What if I told you that the same organization was responsible for the most popular publication in America and the biggest line items on the federal government’s budget?
That organization is the AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired People), the publication is AARP The Magazine, and the federal line items are Social Security and Medicare.
Here are three key numbers to understand this organization’s impact:
- 38 million: the number of AARP members across America
- $1.8 billion: AARP revenue from membership dues, advertising and royalties
- $2.2 trillion: combined federal spending on Social Security and Medicare
The AARP has made cutting Social Security a “third rail” of American politics, it played a key role in influencing and then securing the passage of Obama’s Affordable Care Act, and it routinely wins advocacy campaigns at all levels of government.
What’s its secret?
In his classic article, “The Secret of Scale,” Peter Murray wrote about how the biggest and most powerful advocacy organizations in America – organizations like the AARP and the NRA – became so large and powerful by offering benefits, content and community to the constituencies that they want to serve.
Advocacy is only part of what they do, but because they provide people with things they want in their everyday lives they are able to reach a mass scale that makes their advocacy much more powerful. In the following graph, Murray contrasted the size of these “Functional” organizations with the relatively small size of the “Issue” organizations that only provide advocacy:
The power of these organizations comes from more than just their raw numbers. There are only so many people who perceive themselves to be activists. Organizations like the AARP reach a much broader audience of “movable middle” people – the same people whose votes decide elections in the swing states of America.
This ability to reach and engage the movable middle was key to the AARPs ability to secure passage of Obama’s Affordable Care Act. In the “purple states” where key Senators were on the fence about whether they’d vote for it or not, the AARP had deep local organization and extensive member lists who mobilized to pressure their Senators to pass the bill.
My Climate Plan is bringing this kind of organizational model to the climate movement.
Where the AARP is focused on helping people of all economic backgrounds live well through retirement, our focus is on helping each other live well through the climate crisis.
Where the AARP’s advocacy has helped build the laws and funding to help millions retire well in America, our advocacy will help build the laws and funding to create climate safe communities in every country our members live in.
Thank you all for your input and support as we found this organization together.