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Istanbul Volunteers engages citizens eager for change

Building on the momentum of a history-making mayoral election, Istanbul Volunteers has launched an ambitious volunteering model to create a more peaceful, equitable and green city from within.


  • 83K
  • SMS messages
  • 106K
  • volunteers
  • 100
  • events and projects


The grassroots organization Istanbul Volunteers (Istanbul Gönüllüleri) originated during the historic and hotly contested Istanbul mayoral election of 2019. The race was between former Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, a loyal member of President Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP)—the party that has been in power in Turkey for the last eighteen years—and a progressive challenger, Ekrem İmamoğlu of the Republican People’s Party (CHP). In order to prioritize election safety, İmamoğlu’s team invited citizens to volunteer as election observers and help ensure viable results given the growing concerns of  election interference. 

The 15,000 people who responded to his call played an important role in the race leading up to the March election—when İmamoğlu won against all odds, and Erdoğan’s AKP called for a full recount. After winning that recount and serving 17 days as mayor (exposing past corruption even in that short time), İmamoğlu and his team had to start getting out the vote all over again, once the AKP arranged a do-over election, scheduled to take place in June. Instead of growing discouraged, İmamoğlu’s volunteer support swelled in the weeks following that decision, and the campaign team quickly trained 30,000 volunteers to run a highly organized field campaign and provide support at the polls by deploying more than 40,000 volunteers. This time, İmamoğlu won by a far greater margin of 800,000 votes, a 60% improvement on his March win, making him the official mayor of Istanbul by getting 54% of the votes, the highest in the last 35 years.

  • Built-in action pages

  • Organizations use NationBuilder to create effective petitions, event pages, and more in minuteswith no coding required. 

After İmamoğlu’s win, the new mayor encouraged his campaigners to harness their energy into organizing to better their city—and Istanbul Volunteers was re-born. Their first task was to transform their organization from a field campaign effort into a more sustainable platform to provide a variety of services for their community. Along with reimagining their goals and organizational structure, they built a new digital infrastructure on NationBuilder. That way, they could efficiently reach and re-engage their supporters, learn more about their skills and interests, and equip them to help run a variety of local and citywide inclusive events, like park openings, marathons, and children’s play groups, as well as education and longer term youth-oriented programs.

Despite delays and the onset of COVID-19, the Istanbul Volunteers relaunched their site in April and saw strong early results for their re-engagement efforts. As reported by their IT Systems & Communications Manager, Alper Yildirim, in May, “It’s been almost a month, and the volunteer group has grown by 10%. We were roughly 100,000, which is quite large, and for a large group to grow 10% in a month is a success...NationBuilder essentially helped us to reach that magnitude.”

Their website has played a particularly important part in their organizing work as citizens began social distancing, and they pivoted their efforts toward spreading awareness of health and safety practices, distributing supplies to those in need, and sourcing PCs and tablets for students without the means to participate in lessons remotely. 

“Pretty much in every country, reaching the correct data is more essential than ever,” Yildirim says. “With NationBuilder, we were able to create a section of our site named after the campaign the mayor’s office established to house everything related to COVID-19. People have a place to go to get the latest data. With the help of that content and the fact that we can update it easily, we are seeing 250 new supporters per day, every day.”

  • Paths & Goals

  • Leaders who organize on NationBuilder use trackable paths and goals to move supporters up the ladder of engagement.

The Istanbul Volunteers team has also begun taking full advantage of NationBuilder in how they manage volunteer relationships and information. Using the paths feature, they've created a digital help desk for handling incoming volunteer feedback, whether in the form of suggestions, requests, or technical inquiries. With this workflow, they can sort feedback based on issue type, direct it to the appropriate team member, and track steps toward resolution—all while collecting valuable data on their response times. And, by automating these key processes, they're paving the way for larger-scale volunteer work as they grow.

On the response Istanbul Volunteers have seen from their initial outreach, a member of the Coordination Board Işın Tuğrul adds that “We won’t have a need to advertise in the future because [the campaign] has the potential to grow organically. We are lucky in that because of last year’s election, of course. It was a very exciting period, so the potential, the energy, and the data came from that—but our challenge is to keep it going.”


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