July 14, 2011; Source: Washington Post | Do you want to read a very powerful case study about nonprofit advocacy? The Sunday magazine of the Washington Post has a 3,900 word profile of Gustavo Torres and his organization, CASA of Maryland. NPQ first talked with Torres when we did a special issue of our print magazine focused on nonprofit roles in response to the needs of immigrants, both documented and undocumented. 

Torres left his native Columbia in the late 1980s when his brother was killed by unnamed, but clearly political assailants. After some time in Nicaragua, Torres came to Washington, D.C. with this then wife, an American working in a public health project in Managua. In 1991, CASA (then called Central American Solidarity and Assistance) hired Torres to organize day laborers. 

Not all that long afterwards, Torres became CASA’s executive director. At that time the organization had a $500,000 budget and 5 staff. Today, CASA is a $6 million operation with 65 staff plus another 30 part-time English teachers. About half of CASA’s budget comes from government sources, which riles its Republican critics, led by Delegate Pat McDonough, to no end. But the other half comes from member dues and corporations and foundations such as the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Open Society Institute-Baltimore, Bank of America, Wachovia Bank and Citgo.

CASA’s most recent success was to get the Maryland Legislature to pass a state version of the DREAM Act, although McDonough is trying to get an initiative on the ballots to overturn it. Now Torres faces questions about whether CASA’s organizing and advocacy success in Maryland should be replicated through a national expansion. Whether one supports or opposes some of CASA’s immigrant rights agenda, there is no question that the story of Gustavo Torres is one that demonstrates the impact of successful advocacy.—Rick Cohen