March 16, 2017 by Seth Flaxman
Photo by justgrimes on Flickr.
I am a bit biased. Democracy Works would not exist without Knight Foundation taking a bet on us in 2012, but I believe that its continued support for our work at this moment in history will directly strengthen democracy. We’ve committed to raising an additional $2.2 million to match Knight's funding; signaling the need for more organizations, more companies, more foundations, and more people to get behind this goal.
Yet, the big lesson I want to underline a thousand times with this new announcement is the way Knight has embraced the full strategy of our organization, not just a specific project or program. We’re not a traditional nonprofit organization, and our work often doesn’t fit neatly into any clearly defined program bucket.
The mission of Democracy Works is to modernize voting for the way we live now. Our vision is to become the digital connective tissue for a 21st century American democracy. We want to connect citizens to the atomic unit of a democracy: their vote. We don’t simply aim to help someone participate in a particular election; we want them to become a voter who sees participation in every election as core to their personal identity.
February 22, 2012 by Seth Flaxman
Knight Foundation is helping TurboVote, which aims to make the voting process as easy as renting from Netflix, expand into new communities and develop its platform. The funding is part of a series of Knight grants that support new ways to deepen Americans’ engagement in elections and foster more informed communities.
Co-Founder Seth Flaxman talks about the effort:
Our democracy is in trouble. The United States ranks 138th in voter participation – behind every major democracy, according to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.
As a grad student, I was on my way to contributing to the problem when I missed three elections in a row. I figured it was easier to build TurboVote, a platform that simplifies the voting process, than to find a printer and stamp to change my registration and then keep track of when local elections were taking place.
Looking back two years later, it turned out that TurboVote was sort of hard to build - but I'm still glad we did it.
August 1, 2014 by Seth Flaxman
This article is cross posted with permission from Democracy Fund.
Back in January of 2012, TurboVote had one partner school, our first grant had only just come in, and I was struggling with how to run payroll for the first time. That month I hired a dynamic young organizer, Sam Novey, on one condition: fly to Miami for two weeks with no travel budget and get three colleges that are a little bit interested in TurboVote signed on as partners. Over a dozen trips to Florida later, we’ve come a long way.
Last month, Senator Bob Graham announced in front of a packed audience of student affairs professionals from across the country that Florida was now “leading the charge” with 38 colleges and universities from across the state institutionalizing voter engagement with the help of TurboVote. He was sharing some breaking news. The Florida College System (FCS) had just announced a new partnership with TurboVote to bring our tool to 27 state and community colleges—making this is the first system-wide project of the FCS Civic Literacy Initiative, which aims to make civic engagement part of the experience of all 850,000 students enrolled in the system.
Bringing this partnership to life required some serious teamwork. Our first few Florida colleges were all introduced to us through the Knight Foundation. Funding from Knight and the Democracy Fund helped us keep a team of talented organizers focused on this opportunity for over a year, and funding from the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions at St. Petersburg College is what made the whole FCS expansion ultimately possible.
May 2, 2013 by Seth Flaxman
It was just over a year ago, in February of 2012, that Knight approved our first grant and introduced me to President Padrón at Miami Dade College, a great institution that would become TurboVote’s second college partner. It’s hard to believe how far we’ve come since then. In less than a year we picked up nearly 90 partners nationwide (with many thanks to the program directors in the Knight Resident Communities who helped), reached over 190,000 individual voters, had our work covered in the New York Times, Mashable, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and 102 other news stories (81 in college publications) and brought in $319,000 of earned revenue, approximately 30 percent of TurboVote’s budget.
Now, because of a new three-year $1 million grant from Knight we can reach out to hundreds of additional colleges partners while also starting to serve government, the first step toward modernizing voting for all Americans. Equally important, by 2015 we’ll have signed up enough new partners that we’ll be financially sustainable—entirely supported by the colleges, nonprofits and local governments that cover the costs associated with serving their communities.
Working with colleges and nonprofit organizations is our core. With the continued backing of such an awesome foundation, we can expand our work to help nonprofits and colleges use technology to engage their communities in voting. But to truly modernize the voting experience for all Americans, it is imperative that we partner with governments and build technology that will empower the public servants doing the hard work of actually running elections. We have to engage the Leslie Knopes out there.
March 4, 2015 by Seth Flaxman
Voters waiting in line. Photo by Flickr user redagainPatti.
Seth Flaxman is co-founder and executive director of Democracy Works.
Innovation is at the heart of Democracy Works, a civic tech nonprofit I co-founded five years ago to make voting easier. As Democracy Works grew, creating partnerships with funders that shared our vision became increasingly important. Working with Knight Foundation has been a perfect example of how funders and grantees can grow and learn together as we seek to achieve transformational impact.
This week, Democracy Works announced $1,000,000 in support from Knight Foundation and $400,000 from the MacArthur Foundation for our second round of fundraising, which began in late 2014. Because of their support, we’re on track to become financially sustainable and can continue building innovative technology that helps Americans more actively engage in our democracy.