Paid Fellowships Bring Innovation to Grassroots Groups

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Paid fellowships bring innovation to grassroots groups

How can grassroots groups learn about new ways to have a bigger impact with less money? How can college students find paid internships, learn new skills and support causes they care about? How can donors have the most impact?

Students for Justice (SFJ) has a win-win-win solution that benefits nonprofits, donors and future progressive organizers. SFJ offers paid internships for college students to learn about affordable technology apps, apply them to meet the needs of grassroots groups, and train their staff on how to use them. Donations help train the next generation of organizers and bring affordable innovation to grassroots groups and campaigns.

This blog also features two free apps for creating videos and targeting along with video lessons in Spanish and English.

The challenge

A lack of funding and staffing prevents many groups from trying new and better ways to do things for less money. How can organizations get help with their current projects and become trained on new approaches at the same time, so they can make a bigger impact with less money?

How can nonprofits and advocacy groups adopt new approaches without disrupting their current projects? How can grassroots staff and volunteers learn about new and better ways to reach, persuade and mobilize voters? How can this skill transfer be done in a scalable manner and in different languages?

Additionally, the pandemic has reduced the number of meaningful internships opportunities for college students. How can future progressive organizers get paid to learn new apps, apply them and make contacts while still in college?

How can donations be stretched to help advocacy groups with current projects, improve productivity with new apps and get trained at the same time while also training the next generation of progressive organizers?

Students For Justice, The Democracy Labs train interns on apps to help nonprofits.

Students For Justice

Students for Justice (SFJ) is a paid internship program that was developed in 2020 to engage college students in the struggle to fight systemic voter suppression in the United States and to get out the vote.  While it was created in response to the twin challenges of a pandemic and a national election, SFJ has developed a model that continues to be powerfully relevant.  SFJ brings young people, many of them first-generation college students, together from all around the country in a virtual program, offering them a meaningful, educational, paid work experience.   

Most interns’ work focuses on expanding the electorate through voter outreach targeting communities of color in voter suppression states and youth 18-24 nationally, in part through intern-designed social media campaigns.  In a pioneering collaboration with DemLabs, SFJ also places interns with grassroots nonprofit organizations engaged in voter empowerment to help them adopt efficient technological tools.  SFJ benefited in 2020 from a substantial one-time grant from the Open Society Foundation, allowing it to involve over 200 interns in its first three internship sessions, and is now seeking funding sources to allow it to continue to offer these meaningful paid internships.  SFJ is an initiative of the Center for Common Ground, a Virginia-based 501(c)(3).

Make the Road Nevada – Dignidad, Comunidad y Poder

Make the Road Nevada (MRNV) builds the power of Latinx and working-class communities of color to achieve dignity and justice through organizing, policy innovation, and transformative education. Their vision for Nevada begins with building a strong grassroots foundation in Las Vegas. It ends with elevating the power of working-class immigrant communities in every community around the state.

Tech empowerment for progressives

Make The Road Nevada (MTRN), like many other grassroots groups, needs to attract more supporters and donors. Melanie and Marcos, the two Students for Justice interns featured below, worked with MTRN to apply apps in order to target campaign efforts and created videos to share through Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to expand MTRN’s outreach. They used two free apps tested by DemLabs:

Statistical Atlas – Provides free detailed demographic data for all U.S. states specific to the county, district and tract level. 
Lumen5 – Create videos with royalty-free, professionally made video clips and soundtracks.

Melanie and Marcos recorded training videos in both Spanish and English to show Make The Road Nevada how to quickly create make videos for free with just a laptop and improve their targeting efforts. These training videos are freely available as well.

Melanie Ortega, a Student For Justice intern created this online course for Make The Road Nevada, on how to quickly create campaign videos with the free Lumen5 app.

Melanie Ortega is a first-generation Latina studying Anthropology a t Whittier College (CA). She created this course on how to create campaign videos with the free Lumen5 app.
Training: Spanish / English

Marcos Montana, a Student For Justice intern created this online course for Make The Road Nevada, on how to target campaign efforts with the free Statistical Atlas app.

Marcos Montana is a recent graduate of Grinnell College (IA) looking for ways to boost electoral participation. He created this course on how to target campaign efforts with the free Statistical Atlas app.
Training: Spanish / English

Building capacity to do more with less

Students for Justice  pays interns to help nonprofits do more withe better technology

Support Make the road nevadaSupport students for Justice

Takeaway: Triple the impact of your donation by supporting groups that train future progressive organizers, while also helping advocacy groups make a bigger impact with less money.


Image credit: Noun Project
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DemCast is an advocacy-based 501(c)4 nonprofit. We have made the decision to build a media site free of outside influence. There are no ads. We do not get paid for clicks. If you appreciate our content, please consider a small monthly donation.

Democracy Labs is a hub for ongoing technology and creative innovation that serves progressive campaigns and organizations at the national, state, and local levels.

Our focus is on long term, sustainable and affordable solutions. An approach that is longer than an election cycle, and isn’t purely dependant on volunteers, can enable more qualified candidates to run for office and for more issue groups to bring about positive social change.

Democracy Labs is a project of the Tides Advocacy Fund.

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