Download this section as a two-page PDF checklist.
Before you begin, think about why this work is important. Make a list of the benefits to your organization, your community, and the individuals you serve. This might include advancing your issues, building clout, or empowering your clients by promoting engaged and active citizenship.
- Get buy-in from your Executive Director or other leadership
- Choose a staff lead who can involve and motivate other staff and volunteers
- Consider ways to engage the people you serve in your election activities
- Identify assistance and resources from a community partner, your local or state elections office, or online tools from Nonprofit VOTE and others
Featured resource: Voter Participation Starter Kit for Nonprofits and Social Service Agencies
- Understand the guidelines for 501(c)(3)s on how to stay nonpartisan
- Learn about voting in your state – deadlines, how to register, and early voting options
- Find out what's on the ballot in your locality and state for the upcoming election
Featured resource: Nonprofits, Voting and Elections: A Guide to Nonpartisan Voter Engagement
- Choose your target audience – clients, constituents, staff, your local community, or others
- Select appropriate opportunities for engagement: as part of daily services, in classes, at trainings or events, as a project for a youth group, or incorporated into community outreach
- Create a specific timeline for your plan
Featured resource: Making a Plan for 2012 Webinar
Decide on your approach. Some nonprofits actively register voters, while others focus on promoting registration by announcing deadlines, making forms available, or helping voters register online. If you plan to conduct voter registration make sure to:
- Familiarize yourself with your state's voter registration procedures, how to obtain and return forms, online registration (if available), and guidelines for hosting a registration drive
- Set concrete and attainable goals and tie them to deadlines
- Target pre-existing opportunities – as part of services, tabling in your lobby, at events, or in the community at citizenship ceremonies, graduations, or other events
- Enlist volunteers and staff to enhance your efforts
Featured resource: Voter Registration Toolkit and free poster, available in English and Spanish
Plan at least one activity that engages local candidates on your issues.
- Identify a race that's important to your community – city council, mayor, state representative, Congressional representative, or others
- Choose from five main candidate engagement options: Candidate Forums, Candidate Appearances, Sharing Research, Candidate Questionnaires, or Asking Questions at events
- Be familiar with nonpartisan guidelines for candidate work, which requires equal treatment of all candidates in the same race
Featured resource: A Nonprofit's Guide to Hosting a Candidate Forum
The majority of states ask voters to weigh in on laws, referendums, constitutional amendments, local bond issues for public programs, and other issues.
- Find out if any ballot measures, amendments, or other questions are on the ballot
- Learn what 501(c)(3) nonprofits can do influence passage and educate the public
- Decide your approach: Will you take a position for or against the issue? Or will you stay neutral and share nonpartisan information highlighting both sides of the issue?
Featured resource: Ballot Measure Advocacy Factsheet
There are two kinds of voter education. The first covers the when, where, and how of voting, while the second identifies what's on the ballot.
- Identify voter education opportunities at your events, classes, and in your communications
- Develop an internal and external communications plan for the election
Featured resource: Voting in your state online tool
Get-Out-the-Vote and Election Day
Don't forget that some of the most important work happens near and on Election Day when you encourage, help, and mobilize your community to vote. The final push takes preparation and a clear understanding of the payoff: research shows that the most effective messages come from trusted messengers – people of similar interests and backgrounds – made in-person or through peer-to-peer social media. You can activate voters simply by:
- Promoting early voting by mail or in-person
- Providing personal reminders
- Giving out information to help your community vote – help lines or polling hours and locations
- Linking the election to the future of your issue or nonprofit services
- Making Election Day special by treating it as a holiday for democracy!
Featured resource: "Vote November 6" kit with poster, buttons, and stickers