When I left LinkedIn to take time off, I began thinking about where to focus my civic energies to help reboot the US political system. I decided to spend time focusing on increasing our voting rates with the belief that higher voting rates will solve most of our political ills. I became especially interested in youth voting rates because they have been steadily decreasing, and I felt reversing this trend is a way to impact and strengthen our democracy both in the short and long term.
After many conversations and a lot of research, I discovered that the declining voting rates in the young populace was due to two fundamental issues that can be summarized simply: 1) voting basically sucks, particularly for the young population that grew up online, and 2) the reasons to vote aren’t resonating, especially within minority populations, so there’s no desire to overcome issue 1.
The strategy became simple — figure out how to make voting a better experience, and do a better job communicating why voting is so important so everyone wants to vote.
Step one was to find organizations who are doing a good job of solving the two issues. While there are a ton of organizations doing great work in the space, there is one that has been doing it longer and has registered more young voters over the years than any of the others combined: Rock the Vote. In talking to Carolyn DeWitt, their Executive Director and board members such as Frank Smith, it became clear that they have the passion, skills and ability to execute to make a huge difference in driving the youth vote.
In 2016 alone, they accomplished some incredible feats:
- Turned out Rock the Vote registrants at 81% (more than 30 points higher than national average for 18-34 age group), and nearly 60% of those were first time voters
- Provided online voter registration tool to more than 900 partners at no cost and
processed more than 1.7 million registration applications
- Sent more than 20 million emails and 12 million text messages to voters
- Provided nearly 4 million voters with election information on the rockthevote.org website
- Highlighted voting rights in an election eve online town hall reaching more than 1 million voters
They have attained huge scale, but in my opinion they were still missing one key element – sustainability. As a non-profit, they have historically been an organization that has raised money and executed in each cycle, but has never built a sustainable, scalable business that would reduce the need to raise money, and allow funds raised to go further.
I suggested a more sustainable model to Carolyn, and she immediately agreed, and then asked me to help them by joining the board and working on the plan with them. I said yes, and am thrilled to help an organization that has been as impactful as Rock the Vote get to the next level.
Carolyn and team have spent the last few months building the strategy and plan, and it is even more exciting than I had envisioned. Rock the Vote is going to become a self-sustaining organization by focusing on its core strengths and adding the “flywheel” of a business model that incorporates:
- Youth voice research and content creation to become the leader in understanding and communicating with young voters of all backgrounds
- Corporate civic responsibility and brand consulting to help companies engage their employees and talk to their young customers more effectively
- Technology innovation and implementation to make youth voter registration more automated and scalable
All three of these initiatives will build on each other to dramatically increase the already significant impact that Rock the Vote can deliver.
Based on the research I have done, I believe this is one of the best ways you can support strengthening our democracy by directly impacting 2018 elections and beyond. Help us get Rock the Vote to the next level of impact by getting youth voters engaged and voting: Click here to support the cause!
And make sure you register to VOTE in 2018!