Giving Thanks for Pro-Life Groups: A Case Study in Saving Lives

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 1, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Giving Thanks for Pro-Life Groups: A Case Study in Saving Lives Email this article
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by Jill Stanek
November 23, 2005 Note: Jill Stanek fought to stop "live birth abortions" after witnessing one as an RN at Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn, Illinois. Her speaking out led to the Born Alive Infants Protection Act legislation, signed by President Bush, that would ensure that proper medical care be given to unborn children who survive botched abortion attempts.

State and local pro-life organizations form the political and educational nucleus of our movement. The importance of these groups cannot be overstated. Our one strength with politicians is our grassroots. Our one way around liberals and the mainstream press is by direct education.

In my opinion, the foremost state pro-life organization is Right to Life of Michigan. I give thanks for this group today and want to spotlight its inner workings to assist other groups.

One proof of RTL's success is the state's abortion statistics. In 2004, Michigan reported 26,269 abortions, a 46.5 percent decrease from a high in 1987 of 49,098.

In addition, Michigan enjoys pro-life majorities in both its state house and senate political parties.

But what I think sets RTL apart is its generous outreach to other states, from hosting pro-life events such as the recent Urban Outreach Seminar to offering its top-notch pro-life TV commercials to outside groups.

Organizational scope

RTL has 45 paid staff, 41 of which are full-time. It has seven offices throughout Michigan.

Of that staff, six are field representatives, appointed to certain sections of the state to help grow affiliates grow and raise funds. In a state with a population of 10 million in 83 counties, RTL has 108 affiliates.

In addition, RTL has a 12-station, in-house telemarketing center, where 20 fund-raisers work in shifts, Monday through Saturday.

RTL's current annual budget is about $4 million. It spends heavily on media outreach, funding Yellow Page and TV ads throughout the state. It also rents billboards and radio spots, hosts a website, and funds its own resource and printing center pro-life materials.


But RTL's president, Barb Listing reminds people, “This didn't happen overnight. I think sometimes groups visit us and get overwhelmed.”

How did RTL get from there to here? I interviewed Barb last week to find out.

RTL began taking shape in 1972, when pro-aborts introduced a referendum to legalize abortion. Pro-life groups formed around the state and defeated the referendum that November.

When the U.S. Supreme Court announced its Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions three months later, some of those group leaders formed what is now RTL. In 1981, Barb was elected president.

Barb started as a full-time volunteer working out of a lone office in Grand Rapids. Paid staff consisted of a full-time secretary, full-time bookkeeper, two part-time office workers, and a part-time lobbyist.

The first person Barb hired was Brian Cusack, as the organization's development coordinator. Almost 25 years later, Brian is still there and probably the best pro-life fund-raiser in the country.

Note their longevity. Much of RTL of MI's staff has been there for years.

“One thing I learned from my predecessor, Jane Muldoon, is it's important to provide the right tools and atmosphere so staff can learn, feel comfortable, and work,” said Barb. “Also, it's important to pay quality people the amount they need to raise their families. In the long run, it pays off, because their experience pays off.”

An organizational and fund-raising consultant RTL hired in 1987 to help with RTL's referendum to stop Medicaid funding of abortions reinforced this concept.

“He got across that we had to be a professional organization, that as we grew it would become more difficult to find people willing to work full time as volunteers,” explained Barb.

Jump starts

Barb said referendums have been major vehicles for growth. “That early referendum gave us the groundwork to get us volunteers,” said Barb. “Then we had a referendum in 1988 to stop state Medicaid funding of abortions, in 1998 to stop assisted suicide, and in 2004 to override Gov. Granholm's veto of our partial-birth abortion ban.

“Although those challenges were scary, we stepped out in faith, because they were the right thing to do,” said Barb. “And each of these referendums got us more volunteers, more names, more energy.”

Matthew 23:11

“Jane also instilled the concepts of being servant leaders and of sharing, that every time we share, we learn and gain as much from other people as we give,” Barb said. “This means that our strong groups – those with pro-life communities and legislators – understand they are not an island, so they're generous with helping in places like Detroit. We think of reaching out and helping pro-life groups on a larger scale, too, throughout the U.S.”

Fundraising basics

Barb said she impresses upon pro-life groups that they simply must raise money. “They have to be serious about this,” said Barb. “And they have to put together an organization that is stable and gets the job done.”

Know when to get help

“When we don't know how to do something, we find a professional who does,” said Barb, adding that sometimes paying consultants “is like going to school.” RTL pays for some projects once or twice and then takes over after gaining expertise.

Teamwork with affiliates

RTL of Michigan has a unique relationship with its affiliates. All are encouraged to host annual fund-raising dinners, and between 60 and 70 do. Barb explained they serve a number of purposes: education, fund raising, growth, community outreach, volunteer involvement.

Affiliates gain money for their group by selling tickets, and they allow the state organization to make a special appeal for media outreach. “They could never buy the ads on their own,” said Barb. “And they know their funds come back to their community.” Each affiliate is given an annual fund-raising media goal, of which their dinner appeal is a part. All affiliates are incorporated separately.

Every two years RTL of Michigan's board hosts a planning session. All affiliates are invited to send one representative. “The only way to stay united as an organization is to agree on the same mission and plan, and to see we must work together as a unified group to get anything done,” said Barb.

I am a product of RTL's generous spirit. Early on it took me under its wing as a fledgling public speaker. I know there are many other similar testimonies, because I've heard them as I travel the country.

On this Thanksgiving holiday, thank you, Right to Life of Michigan.