We have spent a lot of time thinking about what we value and what things to take on and how we get them done – aka The Vote.org Way. While we may look at being more succinct in the future, these are the things we keep repeating internally and the things we use to drive things forward.
These values are based on almost three years of working together as a team. We’ve learned some hard lessons along the way — and some great ones as well.
These values capture our approach to teamwork, to problem solving, to decision making, and to goal setting. We are at our absolute best as a team when we adhere to our values. So when we wrote them down, we literally asked ourselves, “what were we doing when we were at our best?”
Performance reviews at Vote.org include rating each other on how well we exemplify our values. Relatedly, we use these values to screen applicants. If these values resonate strongly with you, you’ll love working at Vote.org. If not, working here will be a total drag.
Focus on increasing voter turnout.
- Vote.org’s mission is to increase voter turnout and to make the electorate accurately reflect the population in terms of racial, gender, and economic diversity. This is why we exist, and it is the single most important thing at Vote.org. The mission is more important than our egos, than a funder’s ego, than our desire to play around with something new or fancy. We prioritize increasing voter turnout, and everything else falls into place.
Get 1% better every day.
- If you get 1% better every day, you’ll be 3678.343% better in one year. (Or we can just say you’ll be 37x better in one year.). Even if you improve only .1% per day, you’d be 44% better by the end of the year.
- We say this often as a way of reminding ourselves that (a) we’re constantly getting better, (b) that this is a wonderful thing to strive for, (c) that it’s ok to not be great at something right now because you’ll be so much better at this in 365 short days, and that (d) we can’t fix everything at once, but if we’re steady with our progress we will see really impressive results.
- Related: we often say “make new mistakes.” Which means that it’s totally, 100% cool to do something boneheaded, but don’t do the same boneheaded thing often.
Try the simplest solution first.
- We learned this one the hard way, and then racked up so many examples of this working out well that it’s become one of our most fundamental values.
- We’re drawing heavily from Extreme Programming here: treat every problem as if the solution is extremely simple. We choose simple solutions because they save time, and money, and headache.
- We’ve trained ourselves to recognize the word “might” as a flag. We might need something, but we also might not. We might tackle a project, but we might not. So as soon as someone says “might,” we pause, take a step back, and remind ourselves that we have more than enough work that we absolutely have to do to worry about anything that we might need to do.
- Related: don’t worry about tomorrow’s problems today.
Be goal oriented, tactic agnostic.
- Our goal is to increase voter turnout.
- If the data showed that carrier pigeons were the best way to increase turnout, we would become experts in the care and maintenance of pigeons.
- Every action should be in pursuit of a goal. If you don’t have a reason for doing something, don’t do it.
Be wildly ambitious and relentlessly pragmatic.
- This is basically The Vote.org Way. It’s why our small team can punch so far above our weight.
- It’s seemingly contradictory, and that’s what makes it awesome. At Vote.org, our goals are blindingly ambitious (every college student in America!) while our solutions are relentlessly pragmatic (full page ads in every college newspaper).
- This means we seek solutions that are fast to implement and easy to scale. Whenever possible, we find solutions that scale with capital and not labor.
Challenge conventional wisdom
- Conventional wisdom tells us that young people and POC don’t want to vote. Convention wisdom is wrong. And conventional wisdom holds us back.
- Challenging conventional wisdom is why we consider ourselves “data-informed” and not “data-driven.” Data, like most things, is subject to bias. Historical data shows that young people and POC vote at lower rates than older, whiter voters. It would be easy — and wrong — to conclude that they don’t want to vote. Vote.org concluded instead that young voters and POC don’t vote because they are chronically neglected voters. So we use the data to inform us, but we don’t use the data to drive our decisions.
- Finally, for the love of all that is holy, if your reason for doing something is “we’ve always done it this way,” stop what you’re doing and find a better reason for doing it. This is lazy thinking and we just don’t tolerate this answer around here.
Execute with a sense of urgency.
- We have a shared sense of urgency at Vote.org, and this causes us to value expediency over almost everything else.
- We never, ever miss deadlines because Election Day doesn’t move. This means that scope might change, but the deadline will not. This encourages us to be ruthless with prioritization, and to remind ourselves frequently that we’re going to solve today’s problem today, and worry about tomorrow’s problem tomorrow.
- This also means we’re open to solving problems with money, because time is our most precious and constrained commodity.
Be explicit, always.
- As a team member says, clarity is kindness. When we are clear about our goals, and our expectations, and we communicate frequently and clearly, we create a supportive work environment where people can excel.
- This means that we have tough conversations with each other (which is tough), but we still have them.
Assume the best.
- Life is easier if you assume good intentions. So we assume the best of each other, and other groups in the voter turnout space, and most importantly, of the voter.
- Internally this means that we recognize that people don’t fail, processes fail. If a team member is floundering, something went wrong in one of our processes (recruiting, screening, onboarding, goal-setting, managing, etc).
- Externally this means that we reject outright that low voter turnout is due to apathy. This is a form of victim blaming and serves primarily to obscure that it is is harder to vote in the US than in any other country with democratically elected leadership. Once you recognize that citizens want to vote, you can focus on effective ways to increase turnout.
Ask for help and trust other people.
- This is a sign of a healthy organization.
- We’re ok with intensity, not with martyrdom.
Be flexible and adaptable.
- Change is the only constant, and things move quickly at Vote.org.
- For example: We pitched the YC community on sending SMS 78 days before the 2016 election. Over the next 78 days we hired 105+ people, rented multiple offices, invented a new way to register voters, ran GOTV to 3 million people, and ran the country’s largest election day GOTV drive. This would not have happened if we had been rigid.
Buy, don’t build.
- If an entire company exists to provide a service, buy, don’t build. We build voter engagement software: we buy everything else. We’re not here to develop expertise in anything beyond increasing turnout.
- Related: The cheapest way to solve problems is often with money. It’s really easy to drive yourself crazy trying to solve a problem without spending money. But time and time again we find that throwing money at a problem is often the cheapest way to solve it. Who knew.