The American Enterprise Institute’s Near-Death Experience

An SNF Agora Case Study

When poor management leaves a high-profile conservative think tank in near ruins, should the board declare bankruptcy and try to regroup? Or should they find $1.8 million to save it? What financial and strategic considerations should guide such an existential decision?

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Cover of AEI Case StudyWhen poor management leaves a high-profile conservative think tank in near ruins, should the board declare bankruptcy and try to regroup? Or should they find $1.8 million to save it? What financial and strategic considerations should guide such an existential decision?

This is a case about a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). While now widely recognized as the crown jewel of the conservative policy infrastructure, AEI’s status as a prominent player in the realm of think tanks was not always certain. This case explores a key period in AEI’s history, when its future as an intellectual hub for the conservative movement was very much in doubt, and examines the strategic choices made by members of its leadership ranks.

This case is appropriate for:

  • Nonprofit executives
  • Civil society leaders
  • College and graduate school students

By the end of this case study, you should be able to:

  • Learn about the competitive marketplace in which think tanks operate.
  • Learn about the role of think tanks in the conservative ecosystem.
  • Gain an understanding of the organizational, resource mobilization, and operational issues faced by think tanks and other policy-focused nonprofits.
  • Gain an appreciation for how institutional strength is never certain; institutions that are powerful today may be vulnerable tomorrow.
  • Analyze and discuss the strategic choices that confronted AEI’s leadership at a moment of organizational and financial crisis and apply your insights to other organizations.
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