Whether you’re passionate about a cause or want to engage Young Democrats with similar interests, starting a caucus is a great way to take collective action!
What is a Caucus?
A caucus is a group of people united to promote an agreed-upon cause. From the YDWA constitution:
The caucuses of YDWA shall be organized around a specific issue of concern to YDWA membership. Caucuses shall track legislative and political matters relating to their area of concern, organize activities related to these matters, and advise the President and the General Board on all matters relating to their issue.
Caucuses are part of the Government Affairs department, working under the Vice President of Government Affairs. In order to retain active status, caucuses are required to organize at least one project, and post four blog posts (or equivalent on social media) throughout the year.
You can see a list of all currently active caucuses here.
I’ll do you one better: Why is a Caucus?
Here’s a handy breakdown of caucuses versus chapters. (keep in mind that these are only general guidelines and aren’t always strictly adhered to):
- Demographics or statewide issue-based (women, environment, etc)
- Statewide membership
- No membership dues
- Typically no regular meetings
- $500 budget allocation from YDWA
- Location-based (county, college, etc)
- Local membership
- Local issues-focused
- Annual membership dues
- Regular meetings, typically monthly
Caucus benefits and rights in YDWA:
- Caucuses have access to YDWA’s network of members and alumni to expand and grow
- Caucuses are invited to attend all YDWA regional meetings
- Caucus chairs get a vote on the General Board, just like chapter chairs
- A one-hour programming block is set aside for each caucus at YDWA’s Annual Statewide Convention
- Caucuses receive an annual budget of $500 from YDWA (in addition to any funds raised by the caucus itself)
Chartering a Caucus
When do Caucuses charter?
Every year. Existing caucuses are typically re-chartered at the annual State Convention. New caucuses can be chartered at any time, at the discretion of the General Board. Once chartered, a caucus remains active until the next State Convention, provided it fulfills the requirements for staying active.
Before chartering your Caucus
- Recruit at least five active members, and collect their names and contact info. They don’t need to already be members of any YDWA organizations or chapters; they just need to want to take action!
- Once you have your membership, decide how many officers you’ll need and elect them amongst yourselves. It’s up to you how many officers your have, but you’ll need at least a Chair and one Vice Chair.
- Draft your caucus’ bylaws.
- Draw up a draft budget for the upcoming year (you have up to a month from chartering to submit your budget, but it’s never too early to start!)
If you need help with any of these steps, YDWA’s Vice President of Government Affairs would be happy to provide assistance. They can be reached at email@example.com.
Chartering your Caucus
- You’ll need to request a chartering application from the VP of Government Affairs, fill it out, and return it.
- The application will be reviewed by the Department of Government Affairs, and the General Board votes on approval with a simple majority vote.
- If the vote passes, the Caucus chair becomes a member of the General Board.
After being chartered
Caucuses have one month from chartering to submit their budget for the upcoming fiscal year to the Vice President of Government Affairs at firstname.lastname@example.org.
YDWA’s operations department will set your caucus up with a folder on our organization’s shared Google Drive account, where your members can store files and collaborate on documents, spreadsheets, forms, etc. This folder is owned by YDWA itself- so even if all your current members leave, the files will remain safely stored with us, easily accessible in the future should the caucus reform.
You’ll also receive an official group email address (i.e. email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, etc.) which forwards incoming mail to any members who subscribe to it. This serves as a convenient, permanent way for the public to reach your caucus directly, and is great for business cards and other promotional material, as well as internal communications.
Note: If your caucus has already existed in an earlier incarnation, YDWA will reuse the previous caucus’ Google Drive folder and email address- giving your caucus access to all of your predecessors’ work! Your caucus will also get its own category for posting in the YDWA website’s Caucus Blogs section; if your caucus has an earlier incarnation, you can read about what they were up to here!
Making a logo
Of course the most important way for a caucus to stand out, is with a killer logo! Here are some examples from other caucuses:
Guidelines and best practices
We recommend creating a logo that’s square, with text that’s not too small, so that it scales well to small sizes and is more versatile in general. We also recommend making your logo large (1024 pixels wide by 1024 pixels tall, or larger), to accommodate most of the common use cases for your logo.
YDWA assets and resources
In addition to any assets already in your caucus’ Google Drive folder, YDWA keeps a folder of all of our branding assets which can be used in creating your logos and branding. Reach out to the YDWA General Board at email@example.com and they can get you connected! If you need outside help creating your branding, you can also reach out to the General Board and they can help get you in touch with a graphic designer.
A common practice for organizations like caucuses is to host a “signature event”- a regularly-scheduled event that both defines the organization in the community at large, and provides an opportunity to take action while telling their story.
A signature event can be a fundraiser, a day of action, or a combination of the two approaches (YDWA’s Annual Statewide Convention is an example of the latter approach). Examples of signature events held by caucuses in the past include a local Women’s March held by the Women’s Caucus, and a statewide hackathon held by the Nerd Caucus.
Signature events can be scheduled in any way that best suits the event, whether it be annually, monthly, quarterly, etc. One of the advantages caucuses have in event planning is that they are statewide groups. While this may seem like a logistical obstacle, it can actually be beneficial if a caucus is creative in planning their event.
In the case of the Nerd Caucus’ hackathon, for example, members hosted the event from several locations across the state simultaneously, using a persistent video chat to keep in touch throughout. This “location-based” approach kept accessibility high, and added a unique element which emphasized the Nerd Caucus’ focus on technology. You may also consider planning your caucus’ events to focus on a specific region at a time, like YDWA’s own semi-annual Paint the Town Blue events.
YDWA’s operations department is at your disposal to help you plan and execute your caucus’ signature event. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lobbying is another powerful use of your caucus’ resources. YDWA typically hosts at least one Lobby Day in Olympia each year- if there’s a bill moving through Congress that’s relevant to your caucus’ purpose, this is a perfect opportunity to organize and take action. Even if there isn’t a specific bill in play, your caucus can spend Lobby Day bringing awareness to congresspeople on issues your members care about.
You can coordinate your caucus’ Lobby Day plans with YDWA’s government affairs department at email@example.com.
YDWA’s Annual Statewide Convention
Per the constitution, each active caucus receives a one hour block of programming during Convention. This block can be filled however you want- you can host a panel, bring in a speaker, or provide an activity for attendees.
Over the years, some caucuses have hosted extra-curricular activities during Convention weekend, in addition to their programming block. For example, the Nerd Caucus has hosted video and board game nights.
You can coordinate your caucus’ Convention plans with YDWA’s operations department at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Staying in touch
As a statewide group, caucuses can have a hard time meeting in person. That’s why it’s important to establish a method for staying in contact electronically. You can choose whichever technology suits your members best: email, phone calls, messaging apps, etc. The important thing is to agree on a method and use it to stay in touch regularly.
We recommend conducting a poll with your members after chartering to decide which communication method works best for everyone. If you choose email, you may opt to use your YDWA-provided group email address (to avoid typing in dozens of email addresses for each new message).
Spreading the word
In addition to your blog posts on the YDWA website, a strong social media presence can go a long way in boosting membership and awareness for your caucus. If you choose to be active on social media, be sure to let YDWA’s Communications Department know your handles at email@example.com, so they can crosspost your content and give your caucus a signal boost!
The communications department can also send information out to YDWA’s membership on your behalf, via email as well as social media. If you want to make sure everyone knows about the big event you’re planning, drop them a line!
If you have other tech-centric ideas you’d like to see implemented for your caucus, YDWA’s Operations Department is happy to help! You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.