Endorsements Guide: What Makes Your Group’s Endorsement Powerful

An endorsement is a formal way of signaling and mobilizing your Indivisible group’s support for a candidate. Powerful endorsements are not empty statements, but real commitments that promise concrete actions by your group and members.

This chapter goes deeper on what a candidate endorsement is; what the campaign gets from your endorsements; and what your Indivisible group can achieve by using endorsements.

The Three Features of a Powerful Group Endorsement

Candidates receive endorsements from a wide variety of sources—community organizations, celebrities, labor unions, business leaders, and even other candidates. So what exactly does an endorsement mean?

A powerful endorsement is three things:

  1. A public, definitive, stated preference. Endorsements are a stated preference for one candidate over any other, despite whatever disagreements your group may have with the candidate. Once you endorse, you must stand behind your candidate. If you endorse a candidate and then break with them later, you’ll find your endorsements are less meaningful in the future.

  2. A commitment of tangible support. Powerful endorsements come with a commitment from your group and members to actually do something meaningful in support of the candidate. If your endorsement is just words on a page, you’ll quickly find that nobody cares about it. Support here doesn’t mean money; Indivisible has shown that our foremost power is in our people.

  3. A distillation of your group’s values. Endorsements aren’t just about the candidate -- they’re also about what your Indivisible group stands for. A powerful endorsement requires that your group clarify your own values, and evaluate how those values line up with different candidates and campaigns.

Six Big Things Your Group Achieves by Endorsing Candidates

By flexing your political power through endorsements, you’re developing and growing a muscle. Affirmatively getting behind candidates has several benefits for your Indivisible group and, well, the basic functioning of our democracy (thanks!). These include:

  1. Creating meaningful pressure for your preferred policies. By endorsing, you’re rewarding candidates who share your values and policies -- and creating incentives for the ones who don’t to change their approach. And elections aren’t just about the person on the ballot today, they’re about everyone who holds elected office. When elected officials know they are going to be challenged electorally, they alter their approach to better respond to that challenge. If you want a non-responsive elected to change her position on an issue or hold a town hall, a great way to achieve that is by very publicly announcing that you’ll only support candidates that meet your standards on those fronts. 

  2. Building stronger relationships with electeds. Do you know who electeds are eager to meet with and work with? People who showed up in the last election. If your group endorsed a winning candidate in the last election, they’ll view you as a friendship to be nurtured. This is true even if you endorsed someone else in the primary -- if you wound up endorsing them in the general and showed up in support at the end of the day, you’ll have a stronger relationship with them when they’re in office. And that makes it easier to hold them accountable; they want to make sure you show up for the next election.

  3. Energizing your members and building your group’s shared purpose. Engaging as a group in an election gives your members a collective goal to work towards and interesting new challenges to take on. On the flip side, if you don’t get involved in elections, it’s possible that a lot of your members will end up doing so on their own anyways -- diverting energy outside of your group.

  4. Contributing to the functioning of democracy. Look, democracy is all about choices. If 95% of races with incumbents only give voters a single choice, it’s not much of a democracy. Give people an actual debate, an actual discussion, an actual say in who their elected officials are, and you’ll be strengthening democracy. When you endorse candidates, you help foster that debate. 

  5. Having fun. Campaigns are fun! They’re a great way to meet new people, take on new challenges, and learn new skills. After months of advocating for your electeds to listen, you get to wield electoral power and make them listen. It’s a blast. 

  6. Possibly winning. Well duh, right? Your group’s endorsement very well may put your candidate over the top. Especially in local elections and primaries -- and sometimes even in statewide elections -- small groups of people can absolutely alter the outcome of the race. Winning can come with a whole host of additional benefits. You can say you were part of a winning coalition and build your group’s leverage. Elected officials, including your endorsed candidate, will take note of your group’s people power when hearing your concerns in the future.

    But there’s a reason winning is at the bottom of the list. Don’t count on it. Winning is great! But it’s far from the only reason for your Indivisible group to get engaged. Even if you don’t win, you might force Republicans to spend time and money defending a seat, turn out voters for other races on the ballot, or set up your candidate for a win next time around. Endorsements make you a player, whether you put somebody in office or not. That’s pretty cool. 

What Your Group’s Endorsement Offers a Campaign

As discussed above, campaigns aren’t just being nice when they ask for your endorsement. They want your help getting people, media and money. So when considering an endorsement, it’s important to recognize your strengths in these areas. We’ll take these in the order of strongest to least strong. 

Indivisible Resource #1: People

Indivisible is a movement of people, so the first and most important thing you can contribute is people power. An endorsement should signal that people in your group are excited to show up and work to support the candidate. This is crucial because campaigns depend on motivated volunteers throughout the campaign cycle -- from the Primary to General Election Day. 

People power can come in the form of direct volunteer support for the campaign or as independent volunteer efforts run by your group. These activities may include:

  • Voter registration drives

  • Knocking on doors, phone banking, and other voter outreach

  • Bird-dogging opponents

  • Get Out The Vote (GOTV) efforts, like training other volunteers and driving voters to the polls

Coordinating with candidates. In order to get the most of your people power, candidates and their campaigns may invite your group to work with them directly. But this could be a problem if your group wants to do its own independent spending (also called “independent expenditures” or “IEs”) in that election. Groups that want to do IEs -- such as groups that are incorporated or groups in the Distributed Fundraising Program -- must avoid learning strategic, non-public info about a campaign’s plans, projects, activities, or needs. Plugging into a campaign on a volunteer basis to canvass or phonebank is usually okay, but paying to send postcards to a list of voters provided by the campaign may be considered coordination. Indivisible’s national electoral tools and program are designed to be independent of campaigns, so coordinating with a campaign could also affect your group’s ability to use Indivisible-provided tools. It’s important to think through your plans for electoral activity early on, so you’re all set when campaigns come knocking.

Indivisible resource #2: Media. 

Your group’s endorsement absolutely should come with media support. These media activities may include:

  • Press release announcing the endorsement

  • Op-eds or Letters to the Editor to increase the candidate’s name recognition

  • Event hosting for rallies, forums, parties, and other media-friendly events. Read more on how to get the press to cover to your event here.

  • Building grassroots buzz through social media

Indivisible Resource #3: Money.

Let’s be honest, Indivisible’s competitive advantage is never going to be money. We’re not billionaires and we’re not big money interest groups -- we’re just never going to be able to compete on that level. But there are still ways to contribute productively to campaigns. Good candidates like to trumpet their small-dollar donations. It’s a way not just to raise funds, but also to signal to the outside world that they are legitimate. Campaigns will often report the number of donors, not just the total amount raised -- that’s why campaigns sometimes ask you and other individual Indivisible supporters for just a couple of dollars.

We’ll have more guides in upcoming months about getting involved in the ways outlined, but in the meantime, you can reach out to field@indivisible.org to get connected with an Indivisible Organizer. 

Note: Raising and spending money around elections can trigger tax and campaign finance rules, as well as reporting requirements. This is especially true if your group is raising or spending money collectively, instead of on an individual basis. Campaign finance laws vary at the local, state, and federal levels, so it’s important to check what laws might apply before engaging in political fundraising or spending. Depending on your group’s entity status and familiarity with campaign finance laws, you may not want to risk the legal and financial headaches that come with collectively donating to a candidate or spending money independently to promote a candidate, but you can always encourage your group members to consider making individual donations or to volunteer their time to a campaign. If your group is not incorporated but is interested in spending money on federal elections, you might be interested in our Distributed Fundraising Program.