Is it too soon to think about next year’s national midterm and the election of Congress, one-third of the Senate, two-thirds of state governors, and almost all state legislatures? No, definitely not. Unfortunately, most nonprofits won’t even begin considering their November 2014 plans until the end of next summer. In such a small window, there is little time to plan, much less implement effective registration, education, and get-out-the-vote activities.
Why nonprofits should get involved in nonpartisan election activity
Voting is associated with a host of positive attributes:
- People who register and vote are more likely to talk to their neighbors, meet with local officials, and engage in other civic actions.
- Studies show that states with higher voting levels have higher levels of self-reported health, lower ex-offender recidivism rates, and even lower unemployment.
Besides empowering their constituents, higher participation rates help nonprofits further their missions and complement advocacy and public policy work. Because of the populations nonprofits reach, their voter engagement efforts have the potential to significantly contribute to the diversity of the electorate.
Our new report illustrates the impact of personal voter outreach by nonprofit service providers in raising turnout out rates among those least expected to vote and in closing gaps in voter participation across all demographics. By tracking the voters contacted by 94 nonprofits during the 2012 election cycle, we found:
- The clients and constituents engaged by nonprofits were markedly more diverse, lower income, and younger than the general population of registered voters in their states.
- Voter turnout among those contacted by nonprofits was 74%, six points above the 68% turnout rate for all registered voters–with the largest turnout differences seen among young, Latino, and “low propensity voters” who political campaigns typically miss.
Voter engagement should be a year-round activity
As our report shows, nonprofits have an important role to play in getting their communities involved in the fundamental democratic act of voting. There are many ways organizations can make voter engagement a year-round activity and then jumpstart or increase activity during a national or local election.
Ensure that ways to get involved in voting are visible year-round at your organization. Talk about voting on your website and in your communications. Place a voter registration link or tool on your website, along with relevant election information and resources from Nonprofit VOTE and Bolder Advocacy.
Make voter engagement part of your organizational mission and culture. Have a conversation with your leadership about voter engagement, why it makes sense for your nonprofit, ideas for implementation, and your plans for 2014. Leadership support can facilitate staff buy-in and help make voter outreach an ongoing priority. It also creates a foundation for including civic engagement in your organization’s mission statement.
Celebrate National Voter Registration Day on Tuesday September 24, 2013 to demonstrate your organization’s support for voter participation. It could even be the perfect time to test out methods and strategies for registering voters at your organization.
Knowing that nonprofits can have an incredible impact on turnout when they talk to their clients and communities about voting, now is the time to start thinking about how you can help yours successfully register and participate in 2014 and the years to come. Visit Bolder Advocacy’s Election page and Nonprofit VOTE’s site for resources and materials to get started.
A version of this post appeared on the Bolder Advocacy blog.