Author: Tomás Quiñonez

MAF Awarded $45 Million To Support Immigrant Families During COVID-19 Crisis. It’s Still Not Enough – Congress Must Act.

Building on MAF’s nationwide COVID-19 Rapid Response campaign, philanthropist Mackenzie Scott awarded MAF $45 million to provide direct relief to those hit hardest by the pandemic. Mackenzie Scott’s generous gift enables MAF to continue providing financial relief to immigrant families excluded from receiving help. Over the past year, MAF has already distributed direct cash assistance to 48,000+ individuals to help them weather the crisis—and today the organization is poised to do even more. 

In spite of these efforts, the reach of a single organization like MAF is nowhere near enough to meet the staggering financial devastation faced by millions of immigrant families left out of federal relief. We need leadership and action at a national level to ensure the last and the least are a part of a sustainable recovery.

Congress has taken meaningful steps in recent months to expand the safety net when families needed it most.

The December 2020 COVID relief bill and 2021 American Rescue Plan extended the latest rounds of financial relief to more than 3 million people in mixed-status households left out of the 2020 CARES Act. Yet, an estimated 11 million people in immigrant families continue to be denied assistance even as they keep the economy afloat in essential work.

“As an undocumented person who has filed my taxes for twelve years, it has been hard to have to accept that in times when we struggle, we are unable to receive anything back.” 

Juan, Rapid Response grant recipient

This exclusion comes at a time when our economy rests on the shoulders of essential workers who cannot access support to weather the pandemic even as they are suffering higher rates of COVID infections and deaths. Essential workers are immigrant workers and many have no access to relief. They are going hungry, falling behind on rent, missing monthly bills for no fault of their own. 

More must be done. 

In meeting this moment of crisis, Congress must advance desperately needed relief and include everyone—regardless of immigration status. Over the last year, we have seen how the health and economic costs of the COVID-19 pandemic have fallen disproportionately on the marginalized, excluded, and invisible. Congress must expand support to all immigrants, putting equity front and center to deliver relief to the least and last. This intentional focus on equity is at the heart of MAF’s Rapid Response Fund, and the means by which the organization has provided nearly $30 million in direct cash assistance.

“We’ve spent 14 years building scalable platforms, relevant products, and a national network of community based organizations to help low-income and immigrant families improve their financial security. Now, we’re using our platform as pipes to effectively and with dignity distribute the crisp waters of relief into the hands of those most parched, those who have been denied and forgotten.”

MAF CEO José Quiñonez

MAF’s capacity to act and scale quickly is a direct result of the partners who have and continue to believe in its vision of leveraging the best of technology and finance in service of those left in the shadows.  Their sustained support has enabled MAF to pioneer new ways of meeting people where they are, in the fullness of their complexity and their humanity.  MAF is now expanding its equity-centered work helping low-income and immigrant families directly during this unprecedented crisis. 

MAF applauds Mackenzie Scott for showing up, with urgency and conviction, to do more for families relegated to the shadows. Now it’s time for Congress to do the same. 

Immigrants are essential, risking their lives to keep our country afloat during this pandemic. 

They have stepped up for us, and now it’s our turn to step up for them. If we really want a more permanent and prosperous path to recovery, Congress needs to eliminate the structural barriers that have long stood in the way of people’s abilities to reach their full economic potential. 

Today, we have not one but five proposals on the table that could help us get there. We have proposals that would provide legal status and protections to millions of Dreamers, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, farmworkers, and essential workers and their families. While these bills can be the critical building blocks to move us forward, they are not the end goal. Congress must ultimately push forward with the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, which offers a sweeping reform that would grant 11 million undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship. 

By removing these long-standing barriers which have for so long pushed millions into the shadows, immigrants can have the opportunity to rebuild their financial lives more fully and with dignity. They can have financial stability in their lives to rebuild their financial security, and have a fighting chance in a post-pandemic recovery. 

Our work is far from done—it is our collective responsibility to urge our representatives to take immediate action. We need to offer relief and citizenship for all if we truly seek to rebuild an equitable world that works for all.

Four Years of Possibility: The Legacy of Sustained Organizing

The attack on the Capitol was horrifying. Devastating. Yet the narrative dominating the headlines is only one side of this historic month. When we flip over the decaying face of hatred and fear, we see another face of our nation emerge, fresh as rain and hopeful as a dream. We celebrate, despite tragedy, because this vital face is powerful and dynamic. It continues to nourish those of us who believe in a world where all people can be accepted and can be loved.

The historic, unprecedented, monumental victories in Georgia bring us one step closer to that world.

Warnock, the first black Senator of the South, and Ossoff, the first Jewish Senator of Georgia, represent the hopes of a richly diverse community of supporters. Their victory ensures that these hopes might soon become manifest for those in the state of Georgia, the nation and, we can say without hyperbole, the entire world.

A victory of such epic consequence did not, could not have come overnight. It was instead the culmination of a decade’s long, herculean effort in organizing lead by the inimitable Stacy Abrams, Deborah Scott, Felicia Davis and many others from the “next iteration of organizers” who trace their heritage to the civil rights heroes of the last century.  We lift up the names of these catalytic black women who lift up the voices of so many others, those who’ve been forgotten, denied and left in the shadows for far too long. 

Their voice, their power manifest, is the shot heard ‘round the world.

While the incoming Biden / Harris administration has a daunting task before it, they will be able to accomplish more, govern better, and lead more boldly because of the groundwork set for them. Put simply, years of diligent, persistent base-building, coalition-gathering, table-setting and dedicated organizing was able to flip a red state blue and unlock an entire horizon of potential progress.

We cannot waste this opportunity.  MAF is calling on accountability for the following policy promises in the first 100 days:

Expanded COVID-19 economic relief

Giving people cash assistance at critical moments in their lives can be transformational. It can be the difference between paying rent for another month, or falling into a downward spiral of financial struggle. Rebuilding starts with financial security. COVID-19 has devastated families’ finances, causing ripple effects of economic insecurities into other areas of their lives. People have had to skip meals, fall behind on their rent, and avoid seeking medical attention during a pandemic. Delaying relief will only make it harder for people to recover. 

When the federal government offered relief, it excluded 15 million people because of their household immigration status. From day one, MAF has advocated for relief for all, regardless of status. MAF stepped up to offer cash assistance to 43,000 people. 

From our research, we see the definitive impact cash assistance can make in people’s lives. In MAF’s survey of immigrants left out of CARES Act relief, we saw a 10-fold increase in the number of immigrant households who have no income today. If these families had been included in the CARES Act, more than one in four would have been able to pay off their bills in full for the month with as little as $1,200. We can’t continue to exclude our essential workers–we need relief for all.  

Immigration reform

We urge the Biden Administration to keep his immigration campaign promises. Reinstating DACA will be a great first step—but we can’t stop there. We need comprehensive policies that will protect and help all immigrants rebuild their financial lives post COVID-19. This means starting with a path to citizenship for all 11 million undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of whom have lived in this country for decades and many counted among essential workers fighting at the frontlines of this pandemic. 

This also means keeping families together, giving asylum-seekers the opportunity to seek safety, and ending discriminatory Muslim bans. If we truly want to rebuild this country after this pandemic, we need to invest in people. Let’s start by extending protections to our essential workers and their families–millions of immigrants who have stepped up for us in our time of greatest need.  

The lesson we draw from Georgia is that these policies are only possible when built atop the victories of joyful, inclusive organizing. For this reason, we’ve been investing in the mobilization work necessary to create a true culture of engagement for all people, regardless of status. In 2020 we engaged our community of over 100,000 about the census and election, listening to their stories and needs.  In 2021 we’ll continue to organize more boldly and fearlessly because the fight for the next election, the next mid-terms, the tomorrow of our dreams, has already begun.

The headlines may very well continue to be dominated by the scowling faces of loud, white men. Yet we’ll continue to keep our eyes on that other face, steady at the head of the march towards justice, the light of hope that keeps us warm in the bitter fight for equality, ever forward.

5 Keys To Relevant, Intentional Campaigns

“Is there a Latino vote?”

In the wake of the 2020 presidential campaign, this is a question being posed by pundits, pollsters, and politicians grappling to make sense of the turnout results. This year was a watershed moment for the Latino electorate, turning out at nearly twice the rate as compared to 2016 in early voting. The extraordinary growth of Latino voters underscores the truth that there is no path to the White House without the Latino vote. So does it actually exist?

The answer, not surprisingly, is both yes and no. Certain shared experiences do certainly bring the Latino community together in a broad cultural plane. Yet the expansive range of experiences and backgrounds breaks down any notion of a monolithic Latino identity, as no single issue nor political affiliation unites all Latino voters. This diversity within diversity means that Latino support of any party or policy cannot be taken for granted. It requires a constant investment in time and resources during and also between elections to build lasting, strong connections. Politics is personal and the key to mobilizing Latino voters is messaging that speaks to their lived experiences.

This guiding focus on meeting voters where they’re at is second-nature to MAF. In fact, a client-centered approach within a community framework is how we’ve built all products and services over the past 14 years. We’ve recently applied this same rigor to our mobilizing campaigns and have been building on this approach most recently in our GOTV campaign to 105,000 clients. Here’s what we’ve learned are the 5 keys to running a successful campaign for a diverse electorate:

1. All voices are needed for a culture of belonging

Mainstream political campaigns tend to only focus on voters most likely to vote. They disregard those unlikely to vote. They ignore entirely those ineligible to vote. Ignoring those ineligible to vote is both a mistake and a missed opportunity.

What, instead, we know to be true is that every voice counts. This recent election demonstrated many states won, lost, or were sent to recount based on incredibly small margins. While there was a record voter turnout, participation still could have and should have been higher. We believe that all people, regardless of their immigration status, should be engaged in campaigns that shape our future because not only can their voices tip the scale of individual elections, but because it creates a broader culture of engagement. And it is this culture of engagement that will be the key to safeguard the soul of our nation as we build toward a more equitable future.

2. Segmentation requires humility

After 2016, the DNC realized the importance of segmenting their voter files to craft more targeted, relevant messaging to “sub-ethnicity voters.” In this way they were able to peer under the broad Latino umbrella and target Dominicanos, Mexicanos, Tejanos, and Cubanos with more relevant messaging. While this is a step in the right direction, it still assumes too much about the lived experiences of voters simply by their family’s nationality.

People should also have agency in the segmentation process by self-selecting based on their lived experiences. In our GOTV campaign, we sent out an initial survey that allowed clients to do just that. After receiving their responses, we were able to follow up with each audience segment that they opted into in order to speak to them at a deeper level.

3. Create messaging for each segment group based on values

Even further than audience segmentation, thoughtful, relevant messaging to audience groups is imperative. We found that culturally relevant, emotionally engaging messaging around values of inclusion, belonging, and community was more impactful than standard, transactional rhetoric because it speaks to the heart.

Even further than audience segmentation, thoughtful, relevant messaging to audience groups is imperative. We found that culturally relevant, emotionally engaging messaging around values of inclusion, belonging, and community was more impactful than standard, transactional rhetoric because it speaks to the heart.

4. Test your assumptions and messaging

As a learning organization, we remain disciplined in always testing our assumptions. In the context of a campaign this discipline translated to running experiments with samples of clients to determine which message most resonated with each segment. As a rule of thumb, we would create 3 messages for each audience segment, and test each message with 200 contacts. This willingness to learn during each campaign produced insights that enable us to improve our messaging with each subsequent campaign as we continue developing our relationship with clients.

5. Reach clients where they’re at

When it’s finally time to launch the actual campaign, the last crucial step is to design multi-channel campaigns that meet people where they are at. While it may be more of a lift for the campaign organizer, it is imperative that the messages that have been so thoroughly prepared are ultimately delivered in a meaningful and impactful way.

For this reason, we designed our GOTV campaign to include both email and automated SMS because we learned previously that English and Spanish-speaking clients have different communication preferences. The industry standard response rates for SMS are an impressive 22%. The Spanish-speaking clients of our GOTV campaign doubled that number, responding to our crafted, targeted messaging at a rate of 44%.

Despite the immediate successes of this campaign to demonstrate the impact of outreach to communities largely left in the shadows, the major victory of our effort was its contribution to a broader culture of engagement. This cannot happen overnight, nor through transactional activities, because culture doesn’t just happen. It has to be built, we have to build it, celebrate it, and feed it. A culture of belonging is an ongoing process, ever bending the moral arc of history towards justice.

These insights will continue guiding our work as we invest more heavily in mobilization moving forward. And we hope you join us on this journey to fight for a more just and equitable world for all.

Insights from Census Outreach Campaign

Immigrants, like other marginalized communities, are labeled as “hard-to-count” by the United States Census Bureau. The implication is that immigrants are in some way lacking, whether in information or interest. Our work says otherwise.

This spring, MAF lead a thoughtful, targeted census outreach campaign. By crafting emotionally engaging, culturally relevant messaging and building on the foundation of trust that connects non-profits to the clients we serve, MAF moved the needle. The Census Bureau estimated a 60% response rate for the 2020 census, the lowest in decades. After our week-long, digital-first outreach campaign, we saw MAF clients bring that number up to 83%. This was driven in large part by immigrant clients who turned out to be most engaged, responding to SMS outreach at an incredible rate of 54%, more than twice the industry standard. Immigrants, we found, were in fact the easiest-to-count.

We offer this insight to the field to inform the work of the wide coalition of organizations fighting hard to lift up the voices of marginalized communities in the census. MAF believes that the unique role of non-profits in this effort is rooted in the relationships of trust cultivated over time. As a beacon of light in the fog of today’s misinformation war, non-profits are critical messengers of crucial and reliable information.

Time is running out before the deadline of September 30th so we’ve compiled actionable insights to inform the needed and critical efforts of partners in the MAF network and beyond. What follows is the story of our census campaign, detailing what we did and the lessons we learned. We hope you find these learnings useful, apply them to your own work, and that you’ll consider joining us as we continue to lift up the voices of the incredible people we serve every day.

MAF begins with the lived experiences of our clients.

In the context of a census outreach campaign, the messaging we used had to be both timely and relevant. It quickly became clear, though, that standard messaging from the Census Bureau was neither. The two most common messages we found from the Census Bureau described the importance of the census in terms of power (congressional representation) or money (federal budget allocations). For people who are being told that they have no place in the democratic process in the first place, and who are routinely denied social services, these points are, at best, meaningless or at worst, insulting.

Based on our rich understanding of the lives of our clients, we knew improving the messaging would be simple. The key was to craft emotionally engaging and culturally relevant language centered on themes of belonging and community.

To test our intuition, we designed a campaign to compare the results of 2 standard census messages against 2 messages we created in-house. Another non-profit, the immigrant advocacy organization OneAmerica, joined in our campaign. Together, we delivered these messages to 4,200 clients across English and Spanish-speaking communities using a combination of email and SMS.

The results came in: the single most effective messaging angle in our campaign was not power or money, but belonging.

This result implies that messaging to lift up the experience of truly being accepted is powerful. Perhaps its because it runs counter to a dominant national discourse that actively denies the humanity and rejects the validity of immigrant communities as full participants in American life. As an organization, MAF has never shied away from pushing back on dominant discourse and the results of this campaign demonstrate why.

To craft messaging at MAF is not simply a matter of disseminating information but, rather, is an effort to speak to the soul. We maintain that messaging must speak to the core of our clients because everything we do, from announcements to new services, starts with the assumption that our clients are complex, unique human beings who are far more than a data point can ever capture. When we articulate messaging that speaks to our clients’ lived, emotional experiences, we are reaching for their hearts, not minds. The campaign results show that this is a fundamental strategy for success.

SMS was the most effective method of communication, especially for clients who speak Spanish.

The second insight of the campaign was around methods. Clients who selected English as their preferred language were more likely to respond to an email than those who preferred Spanish. Yet for SMS, the reverse was true. English-speaking clients responded at a rate of 41% while Spanish-speaking clients responded to our SMS at a staggering 52%

These results push back against the prevailing narrative that Spanish-speaking communities are difficult to reach or “hard to count.” What we found was the exact opposite. With the right message and targeted through the right medium, Spanish-speaking clients are far from disengaged, but in fact the most engaged. The responsibility, then, is on outreach managers to inform their campaigns with these insights in order to most effectively meet our communities where they’re at.

With these results in hand, we began speaking with other non-profits about their civic engagement strategies.

What we found across the board was a shared understanding of the importance of civic action. Yet for overworked and underfunded organizations, there was no excess capacity to run multi-channel campaigns given that SMS tools in particular were either too expensive or time-consuming to manage. Simply put, the existing tools on the market were not built for non-profits.

We decided to change that. In partnership with a highly skilled team of technologists at the software studio super{set}, we built our own digital tool that makes it easy for nonprofits to effectively mobilize their communities. The results were striking.

Our 3-step campaign to 4,200 clients lead to an impressive 36% response rate and, by our estimates, secured $6 million in funding for communities that deserve it. All within one week and managed by one staff member. The technology we built can allow non-profits to lead effective campaigns without a full-time campaign manager or breaking the bank

MAF’s Invitation To Partners

In early conversations with other non-profits, we found that most were relying 80-90% on in-person outreach for their census campaigns. With the onset of COVID, those plans have gone out the window. Now that the White House has cut a precious month off of the census timeline, the clock is ticking.

MAF is showing up by utilizing our tested messaging and developed technology to scale up census outreach efforts. With the support of The Grove Foundation, we’re making final push to ensure that all of hard-working clients in the MAF network are counted, seen and receive the resources they deserve.

Building on this momentum, we’re planning a Get Out The Vote (GOTV) campaign informed by the insights gained from the census work. Continuing to develop MAF’s mobilization efforts is a necessary step because we are staring down the most historic election of our lives. The moment is calling us all to step up, punch above our standard silos and lift up the voices of the communities we serve.

If you’d like to join our growing community of partners sharing lessons learned and shaping the future of our new Beacon platform, please email us. Our goal is to ensure that the technology made by a non—profit remains timely and relevant for other non-profits. You can learn more about MAF’s focus on civic action in this conversation between CEO, José Quiñonez and Director of Mobilization, Joanna Cortez.


PS We’ll leave you with our take on a lesson from history, to ensure it’s mistakes are not repeated.

First they came for the immigrants

And I chose to speak out

Because we are family

Then they came for the poor

And I chose to speak out

Because we are family

Then they came for me

And there were others

So many others

Making Our Lives Count In The #2020Census

“So yeah,” my housemate said between using napkins for her nose and her tears. “I got laid off with the entire staff at the bar today. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

As much as I wanted to be present for this conversation, I couldn’t stop checking my phone. A chill gripped me, an ice-punch to the gut, as I watched my retirement savings plummet from modest to shreds, as I could do nothing but look on.

The terror of seeing our local economies and global infrastructure collapsing at the same time is, for many of us, all too much.

When we look to the proverbial East toward our elected leaders, aid is slow to come. As of this writing, Congress is locked in a partisan fight over a $2 trillion stimulus package that may very well be the defibrillator needed to resuscitate the bleeding heart of our national economy. Even if it does manage to get passed, though, we already know who will be the last to recover.

The marginalized communities and hard-working immigrant families that we serve every day at MAF will receive, at best, pennies for each dollar needed because they are invisible. The census plays a central role in officially registering them nonexistent given that immigrants have been deemed among the “hard-to-count” populations for decades. This means that every government funding measure for years, from school lunches to (potential) COVID-19 stimulus checks have been guaranteed to be inadequate for those who needed it most.

The 2020 census is expected to exacerbate this even further. The White House has been actively sowing the seeds of fear through violent policies like ICE raids, border community militarization, and the recent, failed attempt to add an immigration question. People are frightened by any knock on the front door for the devastation it could bring to their lives. Add to this reality the current COVID-19 epidemic and the picture turns several tones grimmer.

At MAF, we are doing what we can to step up. In the immediate, we are delivering several million dollars of emergency support through our Rapid Relief Fund to those in need. In the long-term, we are fighting so that the next trillion-dollar government aid package, if there is one in the following decade, goes to fill the right hands. Quick action needs structural change in tandem, if it’s to last. For us, the census is our chance to make a difference beyond the day-to-day.

Our goal is to ensure that 100% of our clients are counted.

To do this, we’ve partnered with a technology studio, super{set}, to build a tool that can help us communicate with more of our clients, faster and smarter. We’ve leveraged automation and analytics to be able to confirm that all of our 3,000+ clients participate in the civic moment that shapes every aspect of our lives. We’ve learned best practices on messaging with our initial coalition of trusted partners who are engaging their own communities of clients with our tool across email, SMS and phone.

Armed with these assets, we’re continuing to move fast in ensuring that every immigrant is counted and knows they belong. We can’t do it alone. Each non-profit organization exists within its own world of influence and, only together, can we cover the patchwork quilt that is the vibrant diversity of our nation.

We are living in an historical moment and can all do more than simply look on. If the communities we serve are to emerge not just ready to survive, but to thrive, we must.

Let’s make our lives count.

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