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RAICES Facebook Fundraiser Goes Viral: Tops $20 Million, Tripling Groups Annual Budget In Two Weeks

   Jul 02, 2018

“Reunite an immigrant parent with their child” is the title of the Facebook fundraiser started on June 16th by a Silicon Valley couple, Charlotte and Dave Willner, in response to the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of separating immigrant parents and children at the border. The Willner’s initial goal was to raise $1,500 for the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, or RAICES, a 501(c)(3) public charity that provides free and low-cost legal services to underserved immigrant children, families, and refugees in Texas. The $1,500 represented the minimum amount needed to pay bond for a single migrant awaiting his or her asylum hearing. Little did the Willners know that their campaign would ultimately raise enough money to assist not just one, but many thousands of migrants.

As people across the U.S. and around the globe reacted to the media coverage of immigrant family separations at our southern border, the Willner’s Facebook fundraiser for RAICES went viral. At one point, the campaign reportedly was bringing in donations of over $10,000 per minute, and within about 17 days, almost $20.6 million had been raised. The Willner’s fundraising goal now stands at $25 million, and for RAICES, the success of the campaign has been shocking. To put the $20.6 million in context, it represents about 3.7 times RAICES’ annual expense budget and about 3.2 times its total contributions raised in all of 2016. Moreover, The Texas Tribune reports that RAICES has received an additional $5 million in contributions directly through its own website, pushing RAICES’ cash windfall to over $25 million.

Savvy donors are probably wondering if RAICES will put this significant, unexpected cash infusion to good use. Based on CharityWatch’s review of RAICES’ audited financial statements and tax filing for the fiscal year-ended 12/31/2016 (the most current available), RAICES was extremely efficient in both raising funds and spending on charitable program services in 2016. During 2016, however, RAICES received 63% of its approximately $7.1 million in total revenue from a single foundation, the Vera Institute of Justice, according to RAICES’ audit. Additionally, RAICES’ audit and tax filing show that about 87% of RAICES’ public support came from foundation and grant income in 2016, and the remaining 13% was raised as part of a single fundraising event. This make up of RAICES’ public support differs from the charities rated by CharityWatch, which generally rely on receiving donations from thousands of individuals and/or a much less concentrated volume of unrelated organizations. For this reason, CharityWatch has decided not to add RAICES to our charity ratings at this time. Furthermore, analyzing RAICES’ financial efficiency based on its fundraising and program spending activity in 2016 would not be very instructive for how a much larger and more publicly funded RAICES will perform financially in 2018 and beyond given its $25 million windfall thanks to the Willner’s Facebook campaign.

RAICES has been providing some guidance as to how it will use the $25 million it has received since mid-June. Its plans include using the money to reunite families, hire immigration lawyers, pay bonds, and “help to establish a structure to combat the issue for years to come,” according to a report by NBC News. In order to help with the family reunification process, RAICES also has established a new “National Families Together Hotline” and is coordinating an effort to create a database of separated children, according to The Washington Post. Jonathan Ryan, executive director of RAICES, is quoted in the NBC News report as saying: “We’re very serious about this undertaking and making sure that we deliver these funds transparently, in a way that will have impact and in a way that is sustainable.” Per The Texas Tribune, RAICES’ development director, Jenny Hixon, added: “We’re doing the best we can to scale up quickly … We just want to be good stewards of the money and good stewards of the attention.” There are thousands of immigrant families and over half a million donors who are counting on just that.