Three Lessons for Civic Engagement Funders

The State Infrastructure Fund (SIF), a collaborative fund housed at NEO Philanthropy, supports networks of state-based organizations that engage historically underrepresented voters in the democratic process and protect their right to vote. For the past three years, SIF has commissioned voter engagement research and experiments from the Analyst Institute.

Findings from the Analyst Institute experiments have suggested a few broad guidelines for efficient (c)(3) civic engagement funding. SIF has embraced these best practices in the spirit of leading by example.

The following are three best practices that civic engagement funders should consider when making investments:

  1. Voter registration is key in presidential years. The civic engagement community significantly increased investments in voter registration in 2016, and test results show that it’s one of the most effective and scalable strategic investments for increasing voter mobilization, even in a presidential year. Voter registration should continue to be a wise investment going forward.
  2. Social Pressure works, and it works broadly. Even in the busy 2016 election atmosphere, social pressure stood apart from other mobilization tactics as a largely reliable tool for GOTV. Evidence shows that social pressure can be used effectively to also turn out historically disenfranchised communities.
  3. For the largest effects, look to quieter environments. Years of research taught us to expect that (c)(3) voter engagement in a presidential year would have relatively small effects on turnout, and those expectations were largely met. It remains a truism that to maximize impacts on turnout, (c)(3) funders should zig where others zag and look to quieter electoral environments, such as off-years and local races. The largest GOTV effects from 2016 were seen in states with sizable populations of historically disenfranchised communities that also were not presidential battleground states.

By educating ourselves, our grantees and other funders on best practices, we can continue to progress towards full democratic engagement.

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