Public, Society Benefit

Rio Grande Foundation

Liberty, Opportunity, Prosperity

Albuquerque, NM   |


The Rio Grande Foundation is a research institute dedicated to increasing liberty and prosperity for all of New Mexico’s citizens. We do this by informing New Mexicans of the importance of individual freedom, limited government, and economic opportunity.

Ruling year info



Mr. Paul J. Gessing

Main address

PO Box 40336

Albuquerque, NM 87196 USA

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Cause area (NTEE code) info

Public, Society Benefit - Multipurpose and Other N.E.C. (W99)

IRS filing requirement

This organization is required to file an IRS Form 990 or 990-EZ.

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Programs and results

What we aim to solve

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

New Mexico is a unique state in many ways. We live in one of the most desirable regions of the country, measured by explosive growth in surrounding states, yet we lag on nearly every measure of economic and population growth compared to our neighbors. We are the only majority-minority state in the country, with a large Hispanic population that traces its roots back before the Declaration of Independence in addition to one of the largest Native American populations in the country. One in three children in New Mexico live in poverty. The Rio Grande Foundation is the preeminent voice advocating for liberty and free market in New Mexico. As the currently entrenched interests in our State Government lean heavily towards progressivism, our mission consists of speaking truth to power and rallying our base of individual, small-dollar donors to oppose overreach and return our State to foundational free-market principles.

Our programs

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

What are the organization's current programs, how do they measure success, and who do the programs serve?

Tipping Point New Mexico

Tipping Point New Mexico is the official podcast of the Rio Grande Foundation that addresses public policy issues facing New Mexico, hosted by Paul Gessing, President of the Rio Grande Foundation, and Wally Drangmeister.

Population(s) Served

Where we work

Charting impact

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Five powerful questions that require reflection about what really matters - results.

What is the organization aiming to accomplish?

The path to prosperity for a state like New Mexico is a challenging one, but not without precedent. Historical experience has shown time and again that free markets founded on principles of property rights and rewards for entrepreneurship are profoundly effective tools for alleviating the burdens of poverty and enabling a more prosperous society. New Mexico’s problems of poverty and stagnation are made more difficult by the self-imposed limitations emanating from a well-entrenched progressive government intent on incentivizing dependence and government enrichment at the expense of private enterprise. The Rio Grande Foundation is proud to stand opposed to the embedded interests, and to always speak truth to power on behalf of the principles that made our country great. Because we are “punching upwards” in a strongly blue state, we rely heavily on individual donors to fund our operations. Our network of concerned citizens and allies across the state is broad, but we are fighting a grassroots battle against very entrenched opponents. As New Mexicoʼs only free market think tank, we fight many battles on the defensive, but celebrate the victories that the liberty movement here can achieve. The Foundationʼs successes have come as a result of the marriage of empirical research and grassroots engagement. Recent victories include defeating Santa Feʼs regressive soda tax, defeating this yearʼs Albuquerque Public Schools tax levy, and our heavy rotation in the New Mexico media calling for transparency in public school spending. The victory against Santa Feʼs soda tax came against stiff opposition from well-funded interest groups such as the Bloomberg Foundation and progressive Democrats in City Council and the Mayorʼs Office, and represented a grassroots pushback against government overreach. We view ourselves as an essential model for future activism, and see the Rio Grande Foundation as the preeminent voice in New Mexico advocating against big government paternalism.

The end goal from an organizational standpoint is to establish the Rio Grande Foundation as a thought leader at the center of a multistakeholder effort to advance the principles of liberty and school choice in New Mexico and, further, in surrounding and mutually intertwined regions in the Southwest. Full-time research and coalition-building efforts will build upon our existing authority as a prominent voice in New Mexico politics in general, while focusing on a specific area in which we truly believe it is possible to create change for the better. The resources, network access, and concentrated exposure will ensure future success for the Rio Grande Foundation in other related areas, setting a precedent for how we can “move the needle” on different issues that are important to the movement for liberty. We believe this program can help us gain focused competencies in coalition-building, government relations, and media creation. Secondary organizational goals include increased public exposure for the Foundation. Increased web traffic and other public exposure creates new opportunities for the Foundation in donor solicitation, conversion, and retention.

The Rio Grande Foundation has built up a reputation as a prominent voice in New Mexico public policy. Its established reputation as a non-partisan thought leader has developed a significant pre-existing platform to disseminate the Fellowʼs work to the public and policymakers. This earned media relationship has been valued by a third party, Meltwater, at over $600,000, the total earned media of the Foundation from January to June 2019. The Rio Grande Foundation is not large. We are an efficient, lean, fighting machine that moves astronomical weight with minimal resources. Paul Gessing is the Rio Grande Foundationʼs President. Prior to joining the Foundation, he led the lobbying efforts of the National Taxpayers Union, a respected taxpayer-advocacy organization in Washington, D.C. Mr. Gessing has published articles in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, the Albuquerque Journal, Barronʼs and several other major publications. He writes for and appears regularly in media outlets around New Mexico. He has also testified before Congress and a number of state and local bodies. Mr. Gessing graduated from Bowling Green State University in Ohio with a Bachelorʼs Degree in Political Science in 1997 and he received his Masterʼs in Business Administration from the University of Maryland in 2005. Leveraging the established relationships of the Foundation with in-state and out-of-state entities, the Foundation packs a wallop, with success stories to show for it. We invite you to read more about our impact and our capabilities here:

New Mexico is among the poorest states in the country. We are plagued with the lowest or near-lowest outcomes in primary education—despite the fact that we lead the Southwest region in spending per student. Progressive, big-government interests have been pouring money into our public schools but have been resistant to any real change in the way those schools operate. Transparency, accountability, and innovation have been stifled. Unsurprisingly to anyone outside the far left, spending massive amounts of money without real accountability has led to one of the most broken school systems in the country. Despite these issues, we believe that New Mexico represents the single greatest opportunity from a policy development perspective—and not just because the only way to go is up. We truly believe that what happens in New Mexico matters everywhere. We believe that New Mexico is Exhibit A of the “high cost of good intentions”—how progressive policies designed, in theory, to help the poorest among us end up disproportionately hurting low-income and minority citizens. We believe that reform to the education system, by following both established best practices, including school choice, and innovative programs, is the key to enhancing both the short-term and long-term welfare of those who can benefit most from improved education. New Mexico represents a rare opportunity from a policy development standpoint—an impoverished, progressive state ruined by its own policies, where there is a clear path upwards if the principles of liberty, choice, transparency, and accountability are followed. Our ultimate goal is to help every state become one in which the principles of school choice, liberty in education, and the best interests of families are at the forefront of educational design, and to ensure that families are strengthened and supported by public policy, not attacked or weakened. In fulfilling a dramatic improvement to the most basic tenet of educating our children, the Rio Grande Foundation will further the support of the study, defense, and practice of the individual initiative and ordered liberty that lead to prosperity, strong families, and vibrant communities.

The Foundation has been in business for 20 years as of 2020. Over that considerable stretch, we has won considerable victories for free-market principles and for liberty. Most recently, in May 2017 Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzalez’s proposed soda and sugary drinks tax went down to overwhelming defeat thanks in part to the educational efforts of the Rio Grande Foundation and its NoWaySantaFe campaign. The Foundation also played a prominent role in helping to defeat an October 2017 ballot measure in the City of Albuquerque that would have mandated that businesses offer paid sick leave to specifications put forth by City bureaucrats and politicians. The Rio Grande Foundation was a leading voice against a big property tax hike for Albuquerque Public Schools that was defeated in February 2019. In 2007, the Foundation, worked closely with the libertarian law firm, the Institute for Justice, and Gov. Richardson’s eminent domain task force and the Legislature, helped improve New Mexico’s eminent domain protections to make them among the strongest in the nation. Efforts of the Rio Grande Foundation led to dramatic improvements in transparency and openness in government. All legislative votes are now posted online and all floor debate is webcast. Cities and counties including Albuquerque and Rio Rancho and Bernalillo post payroll information online. Lastly, due to legislation passed in the 2011 session, information requests requested electronically must now be fulfilled electronically rather than forcing citizens to obtain costly and unwieldy printed documents. In 2015, the Rio Grande Foundation and a bipartisan coalition pushed for reform of New Mexico’s civil asset forfeiture laws. The Legislation passed both Houses of the Legislature unanimously and was signed by Gov. Martinez. The law received widespread national attention and resulted in New Mexico being THE national leader in reforming civil asset forfeiture. We invite you to read more about our impact here:


Rio Grande Foundation

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The people, governance practices, and partners that make the organization tick.


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Connect with nonprofit leaders


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Rio Grande Foundation

Board of directors
as of 5/13/2020
SOURCE: Self-reported by organization
Board chair

Mr. Paul Gessing

Evan Jones

Ben Alaimo-Monson

Barbara Bruin

Tom Mullins

Lisa Shin

Board leadership practices

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

GuideStar worked with BoardSource, the national leader in nonprofit board leadership and governance, to create this section.

  • Board orientation and education
    Does the board conduct a formal orientation for new board members and require all board members to sign a written agreement regarding their roles, responsibilities, and expectations? Yes
  • CEO oversight
    Has the board conducted a formal, written assessment of the chief executive within the past year ? Yes
  • Ethics and transparency
    Have the board and senior staff reviewed the conflict-of-interest policy and completed and signed disclosure statements in the past year? Yes
  • Board composition
    Does the board ensure an inclusive board member recruitment process that results in diversity of thought and leadership? Yes
  • Board performance
    Has the board conducted a formal, written self-assessment of its performance within the past three years? Yes

Organizational demographics

SOURCE: Self-reported; last updated 01/23/2020

Who works and leads organizations that serve our diverse communities? GuideStar partnered on this section with CHANGE Philanthropy and Equity in the Center.


No data

Race & ethnicity

Gender identity


Sexual orientation

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advocacy, free market, economics, politics, public policy