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Sending Up the Bat Signal
An Urgent Message for Progressive and Democratic Donors
This is an abridged version of a 9,000-word memo to the progressive funding community. Read the full memo here.
Supporter Resources: At the very bottom you’ll find press clippings and ways to spread the word.
🚨 Progressive giving has plummeted and we risk a MAGA takeover in 2024.
🤩 We've won so much since 2020. We can't give up now.
⏰ 2024 will be razor-close, and pivotal for everyone alive and future generations.
🤯 Local voter organizing is key, because elections are won by who votes vs. who runs.
💸 What do we do? Give big and give early to grassroots voter organizing.
Dear Colleagues in Progressive Philanthropy,
I’m sending up the Bat Signal. The bad news: We have a five-alarm fire going into 2024. The good news: We can save the country and usher in a new Progressive Era.
I’m worried about two things:
In November 2024, the fate of our country, democracy, climate, and our kids’ futures will be determined by a few thousand votes in a handful of states.
Donations to progressive organizations are way down across the board. In the 2019-2020 and 2021-2022 election cycles, donors gave like our lives depended on it. This hasn’t happened yet. As a result, progressive electoral groups are struggling, and the problem is getting worse.
This is an open letter to progressive donors — large and small —to address this funding drought in advance of 2024, before it becomes a Canada-sized wildfire that burns down our progressive organizing infrastructure.
I also see a giant glimmer of hope. Read on.
Executive Director, Movement Voter PAC
The Funding Drought
A few weeks ago, I spoke with an Executive Director from a well-respected organization in a battleground state. The organization, which has an excellent track record, hit an unexpected funding shortfall, and would have to lay off its entire staff in the coming month unless they raised over a hundred thousand dollars.
I’ve gotten more than a dozen calls recently from leaders describing desperate situations: painful layoffs, program cuts, and Executive Directors going without pay or burning out.
2022 saw a historic drop in US charitable giving (10.5% after inflation), continuing in 2023, especially for political organizations. This is happening across the progressive movement, even for groups working on hot-button issues like LGBTQ and reproductive rights.
The funding shortfall of 2023 is a danger to the entire progressive organizing ecosystem – like an extended nationwide drought. If we don’t get rain soon, we could have a massive wildfire burn through the progressive sector over the next few months, leaving us dangerously weakened going into 2024.
How much money would stem the drought? $100-300 million, deployed strategically to grassroots voter engagement groups for the remainder of 2023, would go a long way.
Yes, that’s a lot of money. But in the 2020 cycle, the Democratic side spent over $7 billion. And that’s just political money — billions also flowed in tax-deductible donations.
Every year, Americans donate $500 billion to charity. At least half of that amount comes from Democratic-leaning donors. If these donors shifted 1-2% of their charitable donations to encourage greater voter participation and protect our electoral system, the field would have $5-10 billion a cycle.
The. Money. Is. There.
The bat signal doesn’t mean hope is lost. It means help is needed. I know progressive donors are up for this challenge, because we’ve accomplished so much together already.
We Have Already Won SO Much
Trump’s election in 2016 was a wake-up call like no other. In 2017, we won every special election, flipping the Virginia House of Delegates, and winning a Senate seat in Alabama. In 2018, we flipped the House, won eight contested governorships, flipped six state chambers, and picked up more than 300 state legislative seats.
In 2020, progressive donors went all out. Our massive investments of time, money, and community-based grassroots organizing paid off. Authoritarian regimes are difficult to beat, and we did it anyway. Then we did something even more improbable: On January 5th, 2021, we won a double Senate runoff in Georgia — back when Democrats never won Georgia runoffs — securing a federal trifecta.
We also elected the most diverse and progressive Democratic Congress ever. The Progressive Caucus, which was practically a non-entity as recently as six years ago, is now the largest caucus in Congress. Because of these victories, we were able to pass hundreds of billions of dollars for clean energy and trillions in family-supporting policies that cut child poverty in half.
At the state and local levels, everywhere we have invested deeply and consistently, organizers have achieved victories that seemed out of reach a few years ago, from clean energy to voting rights, abortion, and more.
We wouldn’t have won all this without more than 1,000 local, largely unsung progressive and community organizations — and the donors who support them.
These organizations are the “essential workers” and “first responders” of our democracy: Day after day, local organizers fight injustice, heal the wounds of our communities, and patiently plant the seeds and till the soil of voter turnout.
We have come so far. This is not the time to let up.
By the early 2030s, fossil fuels will be on their way out. Super-progressive younger generations (Millennials, Gen Z, and the beginning of Generation Alpha!) will make up a majority of the electorate, with voters of color growing in power. If we invest in organizing them over the next five election cycles, we can cement a durable Senate majority.
We can mitigate the worst gerrymandering by either 2025 or 2031 (see MVP’s 2024 plan). We can grow a Democratic Supermajority in the House. We can gain an “electoral lock” on the Presidency. If we can hold the Presidency and Senate, we can make the GOP a minority within the judiciary (including the Supreme Court). And we can win Blue Trifectas in close to 30 states, representing at least 70% of the US population.
The single biggest factor in our success over the next ten years? How well we perform in 2024.
Why it All Comes Down to 2024
Due to the climate crisis, geopolitical megatrends, and tough Senate odds in 2026-2030, the outcomes of the 2024 elections will reverberate for decades, if not centuries.
The Worst Case Scenario: MAGA Trifecta
It’s hard to imagine Trump could be President again. But it was hard to imagine in 2016. We underestimate him at our peril. If Trump wins, the GOP will likely win Congress too, due to correlated voting patterns. With a MAGA trifecta, all bets are off. An alliance of 70 right-wing organizations is already creating a blueprint called Project 2025, to enact an autocratic governing plan for Trump’s first 180 days. Trump’s attempts to attack democratic institutions, cling to power, and incite political violence are all documented steps on the path to autocracy and, yes, fascism.
We can’t afford to treat this as just another election.
The Next Worst Scenario: MAGA Gridlock
The next worst scenario is that Biden squeaks through, but we fail to flip the House, and/or Democrats lose the Senate – which is on a knife’s edge.
In this scenario, the country will be essentially ungovernable. A MAGA Congress will launch investigations, shut down the government to force austerity, and make it nearly impossible for the president to appoint anyone or do anything.
The 2026 midterms are unlikely to bring relief. The Senate map is so structurally biased that if Democrats lose Senate control in 2024, it will take multiple cycles to win it back.
The Mediocre Scenario: A Toothless Trifecta
In this scenario, we elect Biden, barely hold a 50-50 Senate, and win the narrowest possible majority in the House. The situation would be like the 2021-2022 legislative session, in which Democrats nominally had a trifecta, with a single conservative Democrat in the House or Senate able to hold the process hostage.
One of the worst things about this scenario is that lack of results could depress Democratic turnout in 2026, enabling the GOP to sweep a heavily-favored Senate map.
The Amazing Scenario: Blue Wave + Bold Trifecta
In the Amazing Scenario, we win the Presidency and enough of a governing majority in the Senate and House to pass transformative legislation on climate, voting rights, abortion rights, and so much more. This is the scenario worth fighting for. We have a very narrow path, as with the 2021 Georgia runoffs and all the 2022 midterms. The Amazing Scenario is a narrow path — but possible.
The Amazing Scenario in 2024 wouldn’t solve all our problems, but it would be an enormous leap forward. Potentially the biggest in our lifetimes.
That is our Giant Glimmer of Hope.
The Future We Can Choose
Like it or not, we will be living in one of the above scenarios soon. Each probably has a 20-50% chance, depending on the day. And here’s the good and bad news: A small number of votes separates the Amazing Scenario from the others. We have to assume 2024 will come down to mere thousands of votes – or hundreds. To refresh everyone’s memory:
In 2016, Trump won by less than 78,000 votes.
In 2020, Biden won by less than 43,000 votes.
In 2022, Republicans captured the House by 6,675 votes.
In 2016-2022, Democrats won two Senate races by a total of 10,034 votes (Dems currently have a two-seat Senate majority).
In a country of 340 million, margins this close are unusual in historical terms. How could something so important be determined by such a small, arbitrary group of people?
To invoke a metaphor from basketball: the 2024 election is a “jump ball” for the future of humanity. Ethno-Autocracy vs. Multi-Racial Democracy. Fossil Fuel Rule vs. Climate Renewal. Which team will win? Whichever team puts their money where their mouth is.
The last time we saw anything close to these margins was in the 1800s during Reconstruction, when the electorate was one-twentieth the size.
If you were a time-traveling activist, looking for a time and place where your efforts might be most likely to make the greatest historical-level impact, the United States in the 2024 election cycle would be an incredibly strategic time and place to park your time machine, hop out, roll up your sleeves, and get to work.
Joe Biden Is Not Going To Save Us
2024 should be ours to lose. In 2016, Trump lost the popular vote by nearly three million votes. In 2020, he lost by more than seven million.
Based on demographic trends, all things being equal, Trump should lose the popular vote in 2024 by more than ten million votes. But because of the Electoral College, the final outcome will be determined by the seven closest states, with likely margins of less than 1%.
If Democratic turnout or performance dips even slightly, due to lessened enthusiasm or the siren call of third-party candidates, we could be totally screwed. Enthusiasm — one way or another — will be the deciding factor.
Obviously, this should spur us to action — like swerving back into your lane when you realize you’re on the wrong side of the road and a truck is coming at you.
We know most voters are not showing signs of feeling motivated by either Joe Biden or Kamala Harris. This is why trusted local organizations will be all-important in 2024: to fill the inspiration vacuum and give millions of sporadic and skeptical Democratic-leaning voters a reason to vote and the motivation to volunteer (when the candidates do not).
A Simple Math Problem?
There are tens of millions of registered, Democratic-leaning voters who may not vote in 2024. This is a fixable problem. On some level, it’s a math problem. It costs hundreds of millions of dollars to pay tens of thousands of staff who train and manage tens of thousands of people to talk to tens of millions of voters (which will increase their Democratic performance rates on average by “X” percent), which in turn will yield the margin of victory.
Simple math! But not so simple because there are so many unknown variables in the equation.
We won’t know beforehand exactly how close the margin of victory is going to be, nor in precisely which combination of states. And we can’t predict the precise impact of our turnout and persuasion efforts in each scenario, and therefore how many additional tens or hundreds of millions of dollars we will need to tip the closest races.
What Do We Do Now?
So where do we go from here? What do we *do* about all this? The #1 solution to the problem of dehydrated organizations: Make it rain.
Step 1: Give Big
The most impactful thing you can do right now is to make a bold giving plan. Period.
Making a giving plan doesn’t need to be complicated. Ask yourself: What can I give, so that I wake up the morning after the 2024 election with no regrets?
If you’re feeling stuck, think of one friend you can buddy up with. Hop on the phone. Break bread. Make a plan, and support each other to follow through. Also, feel free to reach out to us at MVP (or any of Blue Tent’s other strongly-recommended electoral groups) to help think through what to do and how to make it happen.
Step 2: Give Early
Think about Georgia. All those young voters and voters of color who swung the state in 2020, again in 2021, and again in 2022? Grassroots organizing did that, and it took over a decade of work — not just the mad dash in the last few months.
Staff up: Retain skilled, experienced staff.
Scale up: Recruit leaders and build an engaged, galvanized, durable constituency.
Level up: Build organizational infrastructure, from digital tools to voter data.
Change policy: Frame the agenda, shift public opinion, and win tangible victories on key issues, thus giving people a reason to stay involved.
Here is a simple plan of action that takes away the guesswork:
Set your 2023-2024 giving budget to support grassroots organizing. Dig deep. Then dig deeper. Identify the stretch you’d be proud to make.
By Fall 2023: Give 50% of your budget, as early as possible.
By March 2024: Give the next 25%.
By July 2024: Give the final 25%.
Simply giving earlier will make your money go a lot farther.
Besides maximizing your impact, there is a positive side benefit: You can hit “unsubscribe” on all those political fundraising emails clogging your inbox.
Step 3: Rally Your Network
What if progressive donors embraced our full financial power and influence, by focusing our free time and energy on getting other people we know to donate?
Put another way, which is likely to turn out more votes if you have a free hour:
A) Calling voters you’ve never met in a state where you don’t live? Or,
B) Dropping notes to like-minded friends who you know are able to make a donation, believe in the cause, and are connected to the messenger (you)?
Each of us is a trusted messenger to someone. To whom are you a trusted messenger?
Why I Trust the “Trusted Messengers”
The evidence shows that neglected voters are most likely to turn out when they hear from people they know and trust. This is why grassroots organizations are the most effective “trusted messengers” to get out the vote in their own communities.
It’s tempting to write postcards to voters, join a phonebank, or even get in the car or hop on a plane to knock on doors. It’s real, it’s tangible, and sometimes really fulfilling. It’s definitely not “either/or”. For those who want to phonebank or door-knock, our national partner organization Seed the Vote excels at connecting volunteers to the kinds of local grassroots organizations that MVP supports.
But whether or not you choose to get out the vote, I want to challenge progressive donors to focus primarily on something that might feel uncomfortable: Talking with people about how to deploy money to make a strategic impact. If we don’t, who will?
In Closing: Let’s Win the Amazing Scenario!
If we can stay committed and show up consistently over the next few election cycles, we can change this country and finally get over the hump of every election being “the most important of our lifetime.”
We can create a “new normal” where we reliably win federal elections by multiple percentage points, enact policies that reflect our values, and rebuild our country with a more sustainable and inclusive vision.
We can create a legacy we are proud of on this Earth – for our children and our children’s children.
There really and truly is no time to waste.
What is your next step?
Note: This is a published excerpt of a long-form memo to donors published here. The memo was authored by Billy Wimsatt and co-authored and edited by Zo Tobi; with major contributions by Laura Flynn, who conceived and drafted Act II; and with edits and feedback from Anna Grant, Andrea Catone, Lisa Beem, Mike Gast, Talya Stagg, Rachel Gordon, Rahna Epting, Anna Galland, Chloe Cockburn, Laura Livoti, Haley Bash, Betty Herschman, Jackie Kaplan-Pekins, Tom Mendelsohn, Jason Franklin, Sarah Chaisson-Warner, Javier Morillo, Carrie Cuthbert, Ulysses Lateiner, Margit Birge, Irene Yen, David Roitman, Kara Tennis, Diane Kemsley, Janet Selcer, Steve Miller, Dana Brooks, the MVP Eastern MA Hub Steering Committee, the Movement Voter PAC Team, and many other donors and friends, although Billy Wimsatt is solely responsible for the final product.
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Donate today, and MVP will distribute funds to support the most effective groups and competitive races, based on constantly evolving on-the-ground knowledge and political analysis.
Press Clips & Mentions
Blue Tent: Sending Up the Bat Signal
Chop Wood, Carry Water: September 21, 2023 edition by Jess Craven
The Connector: The Poverty of Democratic Organizing Reaches a Crisis Point by Micah Sifry
Innovation and Money in Politics: Sending up the Bat Signal to funders by David Slifka
The Bat Signal Memo is an urgent call to action from Movement Voter PAC to progressive donors, to stop Trump and cause a massive "Blue Wave" in 2024 — by giving big and early to the grassroots organizing groups that can swing the most crucial races.
The 2024 elections will come down to a few votes in a few states, and the Bat Signal spells out why we need to take action now — not a year from now — to prevent the worst case scenario (a Trump / MAGA takeover of all three branches of government) and ensure the best scenario (a Democratic landslide).
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