Heartland Fund joined with Neighborhood Funders Group’s Midwest Organizing Infrastructure Funders and Amplify Fund to share our findings and encourage donors and foundations to invest in rural civic engagement.

The unexpected results of this midterm election have transformed the political landscape for the next two years. Our network of over 100 groups and leaders engaged hundreds of thousands of people in rural areas, small towns, and small cities. We changed electoral outcomes and built power that will endure past the election.

At the webinar, speakers Lynn Buske of WISDOM, Serena Sebring of Blueprint NC, and Lydia Walther-Rodriguez of CASA shared on-the-ground takeaways and strategies their organizations implemented in civic engagement in this recent midterm election cycle. The event provided a powerful space for those stories to be heard and for funders to debrief, assess, and look ahead at what organizers prioritize post-election in long-term power building and how we can collectively advance these efforts.

Key Learnings

  • Rural grassroots groups mobilize voters by focusing on local issues and relationships. They build and grow infrastructure that stays in communities, whether that’s safety teams, election protection tables, or trustful relationships with leaders at all levels of government. For example, Serena Sebring highlighted Blueprint NC’s Power, Protection, and Encouragement Program.

  • Democracy is about more than just counting ballots. This includes expanding the understanding of what it means to bring about an anti-racist and inclusive democracy - both requiring movement building and people power.

  • Civic engagement work that is truly "member-led" can achieve real results, particularly in rural and small-town communities. CASA registered over 5,300 new voters in Pennsylvania - a record-high voter registration for CASA and Pennsylvania - and also successfully activated them at the polls. CASA made a strategic shift toward a member-led model of civic engagement, where directly elected issue-based campaigns are created by the people themselves. Serena Sebring also highlighted how Blueprint NC leveraged these priorities to mobilize people to vote and protect the electoral process.

  • Grassroots efforts can address misinformation, voter apathy, safety at the polls, fair counts, language accessibility, partisan gerrymandering, and other challenges. Our three civic engagement speakers noted what’s needed to mobilize youth, formerly incarcerated people, and communities of color in the face of these systemic barriers and unique challenges in rural communities. Lydia Walther-Rodriguez shared lessons from CASA’s multi-strategy work, including voter registration, language accessible election materials, youth leadership development, and litigation. Lynn Buske noted that the upcoming Wisconsin Supreme Court election in April 2024 has implications for abortion care, gerrymandering, and how elections are run.

  • Grassroots leadership makes elections more inclusive, including efforts to tackle misinformation, voter apathy, safety at the polls, fair counts, language accessibility, partisan gerrymandering, and other challenges. Our three civic engagement speakers noted what’s needed to mobilize youth, formerly incarcerated people, and communities of color in the face of these systemic barriers and unique challenges in rural communities. Lydia Walther-Rodriguez shared lessons from CASA’s multi-strategy work, including voter registration, language-accessible election materials, youth leadership development, and litigation.

  • This work requires an immense amount of time! Organizing in rural communities takes more time, more staff, and more people power. Civic engagement and power building is year-round work that needs sustained support to “make the promise of democracy real." There are no off years for grassroots organizations working to change the lives of rural people. General operating support year after year enables them to be nimble and effectively shift strategies to meet civic engagement opportunities and challenges, as well as be accountable to the communities they serve.

The workshop is a follow-up to Engaging Working Families and Innovations in Rural Civic Engagement, and part of our Midterm Election Series with Neighborhood Funders Group’s Integrated Rural Strategies Group.