October 12, 2016 Print

How do you lift people out of poverty? Government assistance seems like an obvious solution, but the incentive structure of welfare programs tends to keep people trapped in a cycle of dependency — preventing them from acquiring the skills and experience necessary to build a better life. The Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA), based in Florida, created a nationwide network for policy reform from scratch when it helped keep 19 states from expanding the costly Medicaid expansion, then used that experience to bring welfare reform to 22 states between 2015 and 2016. The FGA’s Restore the Working Class project has been an unprecedented success, and provides a template for how to achieve practical reform in a variety of state political climates.

Restore the Working Class is the focus of one of Atlas Network’s new Think Tank Impact case studies, a publication series that provides an intensive examination of successful partner projects and explains how they were able to achieve real change. From inception through all the stages of development and execution, each case study highlights practical details that demonstrate to other think tanks how they can achieve similar results. Although each culture and political climate is different, strategies for successful project execution can be widely applicable throughout the world.

Tarren Bragdon, CEO of the FGA, founded the organization in order to concentrate on a narrow set of issues over a broad geographical area, using the organization’s focused expertise to bring health and welfare reform to as many different jurisdictions within the United States as possible. This focus has allowed the FGA to make a bigger difference than if it were to cover a wide range of issues within a single state.

“Think tanks are often afraid that if they pare down the issues they address, they might lose visibility and perceived power across a range of issues,” the case study explains. “Bragdon believes that think tanks instead gain credibility through their focus. The FGA’s model turns the standard think tank approach upside down, enabling it to bring its focused expertise to a much larger geographical area. Bragdon’s advice to think tanks everywhere is to select one or two key issues and to invest organizational time, resources, and expertise heavily into that issue. This allows think tanks to set the agenda rather than responding or reacting to someone else’s agenda.”

It takes more than an innovative organizational model to build an effective nationwide reform campaign. Bragdon also explains in the case study how he created a culture of excellence and team awareness, attracted and retained the best talent by paying above-market wages, searched for staff from both inside and outside the liberty movement, identified three distinct phases of fundraising during an organization’s development and scripted fundraising pitches that focused on a sincere respect for each donor’s time and giving interests.

Download the full case study for free: “Focus Gets Results."

The FGA’s Restore the Working the Working Class project was so successful that it has been named one of six finalists for this year’s prestigious $100,000 Templeton Freedom Award, which will be awarded at Freedom Dinner 2016, on Nov. 10 in New York City. This nomination continues the FGA’s track record of recognition for work that makes a substantial difference in people’s lives, having also been nominated as a finalist for the 2014 Templeton Freedom Award for its campaign to limit Medicaid expansion.

Want to take a deep dive into the case studies of the Worldwide Freedom Movement?

Atlas Network maintains that some of the best lessons for achieving impact are taught by sharing success stories of similar organizations. Over the next several years, we will be producing a series of case studies based on exceptional think tanks within the Atlas Network. The case study above features the work of the Institute for Justice. This and subsequent case studies in the series will provide insight, context, and advice on running effective think tanks. If you would like more in-depth analysis, guidance, and discussion, be sure to participate in Atlas Leadership Academy's Think Tank Impact online course. This course, run quarterly throughout the year, will allow you to learn, share, and address your organization's challenges along with others from the worldwide freedom movement.