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The Perils and Promise of Organizational Sustainability: The ADP Story

ADP protests at Bank of America

Boston   We had an interesting session with Caroline Murray, former executive director of ADP, Alliance to Develop Power, based in Springfield, Massachusetts about organizational financing and sustainability.  In her 18-year tenure with ADP as a community organizer focused on housing issues initially in a campaign to convert rental units being flipped over after 20-years of tax credits had expired, they organized cooperatives of tenants to purchase the properties and in the process stumbled onto ways that they could subcontract competitively to their own subsidiaries, save money for the cooperatives, build jobs, and, as importantly, create an income flow of $1 million per year providing 75% of ADP’s annual budget.  That’s quite an accomplishment and was right on point within the theme of our discussions at the ACORN Canada YE/YB!

As remarkable as that unique success, because believe me we spent a lot of time trying to figure out if it could be replicated which doesn’t seem possible currently in the exact same way, though privileging the base would come up with similar strategies, were some of the lessons Caroline shared from other projects.  We were all interested, as was she, in whether or not there was a way to produce similar results by coming up with a competitive and cost efficient way to assist our members in handling their remittance transfers.  Certainly we had looked at some options and a number of companies had pitched us, but nothing had ever seemed attractive.

There was then a lengthy “sharing” about the pitfalls of debit-type cards that had to be cash loaded for lower income workers and families.  We talked about Russell Simmons and his Rush card, and our inability to embrace its more predatory features.  We both had experiences with the pilot, elaborately funded by foundations through the Center for Community Change and directed by Janice Fine, to develop a card for worker centers.  We had several conversations during that period with Janice and some of her people while ACORN had been close to developing a similar product with H&R Block and the Block Bank.  Caroline and ADP had managed some of the pilots on the cards they had tried on the pilots.  At ADP they had achieved 700 users with pretty regular uploading, which seemed key, and were taking in perhaps $2000 per month on the program, but the servicing costs in staffing time and constant education, as well as the procedures, ended up not making it practical for ADP or profitable enough for the card company to continue with the pilot.

At different times we’ve tried to develop a product with VanCity, our credit union partner in British Columbia, particularly around the Philippines, where our other friends with TIGRE and Francis Calpotura, have also spent a lot of time.  We are still not close enough to a real program here by a long shot.  It’s the right idea but we don’t have enough horses to ride in the kingdom of migrant workers and immigrant families to really make it across the long, dry plains.