Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network

The second charity that I would like to highlight in my "days of awe" series is the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. This outstanding organization has a laser-sharp focus on their mission, which is neatly summed up in these six goals (quoted from their strategic plan):

1. LIFT THE BAN preventing gays, lesbians and bisexuals from serving openly and honestly in the military.
2. PROVIDE FREE LEGAL SERVICES to service members harmed by Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and related, discriminatory policies.
3. PROTECT SERVICE MEMBERS FROM HARASSMENT based on perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
4. ADVOCATE FOR POLICIES AND PRACTICES that improve the lives of service members.
5. SUPPORT SERVICE MEMBER AND VETERAN PRIDE as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender persons.
6. STRENGTHEN ORGANIZATIONAL CAPACITY to assure the freedom to serve in the most cost-effective, strategic fashion.
As a gay man, one of the injustices most personally perceived is the ongoing discrimination against lesbians and gay men, and there is hardly an instance more worthy of change than the infamous "Don't Ask Don't Tell" (DADT) policy of America's military services. Not only is the policy patently unjust, but it is harmful to our military's readiness in a critical time when recruitment and retainment is falling short. SLDN's vision is expressed in the simple phrase "freedom to serve", highlighting two bedrock American principles: freedom and service.

Working toward this charter, SLDN has been impressively effective. They have been a touchstone of informational resources for gay members of the military in understanding the risks of their situation. They have responded to over 1000 requests for legal assistance in the past year. They have successfully represented victims of DADT in many landmark court cases, and last year launched the case Cook v. Rumsfeld which will take on DADT directly to the Supreme Court. At the same time, they have lobbied Congress with a steady stream of military veterans articulately presenting their cause, and now we have a bill in Congress (the Military Readiness Enhancement Act) proposing to undo DADT. And they have done a phenomenal job with representing this cause to the public, including the publication of an annual report on the state of DADT that gets national press. They have kept this issue in the media, and I think the movement of American popular opinion (58% though gays should have the freedom to serve in a recent Pew poll, compared to 52% in 1994) is attributable in fair measure to SLDN.

Looking at the financials (as one should always do), their numbers are about as good as it gets. 87% of their expenses go directly to program, with only 5% for management and 8% for fundraising. Their cost of raising funds is 23 cents on the dollar for their events (which provide about 14% of their revenue), with an overall average of 12 cents on the dollar. Their revenue growth has been just over 9%, with expenses growth of 7.7%, with a working capital ratio of 0.66 years. I believe this would rate them an A on the AIP criteria, and CharityNavigator gives them three stars (out of four) for organizational efficiency, four stars for organizational capacity, and just a hair shy of four stars overall (58.46 points with 60 needed for four stars).

If you're not familiar with them, please take a look at their website and annual report. I heartily recommend this highly focused, extremely effective, very efficient organization fighting for the freedom to serve.

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