When Equal Justice USA came to MAG, they faced a welcome challenge: for the first time in years, efforts to abolish the death penalty were gaining momentum in several US states. For Equal Justice USA, which works to transform criminal justice policy, that momentum presented new opportunities to grow and achieve its goals.
But growth and opportunity also posed existential questions for this 20-year-old program—including whether to remain under the auspices of its parent organization. “We were assessing the growing opportunities and how we could grow to take advantage of them,” says Equal Justice USA Executive Director Shari Silberstein. “What capacity did we need? Could we do it the way we were or did we need to spin off from our parent organization?”
From DIY to solid organization
Equal Justice USA hired MAG to help the organization plan for growth. And, when the group decided to establish its own nonprofit status, MAG helped navigate the transition. Working with consultants was a new experience for the organization, which previously had what Silberstein describes as “a do-it-yourself culture.”
The partnership proved transformative, Silberstein says. “MAG helped us capitalize upon an intuitive way of thinking – one that was often in my head – and institutionalize it. It was an amazing process, and it really helped bridge the gap between old staff and new staff when we expanded. With MAG’s help, we went from an organization that was anchored in one leader to an organization that was a collective -- from a fractured group work working under the same roof to a solid organization. It was really empowering because it tapped assets that we already had but needed to be pulled out of us.”
MAG’s involvement went far beyond drafting a set of recommendations. According to Silberstein, “Our MAG consultant was willing to get in the trenches and do the work with us, not just leaving us with a pile of challenges. MAG was instrumental in helping us to start a new organization with a new structure and more staff, all while keeping up with our existing programming. It was really quite miraculous. And nearly three years later, the plan we came up with is still very much internalized within the organization and is very much a part of our work.”
Silberstein attributes much of the success of the partnership to the values shared by Equal Justice USA and MAG, noting that the MAG consultant “felt more like a colleague than an outsider, but she had the neutrality of an outsider…We could trust MAG largely because their mission is to work with social justice nonprofits. MAG consultants aren’t just consultants – they’re part of the social justice movement, too.”