LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29:  A protester holds a sign during a demonstration against the immigration ban that was imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump at Los Angeles International Airport on January 29, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. Thousands of protesters gathered outside of the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport to denounce the travel ban imposed by President Trump. Protests are taking place at airports across the country.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

By: Lindsey McLeod


“Put your money where your mouth is” realized a modern meaning in this past week as individuals concerned about President Trump’s travel ban donated to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as a means of voicing their objection.[1] The ACLU reportedly received $24 million in online donations in the week following the immigration ban, totaling over six-times the ACLU’s yearly donation average.[2] Most of these donations occurred via online portals, flooding the website with donations from 356,306 people. This isn’t the first time that President Trump has sparked an influx of online donations to the ACLU, as the organization received nearly fifteen million dollars in the weeks following Trump’s election.

This online-centric donation model is consistent with millennial behaviors, as millennials tend to donate online, a realm that has dominated millennial financial tendencies.[3] Such innovative and effective online fundraising campaigns are a trademark of the millennial generation, and the ACLU is getting on board. The start-up business model is commonly associated with trendy work environments, invoking images of Ping-Pong tables and office kegs and tech-obsessed millennials. This start-up model, however, has begun to branch beyond the confines of the tech and app environment and into the realm of civil liberties.

The “Y Combinator” provides a new model for funding early stage startups in which the Y Combinator invests “a small amount of money (120k) in a large number of start ups (105),” these startups then move to Silicon Valley for three months where they are able to work with professionals who are familiar with investment pitches and facilitate a business model that effectively reaches target consumers.[4] Because the Y Combinator is typically associated with its graduates such as Airbnb, Dropbox, and similar start-up model consumer products, the ACLU is seemingly out of place in the market, yet the Y Combinator president, Sam Altman, is interested in the potential success that a collaboration between the two groups may have. Although the ACLU is far from a “start up”, having been established in the early 1900s, the ACLU has a history of working with modern, tech-savvy businesses, such as Twitter, to invoke rapid fundraising participation, and thus a more thorough examination of how to improve the business-model may rapidly expand the ACLU’s national and international presence.[5]

This decision by ACLU to partner with Y Combinator is significant in the impact it may have on the expansion of the ACLU and the services that the ACLU is able to offer. Two significant characteristic of the millennial generation, as noted in Leigh Buchanan’s book entitled Meet the Millennials is that they are “masters of digital communication…[and] are primed to do well by doing good. Almost 70 percent say that giving back and being civically engaged are their highest priorities.”[6] Thus, the decision by the ACLU and Y Combinator represents a decision to engage a civic-minded generation on their turf, so to speak. This move is particularly pertinent at a time in American politics in which millennials are seemingly rejecting the current president.[7] The stronger presence that the ACLU may gain upon completion of the three-month Silicon Valley program may prove to ignite a generation of civically engaged individuals, and perhaps future ACLU lawyers.




[1] Katie Mettler, The ACLU says it got $24 million in online donations this weekend, six times its yearly average, The Washington Post (Jan. 30, 2017)


[2] See id.

[3] See Randy Hawthornw, Understanding What Motivates Millennials to Give to Your NPO, NonProfitHub.org http://nonprofithub.org/fundraising/understanding-motivates-millennials-give-npo/ (last visited Feb. 3, 2017).

[4] Y Combinator, https://www.ycombinator.com/.

[5] See Sarah Ashley O’Brien, ACLU is participating in elete Silicon Velley accelerator, CNN Tech (Jan. 31, 2017) http://money.cnn.com/2017/01/31/technology/aclu-ycombinator/index.html.

[6] Jay Gilbert, The Millennials: A new generation of employees, a new set of engagement policies, Ivey Business Journal (Sept. 2011) http://iveybusinessjournal.com/publication/the-millennials-a-new-generation-of-employees-a-new-set-of-engagement-policies/.

[7] See Cody Boteler, Students plan demonstrations and walkouts to protest Trump’s inauguration, USA Today (Jan. 19, 2017), http://college.usatoday.com/2017/01/19/students-plan-demonstrations-and-walkouts-to-protest-trumps-inauguration/.

Image Source: http://thehill.com/sites/default/files/styles/thumb_small_article/public/blogs/protest_1.jpg?itok=ZUbOBxAB.