ACTION PLANNING

What is a a campus nonpartisan democratic engagement action plan?

An action plan is a dynamic document developed by an individual or campus voting coalition to document efforts to institutionalize and increase nonpartisan democratic engagement and student voter participation. Action plans are living documents that outline your campus context, leadership team, strategies, goals, and more to increase student voting and civic engagement.

A successful action plan will serve as a roadmap that documents specific strategies for starting new programs and initiatives or improving existing ones. It should help you take your goals and break them down into concrete steps toward your desired results. This will help your institution increase efficiency and accountability. 

Why is it important for colleges & universities complete action plans?

Completing the action planning process can help an institution assess current efforts, set short-and long-term goals, and craft strategies and tactics to implement. Action plans also give your institution the tools to assess progress toward your goals so that you can continuously work to improve democratic engagement efforts.

Colleges and universities are leaders in cultivating generations of informed, engaged community members needed for democracy to thrive. With nearly 20 million college students in the United States, institutions of higher education have a responsibility to help their students overcome the structural and psychological obstacles that new voters often face. Additionally, they can instill the importance of electoral participation, which can inspire lifelong engagement in our democracy. 

Campuses that have submitted action plans to ALL IN leading up to the 2020 election had higher student voter turnout rates compared to the national average. This is the most recent election cycle for which college student voting data is available. 

According to the 2020 data, there is also a positive relationship between higher student voting rates and the number of election cycles that a campus has developed action plans for. Simply put, campuses consistently producing democratic engagement action plans tend to yield better results over time. Campuses that submitted an action plan to ALL IN in 2016 and 2020 saw student voter turnout rates that were 5.2 percentage points higher, on average, than campuses that weren’t engaged in action planning in 2020. (Data from ALL IN’s 2022 Nonpartisan Campus Democratic Engagement Action Plan Report)

Campuses can experience siloed work. Maybe a few professors do their own voter registration efforts. The student government puts out some messaging about the upcoming election. The campus president sends an email to students. Action planning with a campus voting coalition coordinates these efforts so that all stakeholders are on the same page, rowing in the same direction, making the most efficient use of resources, and sharing consistent and accurate information.

ALL IN’s evaluation of campus voting data from the Tufts University’s Tisch College’s Institute for Democracy & Higher Education’s  2020 National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE) reports, campuses that submitted a 2020 action plan averaged 3.7 percentage points higher voting rates in 2020 than campuses that received NSLVE data and didn’t submit an action plan. Even more encouraging, campuses that have been developing action plans for more than one election cycle had higher 2020 campus voter turnout rates than those for whom the 2020 cycle was their first time writing an action plan, outpacing the average NSLVE campus by 5.2 percentage points.

Action planning is not just correlated with higher student voter turnout. There is also growing evidence of action planning having long-term positive impact and sustainability through the retention of campuses in the action planning process across multiple election cycles. Campuses tend to improve their action plans with each subsequent submission as evident through increasingly higher action plan scores based on the Strengthening American Democracy Action Planning Rubric

The action planning process provides needed structure for local leaders who are committed to 100% student voting but need guidance about how to pursue these goals. Action planning makes it much easier for non-profit partners to work together to support local leaders. Action planning enables philanthropic partners to invest in existing local efforts rather than spending more to impose something lower quality from outside the community. The expert “ground truth” consensus of practitioners and community partners in the movement is that action planning works.

Nonpartisan democratic engagement work has often been cyclical and episodic leading up to major elections. Action planning helps to ensure consistent engagement throughout the election calendar, including primary and local elections, which in turn helps grow and build your work year after year. 

Students, staff, and faculty members, don’t stay with their higher education institutions forever. Documenting what work has happened and is planned to happen makes it much easier for new members of campus voting coalitions and the campus community to understand what the campus plan is and get involved sooner.

According to an analysis of ALL IN’s 2022 Action Plan Report and subsequent research by Johns Hopkins University’s SNF Agora Institute’s P3 Labs, campus voting coalitions are most successful when their action plans contain strong governance language and hold multiple parties across different levels of an institution accountable for executing their steps. Empower your fellow coalition members to follow up and ensure that each person and stakeholder group is living up to their responsibilities. 

Completing a democratic engagement action plan helps colleges and universities complete their Higher Education Act requirements. 

In April 2022 the U.S. Department of Education released the first Dear College Letter since 2013 to colleges and universities throughout the US, reminding postsecondary institutions of their civic engagement requirements in the Higher Education Act of 1965 and highlighting opportunities and resources to promote civic engagement among their students and campus communities.

  • “Under section 487(a)(23) of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, eligible postsecondary institutions are required to “make a good faith effort to distribute a mail voter registration form, requested and received from the State, to each student enrolled in a degree or certificate program and physically in attendance at the institution, and to make such forms widely available to students at the institution.” The requirements under this Act were previously outlined in a Dear Colleague Letter on July 1, 2013, and you can find the most recent guidance under “Voter Registration” in Volume 2, Chapter 6 of the 2021-22 Federal Student Aid Handbook. This outreach can happen through electronic messages as long as the message is devoted exclusively to voter registration and contains an acceptable voter registration form or an internet address where that form can be downloaded.”

 

In addition to federal law requiring higher education institutions to provide voter registration opportunities, some states take it a step further and require colleges and universities to create nonpartisan democratic engagement action plans: 

How to develop an action plan!

Before you start building your action plan, think through what stakeholders on your campus should be involved in your student voting efforts. Is there already a nonpartisan voting coalition on your campus? If so, join it! If not, you can start one! For some campuses, the voting coalition can start as a “coalition of one” while you grow the coalition. 

Assign a leader (or a few) to facilitate the action planning process. This person will ensure that the action plan is drafted, executed and submitted to nonprofit action planning partners or state agencies that require action planning in California, Maryland, and Minnesota, and hold all other members of the action planning team accountable. 

This work can and should be collaborative and occur in a team setting. Depending on the campus, this may be accomplished in a committee, coalition, task force, or working group.

Start by building a list of who you want to participate in your campus voting coalition Aim for a diverse team that represents all of the appropriate constituent groups necessary to craft equitable nonpartisan student voter engagement efforts for the entire campus community. The most successful campus coalitions include representatives from student affairs, academic affairs, government relations, student leadership, local nonprofits, and local election officials.

The hope is that through this process, the institution will be able to garner additional support and resources, change culture, improve systems and policies, build lasting capacity, and ultimately institutionalize nonpartisan democratic engagement efforts.  

Work with your team to strategically plan activities that will assist you in accomplishing goals. You don’t need to start from scratch!  If you’re new to action planning, feel free to take ideas that have worked at other campuses (see example plans here). If you have a well-developed civic engagement coalition, feel free to design new activities to achieve your evolving goals.

Action planning partners have created several resources to guide you through the action planning process: 

  • Strengthening American Democracy GuideUse the Strengthening American Democracy Guide, (often called the S – A – D – G), which was created by multiple nonprofit organizations in 2017, and has been updated several times including most recently in 2023. It provides nine recommended sections for an action plan with guiding questions about what information can or should be included in that section to create a strong action plan of the action plan. A corresponding rubric exists so campuses can self-assess the strength of their action plan. The rubric has 36 possible points, 4 points for each of the 9 sections. Based on 2020 NSLVE analysis by ALL IN, campuses that have been developing action plans for more election cycles had higher 2020 voter turnout rates.

  • Votes & BallotsBuilding your action plan as a group? Consider playing Votes & Ballots, a suite of interactive team-wide strategic activities that take the guesswork out of writing action plans for on-campus democratic engagement. It can be used at summits, campus coalition meetings, in classrooms, or any other context where you’d want to get started on an action plan!

If you’re new to the space, start by asking the stakeholders you know who they know that engages in nonpartisan voter education and outreach. Campuses are dynamic places! If you’re updating your plan, do your due diligence to see if new student groups, faculty, or departments are engaged in election work. This process should help you learn what’s already happening and help you identify areas for expansion, growth, and improvement. 

See if your campus has an existing action plan, possibly from previous years, that you can build off of, or check to see if if ALL IN has published your campus’ student voting rates from the National Study of Learning Voting and Engagement with your institution’s permission, a free service from the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University that offers colleges and universities an opportunity to learn more about their student registration and voting rates. NSLVE data lets you see where there are gaps in your current registration and turnout efforts – data is broken down by gender, age, race, even college major. This will help you effectively target your efforts and begin closing those gaps. Even if ALL IN hasn’t publicly published your campus’ NSLVE data, you can still see if your campus participates in the program.

Work with nonpartisan nonprofit partners like ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, Campus Vote Project, Ask Every Student, Andrew Goodman Foundation, Student PIRGs, and others that support action planning. Their staff can provide expertise, resources, and, in some cases,  student fellows to help develop and implement the action plan.  

Find more SLSV Coalition partners to help with your action planning and implementation efforts.

Use the data you collected from your assessment to set goals that motivate your team and will make the biggest impact for student civic engagement. Learn more about setting SMARTIE (Strategic, Measurable, Ambitious, Realistic, Time-bound, Inclusive, and Equitable) goals!

Write an action plan that captures the goals and activities you’ve agreed on and the timeline for making it happen. This document should serve as your team’s roadmap for success. Refer back to the Strengthening American Democracy Guide and rubric to make sure you are building a robust and fully thought-out plan. 

Action plans can be submitted to the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge and/or the Voter Friendly Campus Designation (a partnership between the Campus Vote Project and NASPA), and your campus can potentially receive recognition for its nonpartisan action plan.

Both programs provide a structure and a support system for campuses to start and sustain nonpartisan democratic engagement work, share best practices, and lift up and recognize successes.

We recommend campuses participate in both programs. The action plan you develop can be submitted to both programs. So for the same amount of action planning work, your campus can access additional resources and recognition opportunities from both programs. 

Once your plan is submitted, action plan reviewers from nonpartisan organizations and other colleges and universities will provide feedback on your plans and give your team the opportunity to make adjustments based on that feedback. Upcoming action planning submission deadlines are: 

  • May 31, 2024
  • October 1, 2024

Submit your plans here!

Work with your team to make the plan a reality! Host regular meetings to check-in on your goals versus actuals and keep each other accountable to the plan.

Consider tracking voter registrations to see if your plan is effective. When you track your work every year, you see what’s working and not working. This allows you to improve your strategy over time! You can follow up with students to make sure they’re actually voting, as long as they opt-in! This makes it easier for students to think through their next steps and contact someone from your team if they have questions. 

You can collect additional information that is helpful for your programs. For example, a lot of nonpartisan community groups collect issue areas that voters care about in their pledge to votes. They use that info to set up educational events/campaigns and more! For more information about how to track voter registrations, check out this presentation from Ask Every Student.

Use data to analyze the impact of what you did and determine next steps.

Your plan should be a living document, so revise it as needed based on how things went. If you hit your goals, how can you build on your success to do even better next time? If you didn’t, what adjustments should be made?

Action Planning Overview: Why, How, Who, When, and Recognition

Developing and implementing a nonpartisan democratic engagement action plan is a proven method to increase and institutionalize nonpartisan democratic engagement. During this session, we will share information about the action planning process, partners and resources to support your action plan development and implementation, and the timeline for campuses to develop 2024 action plans. We’ll provide an overview of programs like the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge and Voter Friendly Campus initiative that support campus action planning as well as answer questions about the action planning process. Moreover, participants will be able to directly interact with campus stakeholders deeply engaged in the process of action planning. This provides an opportunity to glean insights from their firsthand experiences and benefit from the guidance they have to offer. This session will be beneficial for all individuals (students, faculty, administrators, staff, community partners, etc.) regardless of past action planning experience.

Sessions:

March 13 @ 3-4pm ET – Register


March 26 @ 3-4pm ET – Register


April 11 @ 3-4pm ET – Register


April 24  @ 4-5pm ET – Register


May 7 @ 3-4pm ET – Register

Action Planning: How to Create Action Plans with SMARTIE Goals

Join our session as we delve into the art of crafting goals tailored to meet the specific needs of your campus. Discover invaluable tips and tools that will guide you in shaping goals that are not just SMART (Strategic, Measurable, Ambitious, Realistic, Time-bound) but also emphasize Inclusivity and Equity, making them SMARTIE. This session aims to empower you to create goals that foster inclusion, improve outcomes for underrepresented communities, and bridge political engagement gaps within your campus community. Don’t miss this opportunity to enhance your goal-setting skills for a more impactful and equitable campus civic engagement action.  

Sessions:

April 17 @ 3-4pm ET – Register


May 9 @ 3-4pm ET – Register

Action Planning: How to Build a Campus Voting Coalition

Campus voting coalitions can take many shapes and forms depending on your community and available resources. During this session, we’ll simplify and break down coalition planning from talking about different types of coalitions to the various partners that can be brought into the fold. This session is for anyone – whether you have a fully developed coalition, are a coalition of one or are curious about what goes into planning for one. There will be plenty of time to talk about your experiences, bounce ideas off one another and ask questions.

Sessions:

March 19 @ 4-5pm ET – Register


April 3 @ 4-5pm ET – Register

Action Planning: Strategies to Increase Year-Round Nonpartisan Democratic Engagement

Democratic engagement is a dynamic process that should happen year round and throughout your campus. During this session, we’ll discuss strategies to develop a culture of nonpartisan democratic engagement on your campus and institutionalize your student voting efforts and achieve your long term goals, including integrating democratic engagement into new student processes such as orientations and into campus communications. Join us and workshop actionable ways to take your strategy and your student voter participation to the next level.

Sessions:

March 21 @ 4-5pm ET – Register


May 14 @ 4-5pm ET – Register

Action Planning Working Session

Join us for a hands-on workshop designed to strengthen your action plans in real time. Building out effective action plans is a crucial task, and our interactive training provides a collaborative environment where you won’t have to navigate it alone. Join Action Planning experts to receive invaluable feedback and guidance, empowering you to elevate your plans and approach your submissions this year with confidence. This session is beneficial for all campuses that are working on drafting their campus action plans. Don’t miss the opportunity to enhance your capabilities and excel in your student voter engagement efforts. 

Sessions:

May 16 @ 3-4pm ET – Register


May 29 @ 2-3pm ET – Register