The Youth Engagement Fund is a center-left voter mobilization group created by the Democracy Alliance, a network of highly influential funders within the Democratic Party and the political Left. The Democracy Alliance itself generally coordinates funding strategies rather than engaging in grantmaking; consequently, the Youth Engagement Fund itself is a project of the New Venture Fund, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit funding and fiscal sponsorship provider. 1
The Youth Engagement Action Fund is the 501(c)(4) “sister” affiliate of the Youth Engagement Fund, and a project of the Sixteen Thirty Fund.
According to a 2016 report by the Democracy Alliance, both the Youth Engagement Fund and the Youth Engagement Action Fund promote voter mobilization efforts that aim to increase voter turnout and political engagement among young people, with the expressed purpose of bolstering the progressive movement. The funds used a number of state-based allies to target the following states:
- AZ Student Vote Coalition
- Dream Defenders
- Engage Miami
- Ohio Student Association
- One Pittsburgh
- PA Student Power Network
- Nevada Student Action
- VA Student Power Network
Alejandra Ruiz is the director of Youth Engagement Fund. Her professional background includes a host of positions within left-leaning social advocacy groups. Prior to her appointment with Youth Engagement Fun, Ruiz was the director of donor organizing and advising for the Movement Voter Project, a left-wing group focused on increasing voter outcome for progressive candidates. She holds two bachelor’s degrees from Cornell University, one in urban studies and one in Spanish area studies. 2
The funds share an advisory board consisting of numerous officials with major left-progressive funding and advocacy organizations: Allison Barlow, program director for the Wallace Global Fund; Daaiyah Bilal-Threats, National Education Association; Keesha Gaskins, program director for the Rockefeller Brothers Fund; Dave Horwich, counsel for Beyond Consulting; Alethia Jones, program director for the Open Society Foundations; Julie Kohler, senior adviser to the Democracy Alliance; Aaron Merkin, senior confidential specialist for the National Education Association; Ian Simmons, a member of the Democracy Alliance; Frank Smith, senior political adviser to the Democracy Alliance; Anne Summers, executive director of the Brico Fund; Bill Vandenberg, director of special initiatives for the Open Society Foundations; Jamal Watkins, vice president of civic engagement for the NAACP; and Luna Yasui, senior program officer for the Ford Foundation. 3
Democracy Alliance announced during the 2016 presidential campaign season that Youth Engagement Fund was using “fresh data-driven insights” for its efforts and raising funds in the top ten states and 50 congressional districts, specifically with large left-progressive younger demographics. Areas concentrated with young adults were the target for Youth Engagement Fund leading up to the election as the fund’s leadership, along with Democracy Alliance, contended that the younger demographic would be exclusively impactful for the 2016 election. 4
Democracy Alliance responded to the 2016 election in an aggressive tone, calling it “one of the most shocking and disturbing in recent history,” and continuing to describe President Donald Trump as racist, xenophobic, and misogynistic. This response was included in the fund’s parent organization, Democracy Alliance’s 2020 portfolio update. In the report, leadership emphasized the importance of rethinking its strategies, re-examining budget uses and listening to new ideas on how to “outpace the Right.” The report later claimed that conservatives won the election by means of voter fraud. 5
According to a 2016 Democracy Alliance report, the Youth Engagement Fund raised approximately $3,400,000 and had expenditures of $2,800,000. The Youth Engagement Action Fund had revenues of $450,000 and had expenditures of $210,000. The report further indicates the budget goals for 2020. Planned avenues of monetary distribution include $146 million to progressive infrastructure, $57 million to 2020 vision-recommended organizations, $14 million to progressive 2020 state funds, and $800,000 in leveraged investment from allied donors. 6
- “Democracy Alliance 2020 Investment Portfolio.” Democracy Alliance. Published Fall 2016. Accessed May 1, 2019. Available: https://www.influencewatch.org/app/uploads/2019/04/Democracy-Alliance-2020-Investment-Portfolio-Report.pdf
- Bray |, Robert. “The Youth Engagement Fund Announces New Executive Director, Alejandra Ruiz.” NEO Philanthropy, December 16, 2018. https://neophilanthropy.org/the-youth-engagement-fund-announces-new-executive-director-alejandra-ruiz/.
- “Youth Engagement Fund Home Page.” Youth Engagement Fund. Accessed July 6, 2020. https://youthengagementfund.org/.
- Lamarche, Gara. “New American Majority Turnout Is Vital to Win – and Needs Sustained Investment.” Democracy Alliance, September 26, 2016. https://democracyalliance.org/from-the-president/new-american-majority-turnout-vital-win-needs-sustained-investment/.
- Democracy Alliance 2020 Portfolio Progress and Updates Fall 2016.” Influence Watch. Accessed 2016. https://www.influencewatch.org/app/uploads/2019/04/Democracy-Alliance-2020-Investment-Portfolio-Report.pdf.
- “Democracy Alliance 2020 Portfolio Progress and Updates Fall 2016.” Influence Watch. Accessed 2016. https://www.influencewatch.org/app/uploads/2019/04/Democracy-Alliance-2020-Investment-Portfolio-Report.pdf.