CEO Update: This email contains nothing but good news, friends

Debra Cleaver here, founder and CEO of VoteAmerica. Every so often I send an email update to everyone in my work contacts. There are about 4000 contacts, and almost all are people I know personally. Apparently these emails are fun to read. So in the interest of spreading joy, I’m going to cross post these emails on our Medium. If you’d like to receive these emails, just shoot me an email at my work address. If you don’t have my work address, well, one day we will be friends and then you will have it. 

Sent: August 31, 2020
Subject: This email contains nothing but good news, friends.

Photo by Elliott Stallion on Unsplash

Hey friends.

It’s been entirely too long since I sent an email to my friends, and this email is an attempt to fix that. It’s a mass email, but it only goes to my work contacts. And since work is the only email account I use, it’s safe to say that you are in my contacts because we’re real-life friends, and we have emailed each other at some point. If that’s not the case, or you just hate email in general, feel free to unsubscribe. There’s a link in the footer, and it’s bright red so you can’t miss it.

There are two reasons you haven’t heard from me in about a year:

  1. I’ve been heads-down building VoteAmerica
  2. I haven’t left my house since March due to this pandemic. They’re related because competent executive leadership would have contained this epidemic months ago.

But this email contains only good news, so let’s focus on VoteAmerica.

VoteAmerica is hot like fire:

  • I took about two months off after the debacle and then went right back to work. We quietly incorporated VoteAmerica in November 2019. It was just me and Jordan James Harvill for a few weeks, and then we added Nick Catalano and Daniel McCarthy. Nick and Daniel both left the Biden campaign because that campaign was “wrapping up.” (It was 2019 — things were different then.)
  • The VoteAmerica team is now at 24 full time, paid employees. The team contains alums from 14 different presidential campaigns, and lord knows how many down ballot-campaigns.
  • We only hire folks with campaign experience, because people who work on campaigns are insane (in a good way). Normal people expect their onboarding period to last weeks, if not months. Campaign people consider themselves onboarded after the first day and old-timers after the first week. This isn’t anyone’s first rodeo, and it shows in the quality of the work, and the speed at which we deliver.
  • Our numbers are as hot as our team. We have over 11,000 individual donors, who have chipped in over $6 million dollars so far. Our email list is at 800,000 and our opted-in SMS list is at 500,000, and both are growing by leaps and bounds. And we’ve launched some really great partnerships, including with MyMove and CreditKarma. These two partnerships alone will help us reach millions of voters who might otherwise not receive any encouragement to vote.

We built a full-suite of voter turnout tools, and you can use them to power your work:

  • Our first hires were technologists. This isn’t because technology solves problems, but because technology scales solutions. And the solution to increasing turnout is making it possible for voters to actually cast ballots.
  • We built a mess of tools to power our programs. The tools help folks check their registration status, register to vote, request a mail-in ballot, sign up for election reminders, finding their polling place, and contact their Local Election Office.
  • You can see all of the tools on our home page:
  • The tools are open-source, because proprietary technology is no way to run a democracy. You can see the code here:
  • The tools are also secure. We just paid for a $50,000 third-party security review, because we take security seriously. And we passed this review with flying colors because are not messing around.
  • You can embed these tools in your website with a single line of code per tool. If you don’t care about the data that comes in via your instance of the tools, grab the embed code here:
  • If you do care about the data, you’re going to want to sign up for our premium tools. Learn more here:
  • Because we’re not capitalists, the premium tools are 100% free for other C3s. So if you’re running a non-partisan voter turnout effort, go sign up for the premium tools. They are free for you.
  • If you run any sort of partisan effort, just talk to us. We can’t “give” you the tech because the IRS would interpret that as VoteAmerica donating to you, and that is a big no-no. But the tools are worth the $2k a month we will charge you in that they will save you the million or so a year we spend developing and maintaining them.

All of our election data is available via our Election Information API:

  • Whatever data you want, we probably have it. Precise voter registration, vote by mail, early voting deadlines? We have those. Voter registration and vote by mail rules? We have those. Voter ID laws? Yep, we have those.
  • We have 90+ data points per state, and they are available via API for you to ingest and surface on your website.
  • This data is rigorously fact-checked and entirely up-to-date. We’re all over this data, so you don’t have to be.
  • Learn more about the API here:

We’re running 5 large scale programs this year:

  1. Voter registration. largely via peer-to-peer SMS and MMS (MMS are texts with images). Some of you may remember that I was the first person in America to buy millions of cell phone numbers and hire texters to contact voters. If not, here’s a dorky video of me pitching this at YC demo day, way back in the halcyon days of August 2016: I predicted at the time that this tactic would be a dominant tactic by 2020. I suppose I should apologize for popularizing this, but it works well. Also, there’s a pandemic right now, so registering people to vote in person is kind of off the table…
  2. Vote by mail recruitment. While there are many overnight experts in the vote-by-mail space, I’ve been working on vote by mail (VBM) since 2008 when I launched Long Distance Voter. Suddenly my super-nerdy and obscure voting interest is all the rage. Which is awesome, since VBM reduces costs and increases turnout in the long run. But in the short run, this is kind of a worst-case scenario. Folks are confused AF about what to do. So we’re launching a large-scale VBM recruitment drive, to help folks sign up for VBM using our tool. Once they use our tool, they’ll receive a series of email and text follow-ups that guide them through the process. VBM isn’t hard, it’s just new, and VBM rookies will make rookie mistakes (like forgetting to sign their ballots). But we’re not rookies, and we will help.
  3. Vote by mail chase. VBM ballots are counted as long as they’re received on time. But so many folks miss the deadline. “Chase” is a technical term for harassing the heck out of voters to make sure they get their ballots in on time. And due to the partisan attack on the USPS, we’re recommending the people hand-deliver their mail-in ballots. Don’t worry: we have the addresses for all 10,000 local election offices right here.
  4. Election Day Registration. There are 21 states that let you register to vote on Election Day as long as you show proper ID. 21! That’s such a big number. And this year we will be running an outreach campaign in those states letting folks know it isn’t too late to register to vote. I’ve always wanted to run an Election Day Registration campaign, and this year we will make it happen.
  5. Post-election GOTV. This will be our final and most important program. With record numbers of people voting by mail this year, there will be record numbers of folks who need to follow up and make sure their ballots were counted. A shocking number of ballots are rejected because people forget to sign the outside envelopes. In an ideal world, the Local Election Office is supposed to call you and let you know, but 2020 is far from ideal and the LEOs aren’t actually prepared for the record number of mail-in ballots. So we are going to proactively contact voters in key states, give them the contact info for their clerks, and help them follow up so they can fix issues with their ballots. In most states you have a full week to do this. The process is called “ballot curing” and it’s more important this year than ever before.

How can you help?

  • The number one thing you can do at this point is make a tax-deductible donation. We’ve got the team, the tools, and the plan, now we need more capital so we can scale. Our programs are smart, battle-tested, and high ROI. No one reaches more voters per dollar spent than VoteAmerica. Right now we are raising money primarily for P2P voter registration. It costs us about 60 cents to reach out to an unregistered voter multiple times, and we have millions of cells we can buy and then text. This program works, it’s affordable, and it’s time sensitive. Also it works, which is the most important thing. Voter registration numbers are down this year due to the pandemic, and this is how we’re going to bring them back up again.
  • If you’re wondering how much to give, you should give until it hurts almost as much as the past 4 years have hurt. Giving will make you feel better, promise.
  • Here’s the donate link:
  • We also take stock, if that’s easier. If you transfer stock to us, you get to write off the full value of the stock without selling and paying capital gains taxes, and we in turn get to liquidate the full value of the stock. It’s a win all around.
  • The other thing you can do is volunteer as a texter! We’re going to take volunteers this year, because we hired Brenna Cully. Brenna managed 1400 volunteers for Andrea Yang’s campaign. I’ll send around the signup sheet shortly.

There’s more to say, but Justin Jones (Director of Fundraising) yells at me if my emails go over 1500 words.


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