex. A well-constructed index captures vast amounts of data across multiple categories and presents it as a bite-sized piece. For example, the Yale Environmental Performance Index measures environmental performance for 178 countries across 9 issue areas and 20 different indicators. By itself, the raw data collected by the folks at Yale and Columbia (a partner in the effort) is all but incomprehensible. But distill that data down to a series of scores via a robust and transparent index methodology, and all of a sudden you have an elegant system that allows you to compare apples to apples across a broad variety of criteria.

Which brings us to the second key advantage of indexes: they provide empirical context for issues that are often difficult to get a handle on. By themselves, raw statistics don't mean much. You say that country A poured X million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere last year? That sounds like a hell of a lot, but as a layperson I really wouldn't know. But roll that data into an index score, and you can tell not just what a country is doing in terms of its carbon emissions, but how its performance compares to its peers as well as its own historical performance.

As one of our clients told us, "Stories get their interest, but metrics get their buy-in." Compelling imagery and crips narrative are an important part of communicating about any issue or cause. But an index that simplifies complex data and creates context for it tends to "democratize" that data in ways that make it easier for audiences to test their assumptions and draw evidenced-based conclusions. And that’s a powerful idea.

— Ryan Reynolds

Is Your Philanthropy 'Autism Aware'?

April 02, 2014

(Peter Berns is chief executive officer of The Arc, the largest community-based organization advocating for and serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families in the nation.)

Headshot_peter_bernsOver the last six years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its estimate on the number of kids in the United States with Autism Spectrum Disorder ("ASD" or "autism") from 1 in 125 in 2008, to 1 in 88 in 2012, to 1 in 68 today. That's a staggering increase.

Children, youth, and adults with autism, as well as those with other developmental disabilities, are part of the fabric of society. They attend the preschools and kindergartens that many of you are working to improve and can be found among the ranks of students striving to succeed in school and go to college. You'll find them among the unemployed struggling to find a job, among patients with chronic conditions searching for adequate care, and among the homeless. Many of them are active in the visual and performing arts or enriching society through their scholarship, activism, and community service. Their family members and friends are everywhere you look. They are not going away, nor should they.

Autism is part of the human condition; it permeates every aspect of our communities because it is a fact of life. Which is why, regardless of grantmaking priorities, foundations and philanthropists must be autism aware and do more to incorporate a "disability dimension" into their work.

Think about it. Is it really possible to affect the "school-to-prison pipeline" without taking into account what's happening in the special education system or statistics recently released by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights which show that students with disabilities experience higher rates of discipline, suspension, and involvement with law enforcement than students without disabilities? Is it really possible to effectively address domestic and sexual violence if you don't know that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) experience such violence at a much higher rate – three times as high for women with disabilities, and twice as high for men with disabilities – than the general population? Is it really possible to address chronic unemployment without considering that people with autism and other I/DD experience much higher rates of unemployment – as high as 80 percent – and need much more in the way of supports and interventions in order to secure gainful employment?

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Mapping DACA: New Tool Tracks Philanthropy’s Investments in Program for Immigrant Youth

March 25, 2014

(Felecia Bartow is associate director at Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees.)

Headshot_Felecia_BartowIn June 2012, the Obama administration announced a new policy directive that provided the opportunity for nearly two million immigrant youth and young adults across the country to apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). This temporary form of relief offers eligible immigrants a possible reprieve from the threat of deportation and has the potential to encourage immigrant students to continue and/or complete their education and enter the formal economy.

As word of this historic opportunity spread, foundations from California to New York and Oregon to North Carolina responded. Despite differences in grantmaking and geographic priorities, these funders seized the opportunity to meet the pressing needs of DACA-eligible immigrants in communities across the country by supporting a wide range of implementation activities, including expanding outreach efforts and eligibility screenings, and helping applicants meet educational requirements and cover the cost of the $465 application fee.

The Foundation Center and Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees are pleased to announce the launch of the DACA Grants Map, which provides the first-ever comprehensive overview of related investments. This tool offers information on the geographic areas served by DACA-related grants and grant details such as dollar amount, duration, date issued, strategies
supported, and investment type.

Collectively, these investments have had a direct and measureable impact on the lives of the more than half a million immigrant youth and young adults living, working, and contributing in communities across the country. With support from the philanthropic sector, the vast majority of these young people applied for DACA successfully.

We also hope the map serves to emphasize that work remains to be done. There are a million and a half youth and young adults who have yet to apply for DACA, many of whom represent the "hard-to-reach." These individuals face a variety of obstacles: a significant number do not meet the program's educational requirements; others cannot afford the application fee or need help with documentation; those in rural communities may lack access to services; and some face community-based stigma around their undocumented status.

Scan the map and you will notice large swathes of the country with little or no philanthropic activity specific to DACA implementation. Take Florida, an immigrant stronghold and home to the country's fourth-largest DACA-eligible population. Only one DACA-related grant has been reported in the state versus eighteen in North Carolina, despite Florida having nearly three times as many eligible immigrants. In short, we need to "fill the map."

A quarter of the way into the New Year, the fate of comprehensive immigration reform efforts remains uncertain. Meanwhile, there are thousands of immigrant youth and young adults for whom a successful DACA application would take them a step closer to the American Dream. As we wait for action on the federal level, we must seize the available opportunities — and assure that we fulfill the promise of DACA.

— Felecia Bartow

For additional information and funding recommendations, visit GCIR's DACA resource page, or contact Michael Kavate, research and communications associate. And if you don’t see your organization’s grants listed, there is still time to submit them, as the map will be updated on a quarterly basis.

Sincere thanks are owed to all who helped this project, with special recognition to the tireless efforts of Walter Barrientos, GCIR project manager; Matthew Ross, manager of special data projects at the Foundation Center; and Nina Gantcheva, the center's manager of strategic philanthropy.

For the Success of Boys and Men of Color, A Call to Action

January 29, 2014

(Kenneth H. Zimmerman is director of U.S. programs for the Open Society Foundations. This post was first published on Open Society's Voices blog.)

Headshot_Ken_ZimmermanIn this year's State of the Union address, President Obama opened the door to an opportunity that may be a game changer for millions of boys and men of color in America.

In his speech, President Obama said he believes in the fundamental importance of transforming the lives of young men and boys of color and is committed to bolstering and reinforcing government and private partnerships to work on the issue.

We welcome and are heartened by the president's commitment and recognition that a key part of the effort to increase opportunity for all Americans, regardless of race and gender, is to focus explicitly on helping boys and men of color succeed.

Young men of color face systemic economic, social, and political barriers in their everyday lives. As a result, too many of them are denied educational opportunity, become unemployed, or, worse, face incarceration.

In spite of these barriers, we see men and boys of color overcome the odds on a regular basis —graduating at the top of their classes, achieving leadership positions in corporations, becoming business owners, and being wonderful fathers to their families and valuable members of their communities. They are vital assets to our country, and investing in pathways to build opportunity for them will deliver significant economic and civic benefits to the nation as a whole.

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Nonprofits Must Speak Out Against Poverty and Income Inequality

January 21, 2014

(Mark Rosenman, professor emeritus, Union Institute & University, is a frequent contributor to PhilanTopic. In his previous post, he argued that the rush by many to embrace social impact bonds is another example of private profit crowding out a public good.)

Rosenman_headshotIn the battle to stem and reverse widening economic inequality in the United States, too many tax-exempt organizations are either missing from action or are part of the problem. While charities and foundations in general do much to help the poor and indigent, some organizations and institutions actually make the problem worse through their own compensation practices. At the same time, these organizations and others often go out of their way to disassociate themselves from policy debates on a host of related issues, from increasing the minimum wage to preserving government programs for needy families.

The good news is that both Democrats and Republicans in Congress have started to pay more attention to poverty and economic inequality. Given the profound ideological differences between the parties, however, there is a great deal of disagreement about how government ought to address these problems and what kind of nonprofit programs it ought to support. Unfortunately, charities and foundations cannot truly serve the public interest unless they engage in these debates — today and into the future.

First, though, let's consider the deteriorating economic circumstances of many Americans. While most of the 15 percent of Americans living in poverty are children or adults who do not participate in the labor market, close to 1 in 4 of the 46.5 million people in the United States who are poor do work; that's 7 percent of the country's total workforce, and among other things it means the poverty rate today is as high as it has been since 1965.

What's more, income inequality in the U.S. has reached historic levels. Based on something called the Gini coefficient, the United States now ranks 32 out of 34 OECD member countries in terms of inequality; in fact, we haven't seen these levels of inequality since the 1920s, just before the onset of the Great Depression.

It gets worse. In the three decades prior to 2010, the top 1 percent of Americans increased their share of the national income by 66 percent, while those at the bottom of the economic ladder actually lost ground. Meanwhile, 95 percent of income gains since 2009 have gone to the top 1 percent, who now claim 22 percent of the national income, while the richest 5 percent of American households control more than 60 percent of the country's wealth.

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The Evidence-Based Secret to Achieving 'Big Goal' Philanthropy

January 08, 2014

(Jeff Rosenberg is the advocacy and social marketing practice leader at Crosby Marketing Communications, an advertising agency with offices in Annapolis and Washington, D.C., whose accounts include the federal organ donor awareness campaign, digital marketing and creative development for the EPA's ENERGY STAR program, and anti-poverty campaigns for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.)

BHAG"Going big" is the talk of philanthropy. Pursuing bold, audacious goals and achieving truly transformative change -- like ending childhood hunger or eradicating poverty -- is becoming a key strategy for many philanthropies and nonprofits working to address social ills. But going big actually can discourage individual activists and supporters from taking action. Fortunately, research by social marketers and behavioral economists teaches us how we can ensure that a going-big approach really motivates individuals to do something.

In a widely read article in the Fall 2013 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Bill Shore and Darrell Hammond, founders and CEOs of, respectively, Share Our Strength and KaBOOM!, write: "The foundation on which many nonprofits is built is flawed and simplistic, focused on a symptom rather than the underlying set of problems....As a result, change is incremental, not big or bold enough to make a lasting and transformative impact." In response, Share Our Strength has changed its focus from making grants to leading a national campaign to end childhood hunger in America by 2015. And KaBOOM! has expanded its focus from building playgrounds in underserved areas to being a leading advocate for the value of play, with the larger goal of ensuring that all children, especially those living in poverty, get the play, and playspaces, they need to grow up to be healthy and successful adults.

Here's the challenge: how do you convince individuals to take action, to donate money or volunteer, for example, in support of big goals when incremental efforts are easier to sell? Experiments in the fields of social psychology and behavioral economics suggest we are less likely to feel compassion or donate money when we are distracted by thinking about the size or scope of a problem. Simply put, big numbers or a big problem can cause us to become paralyzed by analysis -- or what scientists call psychophysical numbing. One study even found that potential donors who are shown a photo of a single person in need of assistance are more likely to give than those who are shown a photo of two people in need. The trick in social marketing (i.e., applying marketing principles in service to the greater good) is to tap into this feeling of being connected with a "one" while challenging your potential supporters to think more broadly about social change. How do we motivate people to pursue big goals and meaningful change when the research makes it clear that "big" can be a disincentive?

There are several ways, actually:

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Philanthropy Not Talking Power

October 31, 2013

(Mark Rosenman is an emeritus professor at the Union Institute & University and directed Caring to Change, an initiative that sought to improve how foundations serve the public. In his previous post, he urged nonprofit leaders to do more to restore Americans' confidence in the sector's ability to serve the common good.)

Rosenman_headshotIn a way, foundations are partly to blame for the dysfunction in Congress. After all, conservative-leaning foundations helped build the Tea Party movement and are still supporting it and many like-minded organizations. Reasons for assigning blame to moderate and progressive foundations are less obvious -- and mostly have to do with actions not taken and opportunities squandered.

In the wake of the government shutdown and the destructive and economically costly legislative brinksmanship around the debt ceiling, some leaders in the foundation world are calling for philanthropy to play a more active role in healing our democracy, fixing a broken Washington, and developing an immediate action plan in support of those ends.

They rightfully note, as have others, that the myriad issues of concern to foundations and nonprofit organizations are powerfully affected by the actions of and funding provided by government. They point out that moneyed private interests continue to trump the public interest when it comes to policy. And they note the growing sense that economic inequality in the United States may be undermining belief in the American dream and our very system of government.

What's more, a survey soon to be released by the Center for Effective Philanthropy finds that a majority of U.S. foundation leaders view the "current government policy environment" as a significant barrier to their organizations' ability to achieve their programmatic aims -- and those responses were gathered before weeks of acrimonious debate in Congress and the sixteen-day shutdown of the federal government.

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[Toolkit] 'The Art of Listening: Social Media Toolkit for Nonprofits'

October 12, 2013

Cover_art_of_listening_greenliningInstead of our usual Saturday infographic, we're changing things up a little this week and highlighting a different kind of resource. The Art of Listening: Social Media Toolkit for Nonprofits (32 pages, PDF), a new publication from the Greenlining Institute in Berkeley, California, offers a variety of helpful tips and best practices for nonprofits that have yet to take the social media plunge or are looking to get more bang for their social media buck.

The guide is organized into seven sections, each with its own tips:

  1. How to Listen
  2. How to Communicate on Social Media
  3. How to Build an Audience and Following
  4. How to Manage Social Media Accounts
  5. How to Generate Consistent and Engaging Content
  6. How to Develop an Organizational Social Media Policy
  7. How to Measure Effectiveness

Nonprofits new to social media will want to start with the How to Listen section, which includes advice about how they can use tools like Twitter Search, Netvibes, and Facebook Graph Search to identify buzz terms/trending topics in each program/issue area they plan to communicate about. The How to Manage Your Social Media Accounts section name-checks useful apps such as Hootsuite, Seesmic, and Tweetdeck. And the How to Develop a Social Media Policy section offers a handful of tips and tools, including a "negative feedback" matrix from Idealware, that even seasoned social media managers will appreciate.

So, whether your organization is confused about what it should be doing to maximize its social media efforts or just getting started, The Art of Listening is well worth a look. To download a copy, click here.

When Government Shuts Down, the Nonprofit Community Pays

October 04, 2013

(Tim Delaney is president and CEO of the National Council of Nonprofits, which, as the hub of the nation's largest network of charitable nonprofits, serves as a central coordinator and mobilizer, helping nonprofits by identifying emerging trends, sharing proven practices, and promoting solutions that benefit charitable nonprofits and the communities they serve.)

Headshot_tim_delaneyThe federal government shutdown is more than just a symbol of political dysfunction. Real people are being hurt. And charitable nonprofits and foundations are unfairly being asked to subsidize government even more than usual while the government is closed.

Community and human needs do not stop just because the federal government has stopped functioning. Indeed, the shutdown has actually increased the needs of millions of Americans. That's why when politicians shut the doors of government, charitable nonprofits struggle even more than usual to meet the needs of their constituents.

Increased Public Needs Transferred to Nonprofits

The government shutdown means there is no federal money to pay for essential programs. Many federally funded, community-based programs that provide food for infants, children, veterans, and seniors, such as WIC (Women, Infant, and Children Supplemental Nutrition) and Meals on Wheels, report having only enough resources to continue operating for a few more days. At least twenty-three Head Start programs in eleven states have already run out of money, leaving children without access to vital educational programs and their parents scrambling for options. Similarly, people who could be applying for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, veterans' benefits, or other essential programs -- all of which have been idled during the shutdown -- turn to charities for help.

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[Infographic] The Future of Social Activism

September 21, 2013

On Thursday, we reviewed Cause for Change, a new book by Kari Dunn Saratovsky and frequent PhilanTopic contributor Derrick Feldmann that explains, in some detail, how to get so-called millenials -- the social-media-savvy generation born between 1982 and the early 2000s -- to support your nonprofit organization or cause.

This week's infographic from ad agency network TBWA/Worldwide and TakePart, the digital division of Participant Media, provides basic info related to how millenials support the causes they care about (e.g., donate time/money, boycott businesses, e-mail/write their representative or senator) -- and why you should care.

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Creating Enduring Value at a Corporate Foundation: Bridging the Gap Between Brand and Cause

September 04, 2013

(Christine Park is president of the New York Life Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the New York Life Company. Since its inception in 1979, the foundation has made nearly $170 million in charitable contributions to national and local nonprofits.)

Headshot_chris_parkOver more than twenty years as a corporate grantmaker, few things have left a deeper and more lasting impression on me than the professionalism, commitment to change, and caring of my colleagues in the world of corporate foundations. Of course, having the type of meaningful, long-term impact we all aspire to is easier said than done.

Effecting social change as a corporate foundation head can be challenging -- but the ability to make a difference is enormous when you can marshal the attention and resources of your organization, deploy them in a way that is focused, innovative and flexible, and work in true partnership with your grantees. At the New York Life Foundation, we've been able to do just that through an innovative, business-aligned, and issues-focused advocacy approach. To clarify: our approach is not about engaging in Advocacy in the traditional sense -- that is, politically focused efforts to influence public policy or resource allocation decisions on issues where there are frequently divergent points of view. Instead, we practice advocacy with a lower case "a" -- with a focus on raising awareness, education, and public concern for issues where there is a clear and compelling need and little rational dispute as to the merits of the issue. I'd like to share the story of one such campaign.

* * * *

It has been estimated that one in seven Americans lose a parent or sibling before age 20. The death of a loved one is incredibly hard and isolating for children, engendering feelings of sadness, anger, loneliness, confusion, and guilt -- emotions that all too often are suffered in isolation.

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Hey, Wall Street, Can You Spare a Dime?

August 05, 2013

(Mark Rosenman is an emeritus professor at the Union Institute & University and directed Caring to Change, in Washington, D.C. In his last post, he urged nonprofit leaders to speak out when confronted with evidence of illegal or unscrupulous behavior in the sector.)

Rosenman_headshotWhile religious groups and nonprofit organizations are forming new coalitions and joining established leaders in the fight to preserve the charitable tax deduction, most charities have remained silent about cuts in government funding for domestic needs. Even more disturbing, few in the nonprofit world seem aware of a new legislative initiative that could add billions of dollars to such programs -- and their own funding streams.

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) have introduced a financial transaction tax modeled after one approved by the European Parliament that is being adapted in eleven nations. Oddly, though Harkin and DeFazio's version of this "Wall Street speculators sales tax" has attracted support from over forty national nonprofit organizations and labor unions, it has not captured the imagination of local and regional charities or nonprofit sector leaders.

According to one study, up to $350 billion a year might be raised by a tax on equity and bond trades as well as the trading of options, swaps, futures, and other derivatives. Such a tax would not apply to the day-to-day financial transactions of individuals or to things like loans and debt issuance.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (July 2013)

August 01, 2013

It's the first day of a new month, which means it's time to look back at the most popular posts on PhilanTopic over the last month:

What did you read/watch/listen in July that PhilanTopic readers should know about? Share your favorites in the comments section....

Continuing the Fight for Voting Rights

July 30, 2013

(Ryan P. Haygood is director of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund's Political Participation Group, which works to promote the full, equal, and active participation of black people in the democratic process through legal, legislative, public education, and other means. He has represented people of color in a variety of actions involving voting discrimination, including challenges to discriminatory voting measures under Sections 2 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the United States Constitution, and state laws.)

Headshot_ryan_haygoodIn June 2013, a significant provision of one of the greatest pieces of civil rights legislation ever enacted fell. In Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act. This key provision identified the fifteen states and localities that were subject to Section 5 of the legislation because of longstanding racial discrimination with respect to voting.

Section 5 required those states and localities to demonstrate to the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court in Washington, D.C., that proposed changes to their voting laws would not discriminate against voters of color -- before those changes were implemented. By striking down Section 4(b), the Supreme Court immobilized Section 5, which is like letting someone keep his or her car but taking away the keys.

The NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. represented black community leaders from Shelby County and argued the case in the Supreme Court. We fought to keep these protections in place, and presented irrefutable evidence that racial discrimination persists in the places covered by Sections 4(b) and 5 of the legislation.

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No Second-Class Families

May 09, 2013

(Ben Jealous is president/CEO of the NAACP.)

Headshot_ben_jealousAfrican Americans have spent much of our history fighting for equal treatment. Just two generations ago, our parents and our grandparents were banned from eating at certain restaurants, attending certain schools, and working in certain professions.

So it's not difficult to empathize with the struggle of immigrants in our country. Like our ancestors who migrated from the former slave states of the Deep South, millions of undocumented immigrants move to the United States each year to find work and a decent education for their children. When they arrive, however, they are confronted with blatant discrimination, racial profiling, and hardly any legal recourse.

As people of color, we have a responsibility to stand up for social justice whenever it is violated. That is why the NAACP has joined other civil rights and human rights organizations, including the Rights Working Group and the Leadership Conference of Civil and Human Rights, to support comprehensive immigration reform.

Across the country, an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants live with permanent second-class status. Many immigrants come to the U.S. to find a better life but find themselves living in the shadows, in constant fear of arrest and deportation. This has a cost.

Undocumented workers are exploited on a regular basis. Many business owners pay low wages and provide dangerous working conditions for their undocumented workers, with little fear of retaliation. They know that their employees have too much at stake to risk contacting the proper authorities.

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