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ImmigrationWorks Foundation — General Support 2016

ImmigrationWorks president Tamar Jacoby testifies at a congressional field hearing. (Photo courtesy of ImmigrationWorks)
Organization Name 
Award Date 
Grant Amount 
For general support.
Topic (focus area) 

Published: December 2015

Note: ImmigrationWorks staff reviewed this page prior to publication.

This page was created using content published by Good Ventures and GiveWell, the organizations that created the Open Philanthropy Project, before this website was launched. Uses of “we” and “our” on this page may therefore refer to Good Ventures or GiveWell, but they still represent the work of the Open Philanthropy Project.

ImmigrationWorks (IW) organizes small business owners to advocate for policies that allow more lower-skill workers to come to the U.S. to work. We see lower-skill immigration as an important and a neglected issue within immigration policy, one of the Open Philanthropy Project’s policy focus areas. Few other advocacy groups make lower-skill immigration a top priority, and IW, one of the few that does, is small relative to many other immigration advocacy groups.

In 2014, the Open Philanthropy Project recommended a $285,000 grant to support IW’s activities. Based on our evaluation of IW’s work since that time and its current funding situation, the Open Philanthropy Project has decided to renew our support with a $150,000 grant to the ImmigrationWorks Foundation.


The cause

The Open Philanthropy Project is making a $150,000, 18-month unrestricted grant to the ImmigrationWorks Foundation to support its work on immigration policy, which we have identified as a priority cause. The Open Philanthropy Project made a previous grant to ImmigrationWorks in 2014.

One significant change in the area of immigration policy since our 2014 grant is that, at that time, it still seemed somewhat possible that Congress would pass a comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) bill in the near future. Congressional debate today now seems to be focused on more minor immigration issues and on laying the groundwork for potential action on CIR after the 2016 presidential election.

The organization

Throughout this discussion, ImmigrationWorks (IW) refers to the combination of the ImmigrationWorks Foundation, a 501(c)3, and ImmigrationWorks USA, a 501(c)4, unless otherwise specified.1

IW was founded by center-right journalist Tamar Jacoby in 2008 to organize small employers of lower-skill immigrants, mobilizing them to advocate in Washington, D.C. and in their own communities across the U.S. The Washington-based operation supports this decentralized effort and works in parallel on Capitol Hill to advance policy.2 For more background on IW as an organization, see our write-up of Open Philanthropy’s 2014 grant to IW.

Previous grant

In the write-up for our 2014 grant to IW, we included some key questions that we intended to use to follow up on that grant. Answers to some of these questions are below.

How did IW end up spending the grant?

Open Philanthropy’s rough expectation of how IW would use the $285,000 grant was:

  1. $55,000 to close its 2014 funding gap.
  2. $150,000 for messaging research.
  3. $80,000 to hire someone to work on advocacy for immigration reform and building consensus around policy.

However, the grant was unrestricted and was made with the understanding that IW could change the proposed allocation of funds if it saw fit.

IW raised about $170,000 less in fundraising for 2014 than it anticipated at the time of Open Philanthropy’s grant, due mainly to the loss of momentum for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) in Congress following Eric Cantor’s primary defeat.

We view our grant (in effect, if not literally) as having provided roughly $100,000 in general operating support each year for 2014 and 2015 to fill this unexpected funding gap, as well as roughly $90,000 for public opinion polling.

Did the grant succeed in materially growing IW’s capacity? Did any of the things IW spent the grant on seem to persist?

Because the grant funding was used to fill a gap in general operating costs rather than make a new hire, our grant did not result in IW growing its capacity, though the grant may have prevented IW from needing to lay off additional staff. In May 2015, Tamar Jacoby and IW’s main consultants took 25% salary cuts in order to keep IW solvent, though IW was quickly able to find the funding to make up the gap. IW now expects to do better than break even on revenue for 2015.

In addition to serving as President and CEO of IW, Tamar Jacoby also founded and serves as President and CEO of Opportunity America, a Washington think tank that works to promote economic mobility (e.g. through increased workforce participation, employee training, asset ownership and entrepreneurship). Jacoby has considered shifting focus away from immigration policy to prioritize her work with Opportunity America, and we believe there is a reasonable probability that Open Philanthropy’s grant played a role in keeping Jacoby active in the area of immigration.

IW has shrunk slightly (its 2014 expenses were $637,000, while its 2015 expenses are projected to be $579,000, including the $90,000 for polling research), as Jacoby has devoted more attention to Opportunity America.

What did the public opinion research find? Is it helpful?

We found press coverage of the public opinion and messaging research3 to mildly exceed our expectations, and we were somewhat surprised to learn that 70% of respondents claimed to support a year-round guest worker program. ImmigrationWorks told us that this finding, and the finding that a majority of people falsely believed that such a program already exists, would be very helpful for immigration advocates going forward.

However, the results of the research to determine which of several messages was most persuasive were underwhelming. The best-performing messages were related to the economic benefits of immigration and holding migrant workers accountable, but neither seemed exceptionally effective. Messaging on creating opportunities for immigrants performed well with IW’s elite subsample, but poorly with the general population.4 IW found its combined messaging boosted support for “a visa program that would enable immigrants to enter the U.S. legally to work in physically-demanding, year-round jobs ” from about 68% to about 75%.5 This result strikes us as fairly weak, though we are not sure how to benchmark it.

It is too soon to have a sense of whether other groups will adopt the messages that IW tested.

What impact, if any, did IW’s advocacy work end up having?

We do not see IW’s advocacy work as having had a definite impact since the grant, although we do not consider this particularly surprising or disappointing given the overall decrease in interest and support for immigration reform in Washington during this period.

Grant renewal

Case for the new grant

We see IW as a small organization which shares the Open Philanthropy Project’s goal of increasing lower-skill immigration, an aspect of immigration policy that does not receive much other support. IW is experiencing a funding shortfall while focus has shifted away from immigration reform in Congress, and we believe that this grant could play a significant role in keeping IW operating at its current capacity. In particular, we believe that our grant will allow IW to continue to do more work on immigration, rather than shift resources partially or entirely to Opportunity America (or close down).

Given the current state of the immigration policy debate in Washington, we do not expect to see major evidence of impact from IW in the near term. However, we are hopeful that our grant will allow IW to continue operations and maintain good relationships with policymakers and others so that it can be present and involved when the issue of CIR is raised again in Congress (likely in 2017). Ultimately, Open Philanthropy decided to grant $150,000 over 18 months because we saw that as enough to keep IW going until 2017 and the next Congressional term.

Proposed activities

Potential IW activities from 2015 to 20176 include:

  • Mobilize a donor collaborative. IW believes it could be beneficial to organize major donors to make a conservative case for immigration reform. IW’s role might include “organizing, managing and staffing the initiative,” as well as communicating the goals and activities of such a collaborative to the media.
  • Develop a strategy for future Congressional advocacy. IW will work to help “create the political space for the House to move forward on reform.” In particular, IW aims “to ensure [that conversations about immigration reform] focus on legal immigration, to educate members and staff about the economic benefits of less-skilled labor migration, to maintain relationships with influential staffers and help shape the [2017] conversation”.
  • Advance a worker-visa pilot program. IW has created a plan for a pilot worker visa program that would be enacted only in areas with an unemployment rate of 5 percent or lower. IW has so far received favorable responses to this proposal.
  • Develop a communications strategy. IW hopes to create more opportunities for public discussion of policy around legal immigration pathways.
  • Collaboration with the Niskanen Center. IW proposes to collaborate with the Niskanen Center, another Open Philanthropy Project grantee, to promote immigration policy proposals they’ve developed.

Budget and room for more funding

IW’s budget for 2015 is roughly $579,000 and its projected revenues for 2015 are $480,000. IW’s projected budget for 2016 is roughly $352,000 (a decrease from 2015, in part due to a shift of some resources from IW to Opportunity America) and its projected revenues for 2016 are $230,000 (although this may be a conservative estimate).7

IW has seen a significant decrease in funding from its major donors over the past few years as interest in immigration reform has waned, and it expects this trend to continue this year. For this reason in particular, we see IW as having a strong case for room for more funding.

Risks and offsetting factors

We see a number of risks associated with this grant:

  • Opportunity America might divert Jacoby’s time and attention away from IW. Jacoby plans to split her time to match the allocation of funding, but we will not be in a good position to observe this.
  • Jacoby is not closely involved in the conversations about CIR being held amongst some other immigration reform groups, and we see some risk that she could be missing opportunities for influence in those conversations. Jacoby argues that engaging with these groups is not necessarily the most valuable use of her time (compared to engagement with Congressional representatives, pro-immigration business groups, and a different set of immigration advocates), but it is difficult for us to assess this.
  • We are not in a good position to assess the internal dynamics of Congressional policymaking. It appears that IW has built a meaningful constituency and relationships, but we are uncertain about how useful those will turn out to be.
  • While promoting a reformed guest worker program for lower-skill immigrants still makes sense to us as a potentially feasible policy goal, we’re less confident that a guest-worker program represents the most tractable path forward for increasing immigration from lower-income countries.

Plans for learning and follow-up

Goals for the grant

We hope that this grant will help put IW in a good position to engage in any discussions around immigration that begin after the 2016 presidential election. We hope that, by this stage, IW will have a number of policy proposals ready for implementation, which ideally will already have some support from and traction with the relevant decisionmakers.

Follow-up expectations

We expect to have a conversation with IW every 2-3 months over the course of the grant, with public notes if the conversation warrants it. Towards the end of the grant, we plan to attempt a more holistic and detailed evaluation of the grant’s performance.

Our process

We began discussing the possibility of renewing our support of ImmigrationWorks as the previous grant period drew to a close. Tamar Jacoby spoke with us about potential activities for ImmigrationWorks over the next 18 months, and about ImmigrationWorks’ current funding situation.


GiveWell’s internal notes from a conversation with Tamar Jacoby, June 4, 2014Unpublished
GiveWell’s non-verbatim summary of a conversation with Tamar Jacoby, January 14, 2015Source
GiveWell’s non-verbatim summary of conversations with Tamar Jacoby on May 12 and May 23, 2014Source
IW Carnegie and Four Freedoms ReportsUnpublished
IW Financials Summary, 2014-2016Source
IW Memorandum of Proposed Activities, 2015-2017Source
IW Message Testing Research, Final Report of FindingsSource
IW Public Opinion and Legal Immigration, MediaSource (archive)
  • 1.

    “ImmigrationWorks Foundation is one pillar of a two-pillared arch.
    The other pillar, ImmigrationWorks USA, is a 501(c)(4) organization devoted to helping business owners make their views about immigration known to legislators, both at the state level and in Congress. ImmigrationWorks USA (IW USA) is organized as a federation, linking state-based business coalitions in some 20 states. Its primary mission is recruitment: identifying likely employer advocates, reaching out to them, creating coalitions – and ultimately building a grassroots army of informed, engaged employers prepared to pick up the phone and call members of Congress, urging them to pass a comprehensive reform package. IW USA works to jumpstart local business coalitions, helps them grow, provides them with advice and assistance in their state-based legislative battles, plans and participates in local media campaigns and teaches affiliates how to engage in effective grassroots lobbying.
    ImmigrationWorks Foundation (IWF), by contrast, is a 501(c)(3) organization. Its twin goals: educating and informing the business owners who make up the IW USA network and helping them frame the message they get out to the media and the public in their states.
    In other words, IW USA is about recruitment and action, while IWF is devoted to communications. The two organizations are strictly separate – and IWF steers clear of the advocacy work at the center of the IW USA mission. But the two entities are designed to complement each other, one rallying the troops, the other making sure they know what to say and how best to say it. IWF provides IW USA affiliates with research, analyses, talking points and other communications tools. It works to keep the employers in the network informed about immigration issues, teach business leaders how to speak to the media about immigration and document the impact of immigration and immigration-related policies on the economy, both locally and at the national level.
    The two organizations’ shared goal: to make sure that business is no longer missing from the immigration debate.” IW Carnegie and Four Freedoms Reports, pgs. 3-4.

  • 2.

    • “The missing piece: business. Before the founding of the ImmigrationWorks network, there was virtually no pro-immigration business presence outside of Washington, DC. The Essential Worker Immigration Coalition, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Restaurant Association and other trade associations confined their activities to lobbying members of Congress – and made little effort to sway the media, let alone engage employers at the grassroots level. This absence was not lost on advocates, lawmakers or journalists. And when comprehensive reform went down in defeat last year, all began to voice a common complaint - that the missing element, the element that could have made the decisive difference, was business speaking out in favor of reform.” IW Carnegie and Four Freedoms Reports
    • GiveWell’s internal notes from a conversation with Tamar Jacoby, June 4, 2014

  • 3.

    IW Public Opinion and Legal Immigration, Media

  • 4. ”Elites were also more receptive to the idea that a visa program would create opportunities for immigrants, despite it being a lower-performing message with General Population respondents” IW Message Testing Research, Final Report of Findings, pg. 24.
  • 5. IW Message Testing Research, Final Report of Findings, pg. 35.
  • 6. IW Memorandum of Proposed Activities, 2015-2017
  • 7. IW Financials Summary, 2014-2016