A Donor’s Guide to Strategic Political Giving
Updated February 27, 2024
Many donors “panic-give” before an election, “rage-give” based on the news cycle, or “impulse-give” to glitzy candidates with big coffers, slim chances, and clever emails.
Fortunately, Movement Voter PAC exists as a “one-stop shop” for political donors who want to give in a more strategic, effective, streamlined way for maximum impact.
With early, sustained investment in local voter organizations, we can win elections, transform policy, and build political power that grows each year.
This short guide covers:
- Why Early + Sustained Giving?
- Why Local Organizing?
- Why Give Through MVP?
- How to Make Your Giving Plan
MVP advises donors to practice early and sustained giving, for the same reason financial advisors say to invest now in retirement and kids’ education: Compound interest. The earlier the investment, the greater the return.
Early money helps organizations:
- Staff up early on and then reap the ongoing benefits of a skilled, effective, experienced team, vs. scrambling to hire short-term workers each election.
- Scale up by creating repeatable structures and strategies that allow large numbers of volunteers to participate, become leaders, and recruit others.
- Level up by putting in place critical organizational infrastructure, from finance to development, legal, communications, and voter outreach systems.
Early money means robust, year-round operations.
Year-round organizing means more voter registrations, voter contact, and education; higher (and earlier) voter turnout; and better efforts to count every vote and to ensure and defend fair results.
What if we could reliably win durable majorities by multiple percentage points?
Think about Georgia. All those young voters and voters of color who won us the presidency in 2020 and the U.S. Senate races in 2021 and 2022? Years of local organizing did that.
Demographic shifts could turn states like Georgia, Arizona, North Carolina, and Texas blue in ten years, which would drastically shift the electoral map. But demographics are not destiny. To seize this opportunity, we need to invest — over multiple election cycles, not just every four years.
From “Boom and Bust” to “Build and Win” funding
When donors only give before big elections, multi-year organizing suffers. For example, the year after a presidential race, one group saw its budget drop 80% — from $5 million to just $1 million.
When we give organizations true financial stability and predictability, they can harness momentum and build on gains made, leading to more ambitious plans and greater electoral wins.
“Winning in the odd years is just as important as winning in the even years—in fact, it’s what we do in years like 2019, 2021, and 2023 that makes our work so effective in 2020, 2022, and 2024.”
— Kendra Cotton, CEO of New Georgia Project Action Fund
Elections are just the beginning of lasting change — not the end.
Ultimately, political giving is about creating a nation where every community can thrive. Elections are a means to an end. They set the conditions under which we can make progress.
Long-term change takes long-term investment.
In the long run, success looks like:
Durable governing majorities at every level of government.
Seismic shifts in public opinion fueled by locally-rooted, broad-based social movements.
Overwhelming public pressure for progressive policies, sustained by grassroots groups.
Transformative policy change by elected officials working in close “co-governance” with robust, year-round local organizations.
How do we achieve this? Sustained investment in year-round local organizing.
We know this works because we’re proving it in the states.
- In Minnesota, MVP partners helped win a trifecta in 2022 and immediately started enacting an almost dizzyingly vast progressive agenda. This didn’t just happen overnight; it was the result of a coordinated, decade-long organizing strategy by grassroots groups. Full story »
- In Michigan, MVP partners helped win the first Democratic trifecta in 40 years in 2022 and swiftly acted to repeal GOP laws and enact progressive legislation. This came only after years of organizing and a series of hard-won democratic reforms. Full story »
Traditional political giving isn’t working.
- Candidate campaigns are like sandcastles: After the election, candidate campaigns end payroll, pack their boxes, turn off the lights, and close up shop, leaving little behind… like sandcastles washed away with the tides.
- Quick-fix tactics like negative TV ads, spam emails, and robocalls hurt us in the long run, by eroding voter trust and reinforcing a purely transactional view of civic participation.
- Candidates only marginally shift turnout in the majority of cases, rather than growing or altering the electorate in a substantial or durable way.
Blue Tent, the widely-respected Democratic donor advising publication, makes this case eloquently in “The Problem with Giving to Political Candidates”:
“Elections are mainly decided by who’s voting, not who’s running — and thus, you’ll have the most impact by giving for organizing and GOTV work.
“[Political campaigns] are short-term operations that spend many of their resources on paid media and leave little behind. They’re not set up to engage deeply with people over time, which is how to change both political beliefs and civic behavior.”
Organizing drives turnout and power that lasts.
- Local organizers know their neighbors, and extensive research shows that “relational” outreach moves voters to action far more effectively than ads, robocalls, and mailings.
- Local issues motivate voters to turn out when they might otherwise tune out.
- Local organizers build bottom-up power that grows year-round, year after year.
Who has time to research hundreds of elections and local groups?
Think about this:
- There are hundreds of federal and down-ballot races in any given year.
- There are dozens of local organizations in any given state.
Who has the time (and expertise) to analyze political trends, find the key races, research the best groups, and constantly recalibrate their funding for maximum political impact?
This is where Movement Voter PAC comes in.
MVP is a one-stop shop for investing strategically in local organizations that win elections and transform policy. MVP:
- Does the research so you don’t have to.
- Maximizes your impact by investing in the best local voter engagement organizations.
- Streamlines your giving, operating like a “mutual fund for political donations.”
There is an additional benefit to streamlined investing: You can hit “unsubscribe” on all the political spam clogging your inbox.
Simply put, the MVP Model is to:
- Target the most pivotal places and races, both now and for the long term.
- Invest in the best local voter organizing groups, with a focus on youth, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color), LGBTQ+, and immigrant voters.
- Organize key voters who have the power to tip the scales.
- Win elections and transformative policy change at every level of government.
MVP’s State Advisor Team leads regional and state-level strategy, grantmaking, and movement-building across every region of the United States.
State Advisors are not your traditional “program officers” making grants from behind a computer screen: They are political experts and experienced organizers, carrying long-standing, trust-based relationships with leaders on the ground. In many cases, they have lived for years — sometimes most of their lives — in MVP’s top-tier political target states.
State Advisors operate based on locally-informed analysis, nuanced insights directly from our grantee partners, and a deep, lived sense of solidarity with our local partners and the communities they serve.
As a result, MVP is able to identify and invest in some of the most high-leverage leaders, organizations, elections, and geographies that might have otherwise been overlooked.
Funding enables organizations to do their work. Capacity building lets them achieve more with the resources they have. When funders invest in both, we get more impact per dollar.
The MVP Capacity Building Program sets a standard for excellence in political philanthropy, giving our local partners the tools, skills, and support to strengthen, sustain, and scale their work.
Our credo: Trust our grantees, ask what they need, and give them what they ask for.
As a direct result of our local grantee partners’ requests, our Capacity Building Team provides access to tech tools (as well as gap grants to cover costs); consultant support from executive coaching to voter targeting; training and coaching; and crisis support to prevent and address political violence, hacking, infiltration, and more.
Instead of only funding a few big-name organizations working in silos, MVP invests in a diversified “ecosystem” of groups within a state, working together to build lasting power.
To understand the value of this approach, consider this sports analogy:
If you want to win the championship — and not just once, but year after year — you don’t just support a single player; you invest in the whole team.
MVP takes a “State Ecosystem” investment approach for two main reasons:
- Different approaches for different voters. To effectively organize young voters, BIPOC voters, LGBTQ+ voters, immigrant voters, rural voters, and more, we need to invest in local groups they know and trust. Organizations that are of, for, and led by each unique constituency can conduct micro-targeted outreach, share highly tailored communications, and deploy culturally relevant programs.
- The state ecosystem is greater than the sum of its parts. By leveraging shared analysis, shared strategy, and shared resources, MVP grantee partners are able to think bigger, tell a bigger story of what’s possible, take on more ambitious campaigns, and achieve more long-lasting political power.
Through our “State Ecosystem” strategy, MVP:
- Gives seed funding to emerging groups who show great promise;
- Helps growing groups scale their operations;
- Ensures that established groups can sustain a prominent role in leveling up their state ecosystems.
MVP targets swing states, close races, and geographies that will be competitive over the long term. We invest up and down the ballot, from the presidency to local school boards, in order to build progressive power and durable majorities at every level of government.
We draw on in-depth political analysis and aggregated polling, coupled with insights from our regional and state advising teams. Each cycle, we weigh key races from the Presidency, US Senate seats, US House seats, state executive races, state chamber flip opportunities, local races, and ballot measure campaigns.
Targeting “Toss-Up” races is essential but not enough. If we want to ensure electoral wins now while growing long-lasting governing power, we need to invest in a wider electoral map.
“It is incredibly difficult to accurately predict which Congressional races will be the most competitive. In 2022, none of the top 10 races for outside spending were among the closest on election day.”
— Square One, “Power Brokers: An Analysis of Outside Democratic Spending in Close Congressional Races,” September 2023
We seek to play effective defense AND offense, by swinging “Toss-Up” races, fortifying vulnerable (“Lean and Likely” Democratic) races as an insurance policy, and expanding the electoral map to include “Lean and Likely” GOP races — to make immediate gains, and to ensure that in 5-10 years we are winning in places that today seem unthinkable.
Because our State Advisors are rooted in the local organizing networks we fund, they can rigorously vet, monitor, and ensure accountability with our local partners — while enabling them to think big, operate creatively, and organize most effectively. This means:
- Providing unrestricted funding, so groups can bring flexibility, focus, and creativity to making the most impact, instead of trying to reductively rationalize each budget line.
- Streamlining the grantmaking process, by removing unneeded administrative burdens that would hinder our partners’ ability to actually do their jobs.
- Fostering honest communication and mutual accountability, so that both MVP and our local partners can maximize learning, growth, and effectiveness.
Bottom-Up Strategy, Long-Term Power
Instead of imposing policy positions and priorities from the top down, we support our partners to pursue their own agenda from the bottom up. By focusing on the local issues people care about most, our partners give them a reason to vote — and to stay involved 365 days a year.
Rather than pushing groups to follow a prescribed set of strategies, we seek to enable them to follow, hone, and succeed in their own strategies. We believe that when funders follow the strategic leadership of organizers on the ground, we all win.
Every year, liberal donors give billions to traditional political campaigns — and hundreds of billions of dollars to charity. If we could redirect even a fraction of this money to local organizing, we could transform the political landscape and solve so many societal problems “upstream.”
MVP’s strategy for mobilizing unprecedented resources for local voter organizing is two-pronged:
- Offer best-in-class, pro-bono advising for major donors and philanthropic professionals, helping to craft giving plans tailored to specific places, constituencies, and issue areas.
- Build a movement of donors organizing their networks in support of MVP, our model, and the groups we fund. Donors are not only our clients but also our partners in this work.
The 50-25-25 Strategy takes away the guesswork.
- Set a two-year giving budget to support grassroots organizing. Dig deep. Then dig deeper. Identify the stretch you’d be proud to make.
- In odd-numbered years: Give 50% of your total budget as early as you can.
- In even-numbered years: Give 25% of your total budget in January, and the final 25% in April.
If every donor and funder were to take this approach, it would give grassroots groups the financial certainty needed to operate strategically and produce their best results.
How to decide how much to give?
There are some traditional steps you should take, such as talking with your significant other and/or consulting with your financial planner.
In addition, we suggest that you ask yourself:
- What can I give, so that I wake up the morning after the election with no regrets?
- What would I be proud to know that I contributed — no matter what happens?
What’s Your Next Step?
Sign the Early Giving Pledge
Join committed donors around the country in pledging to give big and give early to ensure a Blue Wave in 2024. Sign the Early Giving Pledge.
Make a Donation
To build a multi-racial, intergenerational, cross-class movement powerful enough to transform the politics of our country in a lasting way, we also need to build a movement of donors to transform the field of progressive political giving.
We invite you to join us by making a donation.
Gifts Over $5,000:
Our team of professional donor advisors can help you align your unique interests with a disciplined strategy for winning elections and building long-term power.
Evidence for the MVP Approach
A growing body of evidence supports the MVP approach. Here is a sampling.