Voting Psychology + Why People Give

A few months ago my colleagues and I mapped the charity organizations near our business. The idea here was to identify the organizations we could work with most easily based on convenience and proximity. From here we circulated a number of the options to our members and voted on our first volunteer efforts. I recognize that this isn’t the way people assume we’re coming to them. Most organizations assume that volunteers/donors are there for a few reasons:

  • SOCIAL TIES: In this case, a large network of friends and family already give and volunteer with the organization. This donor/volunteer is highly motivated as their entire family network and sometimes church use volunteering/donating as a way to socialize and connect.
  • SINGLE ISSUE: Often a single issue will be the crux of a whole series of volunteer/donation efforts. Armies of volunteers and donors have mobilized to help prevent breast cancer, to support pro-life or pro-choice organizations, and to eradicate poverty.
  • IDENTITY: This volunteer/donor identifies with the underdog served or the person doing the service. This might look more like a duty-based Talented Tenth approach to giving.

You’ll notice that each of these reasons also tend to be the reason why individuals vote for a particular political candidate. In my past experience in the Public Affairs Bureau, I know that most voters (and their family) vote for a party first, a single issue second, a charismatic party leader third, and that last group is the swing voters. So it makes sense that a similar psychology might carry over to community affiliations.

So let’s talk strategy about swing voters. Campaign managers go after swing voters because they’re generally easier to persuade than someone with a deeply rooted belief system about a party or community organization. They still go to their polling station with a booklet in hand, but when they aren’t convinced on a particular platform, they tend to vote on a convenience basis.

People Want to Vote/Give. But it’s Not Always for You.
Californians recognize that convenience is a factor in political affiliation to the point that the order of candidates on the ballot is randomized. And despite the that that we’re definitely not a swing State, there are clues as to how to design for voters who are present but unconvinced. For example in the 2000 presidential race, George W. Bush received 9 percent more votes amongst Californians when his name was listed first on the ballot than when he was listed later. You might see this as a travesty, but it poses a huge opportunity. If the convenience-factor behind voting can apply to community contribution — how can community organizations design for maximum engagement?

Does it make sense to bombard a “swing voter” with literature, make them sit through a barrage of Youtube commercials, or talk at them for 2 hours? Sometimes it’s best to just give people a quick and easy way of doing or giving.

Inclusion vs. Anti-Harassment

Last month I got a chance to “shape culture” in my new position as the Director of Programs at Heavybit. I was honestly pretty proud to work with my coworkers on our Inclusion Policy.

We chose to make our policy about “inclusion” instead of a “anti-harassment” because we think we can do better than the baseline of making our workplace a non-threatening and harassment-free space. It quite honestly disgusts me that anti-harassment policies are necessary, but my last post was about the consent in silence and I’d be pretty damn hypocritical if we didn’t put something in writing proactively.


I think the root cause of harassment isn’t just a series of shitty actions. It’s about broken thinking — that “others” are less or incomplete. An inclusion policy tells people that we don’t believe that. We want to surround ourselves with as many smart people as possible and we believe that traditionally marginalized groups can and are contributing to a greater body of knowledge and work. If you’re optimizing for awesome, then narrowing to a homogenous pool is illogical. It’s not about welcoming people despite their differences, it’s about honoring those differences/experiences as valid and useful to the company experience we want to design.

This isn’t just a social justice or identity politics issue — an inclusion policy cuts out the broken thinking and actions that lead to harassment while at the same time establishing the best possible cabal of bad ass allies and friends.

I’ll be real — I’m a woman of color with absolutely no Ivy League pedigree and a slight chip on my shoulder. The more “others” I get in the building, the more comfortable I feel. And the more comfortable I feel, the more productive I become.

The Consent in Silence: What Tech Companies Can do to Prevent Violence and Bullying

At the moment there’s some really serious talk about tech leaders and their connections to domestic violence and bullying. I have no interest in discussing these cases nor do I have any insider knowledge, but I do want to talk about early intervention.

It shouldn’t take this level of disaster to remember that the world isn’t a perfect bubble of safety and supportiveness. Responsible companies should get proactive.

If we believe that technology should be accessible and built for real users, then perhaps our companies should be designed for a diverse group of employees. This means two things:

  1. That employees feel empowered to be the eyes on the street; and,
  2. That we prioritize safe spaces (and put grownups in charge of consistent enforcement).

Berkman Fellow and Microsoft’s Principal Researcher danah boyd just wrote, It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. In it she discusses urban theorist Jane Jacobs’ theory of the “Eyes on the Street”. The theory is that the safest streets are those where a thriving community deters crime, vandalism and neglect. It’s not far off from Linus’ Law where “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.”

For the last decade, boyd has applied Jacobs’ theory to the role of social media communities in identifying warning signs amongst at-risk and suicidal youth. In other words, she believes that the average online Good Samaritan can prevent crisis simply by identifying and reaching out to those in need.

So what are the early warning signs to prevent workplace misconduct or domestic abuse? And how many employees know what to do in the wake of witnessing either of these things? (My guess is not many.)

In Lord of the Flies, a group of school boys are shipwrecked on an island and govern themselves with disastrous results. This is what it’s like in some startups. For whatever reason, a number of tech companies forgo formal HR leadership and policies. Although unintentional, this lack of clarity can come with serious consequences.

Without explicit policies, employees might be confused about what to do in instances of bullying, harassment etc. This confusion, coupled with a potential risk to their own careers, creates a chilling effect. As a result, witnesses are tempted to ignore bad behavior. And unfortunately, this collective silence is interpreted as consent.

What might begin as a single person’s bad behavior or poor judgement, can escalate into a corporate culture that excludes or hurts valuable team members.

Here are a number of generic tips for friends and family members to help those they suspect are being abused. Instead of pretending violence is isolated between a victim and an assailant, companies can use tips like these as a starting point to design their own action plans and discuss them with staff members.

In light of recent events, I’m hoping that more startups work to make employees feel safe, supported, and empowered to do the right thing. And let’s be crystal clear: As neighbors and colleagues, the right thing to do for each other when bad things are happening, is to intervene. Period.

Instead of being the silent bystander or the judgmental peanut gallery, let’s build inclusive companies and be the eyes on the street.
1 of 65
Themed by: Hunson