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The Ordinary People Society — General Support

Organization Name 
Award Date 
Grant Amount 
For general support.
Topic (focus area) 

Published: September 2016

We decided to write about this grant in order to share our thinking about this aspect of our work on criminal justice reform. This page is a summary of the reasoning behind our decision to make the grant; it was reviewed but not written by the grant investigator.

The Ordinary People Society staff reviewed this page prior to publication.

The Open Philanthropy Project recommended a grant of $125,000 to The Ordinary People Society (TOPS) to support Pastor Kenneth Glasgow in launching the Prodigal Child Project, which will train and organize pastors in Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, and Georgia as advocates for reducing incarceration.


This grant falls within our work on criminal justice reform, one of our focus areas within U.S. Policy.

Pastor Kenneth Glasgow is a nationally prominent, formerly incarcerated leader who has been involved in advocacy and organizing in the southern U.S. for many years. Pastor Glasgow founded TOPS in 2001 to organize and provide support for people impacted by incarceration. TOPS has engaged with criminal justice issues through legislative and public advocacy, and currently has two staff members and numerous volunteers.

In recent years, Pastor Glasgow has increased his engagement with his fellow pastors on criminal justice issues, encouraging them to view incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people as “prodigal children” and to advocate for reforms on their behalf. The Prodigal Child Project (which has existed in name but without significant resources up to this point) will work to expand Pastor Glasgow’s engagement with and organizing of pastors around these issues.

About the grant

Proposed activities

The Prodigal Child Project plans to educate, train, equip and organize roughly 250 pastors in Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Georgia to be advocates for reforms to reduce incarceration in their local communities and at the state level. Its activities may include convenings and trainings, media engagement (billboards, radio, TV ads), distribution of materials for use in pastors’ churches, and other related modes of support. The project will draw on Pastor Glasgow’s previous efforts building networks of volunteer organizers and other relationships across these states.

Following the initial launch in September, TOPS plans to have at least one staff coordinator regularly check in with pastors in the network to continue to support their efforts, as well as work to expand the network.

Budget and room for more funding

TOPS’s expected funding this year from other funders is $145,000, which covers two staff and a small amount of travel and office expenses. Our $125,000 grant will approximately double TOPS’s budget, allowing it significantly more capacity to cover travel, convenings, and office costs.

Case for the grant

We believe that pastors, especially in the states targeted by this grant, play an influential role in shaping public opinion in their communities. However, it is our understanding that pastors in these states have not to date been particularly involved in criminal justice reform advocacy. We believe Pastor Glasgow’s network of pastors will likely be able to create political pressure for reform and to mobilize their congregations to take political action.

In May, Pastor Glasgow spoke to a group of 82 pastors who had gathered in support of the prison strike in Alabama. Pastor Glasgow told us that, at that meeting, he observed a higher level of interest and commitment to prison reform from this group than in the past, and he believes it would be beneficial to continue to foster that interest this summer. Although the pastors who mobilized to support the strike showed interest in these issues, that meeting did not provide them with any training or materials to equip them to continue advocacy work in their communities or return to support future efforts. Currently, we do not believe there is any existing infrastructure for engaging with and organizing these pastors in an ongoing way. Our grant aims to allow Pastor Glasgow to organize and equip this group to undertake ongoing advocacy.

Our decision to make this grant is based in large part on our Program Officer Chloe Cockburn’s impression of Pastor Glasgow as a particularly effective organizer and leader among formerly incarcerated advocates. She believes that Pastor Glasgow’s network, strategic vision, reputation, and expertise make him particularly well positioned to effectively organize and expand this network of pastors. Chloe has spoken with other advocates in this field who have a positive impression of Pastor Glasgow and of the impact of TOPS. With this grant, we are betting that increasing Pastor Glasgow’s resources and supporting his leadership has the potential to make a substantial impact in these states.

We expect that organizing pastors to actively push for reforms (through, e.g., encouraging their congregations to advocate for reform, or reaching out to legislators directly as advocates) could positively impact a number of areas within criminal justice reform that we consider important, such as:

  • Influencing local sheriff and District Attorney elections.
  • Increasing advocacy around state-level reform bills.
  • Shifting public opinion to oppose new prison construction (which we believe is especially likely to be a key issue in Alabama).

In part because this grant does not target a specific policy objective, we do not have a concrete estimate of its cost-effectiveness.

Plans for learning and follow-up

If the initial efforts supported by this grant are successful, we think it is fairly likely that TOPS will request additional funding for subsequent years. We would plan to visit the project in person to assess its impact before considering renewing our support.

Key questions for follow-up

  • Have pastors become more active advocates on criminal justice reform issues, and what is the evidence of this?
  • Has pastors’ activity increased in all four target states, or only some?
  • What is the extent of the pastors’ activity and its influence?
  • What impact has pastors’ advocacy had on public opinion and/or policy, and what is the evidence of this impact?
  • What lessons can be learned about how to expand the scope of this work effectively (either by increasing engagement in these states or by spreading to additional states)?

Predictions relevant to the grant

We’re experimenting with recording explicit numerical forecasts of events related to our decisionmaking (especially grantmaking). The idea behind this is to pull out the implicit predictions that are playing a role in our decisions, and make it possible for us to look back on how well-calibrated and accurate those are. For this grant, we are recording the following forecasts:

  • By September, the Prodigal Child Project will have made enough progress for more than 75 pastors to show significant support for incarceration reform (through, e.g., attending rallies, writing op-eds, giving sermons, or other actions): 40%
  • Pastor Glasgow’s pastor network will play an influential role in the upcoming legislative sessions (for some definition of “influential” that we’re comfortable with in retrospect): 60%

Our process

Pastor Glasgow approached Chloe about supporting this project. Chloe discussed the project with Pastor Glasgow and spoke with contacts of hers who had previously worked with him before deciding to recommend this grant.