As gun control debates once again resurface across the country, I want to provide some perspective on one small sliver of the discussion. Though I have little to offer to the main areas of contention, I do think it is worth revisiting the pervasive view that the National Rifle Association (NRA) is an unstoppable financial behemoth. (This view has even made its way to The Onion.) Though it certainly may exercise influence on the discussion, the NRA's strength cannot be attributed solely to its financial backing.
To illustrate, consider the following national nonprofit membership organizations for comparison: AARP; American Chemical Society (ACS); National Association of Realtors (NAR); and the United States Golf Association (USGA). These are clearly a diverse set of organizations – what they share is nonprofit status, a nationwide membership base, and a heavy reliance on membership dues and/or other programming fees for revenue (actually, AARP and NRA are the two which are also 501(c)(4) organizations so probably represent the most apples-to-apples comparison).
First, consider a comparison of annual revenues from the organizations' most recent financial filings. This gives a sense of scale of annual operations.
Clearly, the NRA is far from small, with revenues over $300 million; yet, it also does not stand out as outsized relative to others. In this vein, consider also the net assets of the organizations. This gives a sense of retained wealth that the organization can use moving forward.
Thus, unlike some of the others, the NRA's finances are notably driven by year-to-year revenues rather than a built-up financial cushion or endowment.
Are we to interpret these facts as meaning the NRA's influence is overstated? Perhaps not, but it does indicate that the organization is not as large or flush with cash as critics and supporters alike seem to think it is.