AARP and AARP Services, A Multi-Sector Approach to Social Change

By James Phills, Brian Tayan
2007 | Case No. SI91 | Length 23 pgs.
In 2006, AARP was one of the largest, most well known nonprofit organizations in the United States. Its membership base exceeded 38 million individuals, by far the largest nonprofit membership base in the country. In recent years, it had influenced major federal legislation on issues including Medicare, Social Security, and pension reform through a coordinated effort of professional lobbyists and grassroots volunteers numbering close to 1 million. In addition, AARP Services Inc, the organization’s wholly owned, taxable (earned income activities) subsidiary, managed relationships with AARP-endorsed businesses that generated over $500 million in royalties from health insurance, life insurance, mutual funds, and other products—making it one of the largest social enterprises in the country. With activities in the commercial, charitable, and political arenas, AARP had adopted a truly cross-sector approach to achieving its mission to “enhance the quality of life for all as we age.” Despite its size, influence, and visibility, AARP felt the public did not fully appreciate or understand the organization. . In the face of growing public interest and media fascination with the application of business practices and market principles in the social sector—under the rubric of social entrepreneurship —AARP received relatively little attention from journalists, thought leaders, and academics for its enterprising approach. The organization also faced a public relations challenge over the fundamental principles of its cross-sector model. Left unchecked, AARP knew that such allegations, regardless of their validity, could undermine its ability to achieve its long term goals. The organization also faced competitive challenges and the problem of increasing internal cooperation and synergy across the entire organization in order to improve its competitiveness and execute its social impact and member value agendas.
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