Follow the Money: Frequently Asked Questions about Donating to the ACLU

Kileen Marshall, Director of Philanthropy and Strategic Initiatives

Q: I like to see the impact of my giving in my local community. Does my gift really make a difference if I donate to the National ACLU?

A: Yes. We are one ACLU, regardless of where you send your gift. Unlike many other national/state-based organizations, the ACLU shares donations, and so it truly does not matter whether your gift is “banked” at National or here in Montana. In a sparsely populated state like Montana, we benefit from this sharing formula, similar to federal transportation dollars. In fact, roughly one quarter of our annual budget comes from National ACLU, just for being a small affiliate. This would not be possible without the cadre of nationwide ACLU supporters.

And, unlike our local foodbanks or pet shelters, the business of defending and advocating for civil liberties is truly a nationwide endeavor. The National ACLU helps ensure that we have experts on staff that specialize in specific arenas, whether it is reproductive freedom or national security issues. Also, we need to fight battles the first time they spring up in a state legislature, so we do not get copycat legislation spreading like wildfire across the country. The ACLU of Montana benefits greatly from all this in-kind support from National ACLU and fellow ACLU affiliates.


Q: What’s the difference between being a “card-carrying member” of the ACLU and donating to the ACLU Foundation? Which does the ACLU prefer?

A: Membership dues, which go to the ACLU’s 501c4 organization, are not tax-deductible. Membership dues and other donations to our 501c4 entity help fund our lobbying and legislative advocacy – activities that non-profit, 501c3 foundations can engage in only in limited ways. Foundation gifts to the 501c3 ACLU Foundation are tax-deductible. These gifts support our legal program, educational activities, and much of our policy advocacy, which make up over 90% of our work. Making a gift to the ACLU Foundation, however, does not make the donor a member of the ACLU – the 501c3 (Foundation) and the 501c4 (Union) are two separate legal entities. For some supporters, also being a “card-carrying member” of the Union is incredibly important because it evokes a certain pride of belonging to an organization that has fought for equality, liberty, democracy, and freedom for nearly 100 years.


Q: When I donate to the ACLU will my name will be published like when I make a political donation?

A: No. Just like most other non-profits, the ACLU Foundation is a 501c3 organization and the Union is a 501c4 organization. Gifts to such organizations are in a different category than political donations and do not need to be reported. In fact, the ACLU has very strict confidentiality protocols in place. To sum up these protocols, the ACLU will follow standards of professional practice and codes of ethical principles, including but not limited to: handling donor information with respect and confidentiality; recording data accurately; recording only information that is relevant for fundraising purposes; and using security measures to protect donor information.

Q: You get government grants, right?

A: No. We sue the government, so we do not receive any grants from them. We occasionally receive funds from private Foundations, but the amount of philanthropic dollars available in Montana is small compared to other states.


Q: You have a lot of resources from winning attorneys’ fees, right?

A: No. While it is true that we sometimes win attorneys’ fees when we win a lawsuit, it is rare and the dollar amount we receive is never equal to the resources we put into the case. We never file lawsuits expecting to get money back; rather we file lawsuits to argue for systemic change.


Q: I want to make a year-end gift to the ACLU. What’s the easiest way to do that?

A: Lots of ways are the easiest way! To make a tax-deductible gift, you can make a donation using the online at here, or transfer stock. Additionally, if you are re-doing your will, or making one for the first time, consider adding the ACLU to your plans. Visit for more information. 

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