As we approach our 25th anniversary (2015), we have been working hard to enhance our capacity and expand our outreach through the Acton@25 Capital Campaign. Thanks to a generous outpouring of support from friends near and far, the effort has been a success to date; we moved into our new headquarters in March, and now our staff is harnessing the building’s many benefits and features to enhance Acton’s life-changing work.
Among these new upgrades is our acoustically excellent auditorium, with extensive audio and video capture capabilities as well as a dedicated translation booth. This new space allows us to hold major, in-house events for sizeable audiences, including the 250+ supporters who attended our open house functions in May. In particular, we are excited to use the space to grow our monthly lecture series, which was hamstrung for years due to space confinements at our previous office.
We are currently breaking in our new media production suite, complete with a soundproof recording studio, that allows our media professionals to produce short and feature-length films that engage and persuade. A television studio permits us to accept the frequent interview requests we receive from networks such as CNN, BBC, and FOX News, and a special subscription service allows stations and networks to utilize our feed for live and pre-recorded interviews.
At the heart of Acton’s work is our rigorous and thoughtful research, and our research scholars depend heavily on having access to the 11,500+ books that comprise our library collection. Unfortunately we were only able to shelve and display about 3,000 of these volumes at our former office, requiring us to rent additional space elsewhere. Our new facility has resolved this issue, with books prominently featured around the auditorium and throughout our meeting and research rooms.
As we had hoped, the new facility has already played a substantial role in raising our local profile. Throughout the duration of the project, Acton has received frequent and positive coverage in The Grand Rapids Press and Grand Rapids Business Journal, exposing our mission to hundreds of thousands of print and online readers. Additionally, given our location off one of Grand Rapids’ busiest streets, people often stop by to look at the building and ask questions about our work. Some curious passersby have even taken the time to pull out their smartphones, access our website, and subscribe to our communications.
In decorating and furnishing our new office, we have taken care to prioritize the aesthetic. Art, after all, testifies to man’s God-given capacity for creativity and innovation. As such, we are currently hosting a traveling art collection—The Father & His Two Sons: The Art of Forgiveness—that contains 30 pieces based on the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Included in the collection are original sketches by Rembrandt.
We will also play a visible role in one of the country’s largest art events. In less than a month, Acton will host five pieces competing in this year’s world-renowned ArtPrize competition. Exhibits housed at Acton will relate to individual liberty, personal responsibility, and human dignity. We look forward to availing our new facility as a prominent community resource, while introducing potentially hundreds of thousands to our mission and work.
While we have seen great progress in our capital campaign, we still have approximately $1 million yet to raise. Existing investment opportunities for named support include a radio studio as well as auditorium seats.
You may notice that virtually every Founders’ Report somehow addresses our effort to maintain a strong digital presence. This is intentional, and for good reason: increasingly more people, across all generations, seek their information and inspiration from the Internet. Our communications experts follow the latest online trends to ensure that we are using the best tools and strategies to help our supporters promote and defend the free and virtuous society.
With over one billion users worldwide, Facebook remains one of our primary outreach vehicles. Our Acton Institute and PovertyCure pages boast a combined total of nearly 1.6 million followers, many of whom share our content with their own extensive networks. In 2012, our page received 383 “likes” per week, and this year, our posts have garnered an average of 2,000 views each. These posts serve a variety of purposes, from distributing our research to publicizing our events. Indeed, one of our Facebook followers saw a post about our recent luncheon in Chicago and sponsored a table as a result.
Our website has also enjoyed unprecedented growth. Compared with last year, current web traffic is up 49 percent across all sites, while activity on our PowerBlog is up 160 percent. This includes substantial representation from Southeast Asia and Latin America—areas that are growing economically and thus exceptionally ripe for our synthesis of entrepreneurship, liberty, and virtue. The effort to vitalize our PowerBlog has been a cooperative one: new and capable blog contributors produce a constant stream of insightful content, while our strategic use of social media promotes that content to millions of supporters almost every hour of every day.
Unique additions to our website have also increased traffic. This April, we released a new website that helps visitors to pinpoint those resources best-suited to them. Individuals are asked to specify how they learn best—reading, connecting, listening, or visual—and after answering a handful of specialized questions, the site produces a list of books, periodicals, conferences, and websites of particular interest.
We also used our website to honor the storied career and life of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who passed away in early April. Over the years, our paths crossed on several occasions, with Thatcher appearing in a 1992 edition of Religion & Liberty, and Acton awarding her the 2011 Faith and Freedom Award. During her life, Thatcher was a tireless defender of individual liberty and free enterprise; but even so, she once remarked: “There must be something more [than democratic freedom], something that will temper the otherwise unchecked impulses of which men are capable. There must be something outside and above man to which he will willingly defer… There must be a standard of right and wrong, justice and injustice, by which men can measure their lives and actions.” We could not agree more.
Early this year, our director of research, Dr. Samuel J. Gregg, released his latest work, Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and How America Can Avoid a European Future. As we see the U.S. succumbing to many European ailments—enormous debt, overburdened welfare systems, high taxation, aging populations—it is easy to despair and wonder if the European present is our future.
In Becoming Europe, Gregg examines economic culture—the values and institutions that inform our economic priorities—to explain how European economic life has drifted in the direction of what Alexis de Tocqueville themselves called “soft despotism,” and the ways in which similar trends are manifesting in the United States. America, Gregg argues, is not yet Europe; the good news is that economic decline need not be its future. The path to recovery lies in the distinctiveness of American economic culture.
Since its release in January, the book has received coverage in The Wall Street Journal, New York Post, The Washington Times, National Catholic Register, and The Daily Caller, also appearing on television stations such as C-SPAN and EWTN. Gregg has participated in nearly 100 radio interviews, along with appearances at The Heritage Foundation and Westminster Institute, to promote the book and present its conclusions. We encourage you to visit the Acton Book Shop and order this timely publication for yourself.
One of Acton’s longest-running outreach vehicles is Religion & Liberty, a quarterly publication featuring articles about faith and free-market economics. In order to cater to iPad and iPhone users, we released a free Religion & Liberty app on the App Store, which includes notifications upon release of the latest issue and access to magazine archives going back to January 1995. The app has received nearly 2,300 downloads.
The last Founders’ Report described our efforts to build an online platform for instant, interactive broadcast of Acton University lectures and courses. In early November, we used the platform for something new: advocacy. In line with Acton’s promotion of religious liberty and conscience protection, we welcomed Mr. John C. Kennedy, CEO of Autocam Corporation and an Acton board member, for a talk on the HHS mandate. Kennedy, a devout Catholic, had sued the federal government, saying that his religious beliefs prevented him (and his business) from complying with orders to provide abortion-inducing drugs. Dozens of individuals “attended” the event, including attorneys, think tank representatives, university administrators, and local media representatives. The talk was followed by 30 minutes of lively Q+A.
A testament to Acton’s rising reputation, our digital following in 2012 ascended to record highs. In early December, our website surpassed one million unique visitors for the year, with web traffic 25% higher overall than in 2011. The reasons for this success are many: more and better PowerBlog posts, the release of the PovertyCure curriculum, and publicity made possible by Rev. Sirico’s Defending the Free Market. Also integral, of course, were supporters who eagerly shared our online material with their own networks via social media and e-mail. We look forward to continuing this forward momentum in 2013.
Our six-session PovertyCure DVD curriculum series, which champions personal initiative and entrepreneurship, continues to make a strong and encouraging impact. Recent promotional efforts via Family Talk Radio, WOOD Radio, WORLD Magazine, and RELEVANT Magazine have granted us access to literally hundreds of thousands of influential pastors and well-known churches. Many of these individuals and groups currently use the curriculum to great effect.
Since the beginning of 2013, PovertyCure personnel have attended conferences nationwide, screening the curriculum to nearly 14,000 students, pastors, and businesspeople. Many powerbrokers and thought-leaders at these conferences subsequently purchased the curriculum for their own schools and churches. As a result, the series is currently being used for educational purposes by Oral Roberts University, Catholic University of America, California Baptist University, Moody Bible Institute, The King’s College, and Aquinas College (MI), as well as churches throughout the Midwest, South, Northwest, and Canada.
Given the international scope of the PovertyCure curriculum, interest has been global as well. With help from the 250-member PovertyCure network, universities and organizations throughout Latin America and Africa are using the series to educate students and train employees. A recent re-release of the curriculum with French and Spanish subtitles has expanded the product’s appeal even further. Indeed, a professor from Universidad Francisco Marroquín (Guatemala) is currently showing the series to her “Development Theories” class, using it to fuel discussion about sound economics and integral human development.
Last year, one of our scholars promoted the curriculum at the Alleviating Poverty through Entrepreneurship Summit in Columbus, Ohio. Participants at the conference included some 2,000 nonprofit administrators, NGO representatives, professors, and students. One notable attendee was the executive director of Lighthouse Ministries, an organization outside Akron, Ohio that works to meet the cognitive, physical, and spiritual needs of at-risk children and families. In holidays past, the organization simply wrapped gifts and distributed them directly to children. After hearing about and watching PovertyCure, however, Lighthouse Ministries changed their model, creating a store for parents to buy gifts for their children at a reduced price. This arrangement incentivized parents to work, and afforded them the rich experience of providing for their children in a real and concrete way.
Finally, there are many creative people who agree with us on how to alleviate poverty. To recognize and encourage these individuals, we will hold the PovertyCure International Short Film Festival in New York City later this year. Filmmakers from around the world will compete for generous awards and publicity, submitting their documentaries, narrative films, and music videos that explore the central principles of PovertyCure. If you or anyone you know has interest in this unique opportunity, please click the link above for details.
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