By Michael Weekes, President of the Providers’ Council. Reprinted from The Provider, the newspaper of the Providers’ Council, Summer 2013 issue.  

Nonprofit VOTE, the nation’s leading nonpartisan source focused on engaging nonprofits in registering voters and promoting voting through mission-focused activities, has released a seminal report on voting rates for those connected with nonprofits.

The essential question asked also serves as the title of the report: Can Nonprofits Increase Voting Among Their Clients, Constituents and Staff? Based on empirical analysis of service providers in several states by Tufts University’s Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), the report concludes the answer is a resounding “Yes.”

For those of us who are connected with CareVote, the Providers’ Council’s decade-long effort to encourage voting among its human service provider network, it was gratifying news affirming our beliefs and assumptions.

The Council, in full disclosure, is represented on the board of Nonprofit VOTE and shares its belief that nonprofits have earned a well-deserved reputation as trusted resources for many in our nation. As indicated by national data, nonprofits play a role in hundreds of millions of lives – employing more than 13.7 million people, with another 62.7 million serving as volunteers and of course the multi-millions receiving services.

The report’s research was conducted in relationship to the 2012 national election when close to 100 nonprofit service providers in seven states, as well as one national partner, agreed to engage with Nonprofit VOTE in its Track the Vote project.

In tracking the voting behavior of 33,741 individuals who registered to vote and/or pledged to vote via outreach from these service providers, this select group from Arizona, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina and Ohio – plus the National Association of Community Health Centers – helped to answer important questions. Overall, the data clearly shows the effect of having contact with a nonprofit about voting on increasing the likelihood that individuals will actually vote.

Equally important in a sector that is stretched for resources, it shows the essential elements that help nonprofit service providers integrate voter participation in their work. The qualitative and quantitative analysis framed response to queries related to the audience reached; capacity of service providers to engage; impact of those contacted by nonprofits to vote; what tactics and strategies have efficacy; and what factors contribute to success for service providers.

Among the significant findings were:

  • Clients, constituents and staff were “markedly more diverse, lower income and younger than all registered voters in the seven states, made up of populations with a history of lower voter turnout in past elections”;
  • Nonprofit-contacted voters were nearly twice as likely to be younger voters (under age 30), more than three times more likely to be Latino or black and four times more likely to have incomes under $25,000;
  • The turnout rate among nonprofit-influenced voters was at 74 percent – 6 points higher than the rate for all registered voters, including 18 percent higher from Latino and Asian voters, 8 percent higher among whites and 7 percent higher among blacks;
  • Nonprofit intervention had the “…biggest impact among turnout of the least likely voters…”

Still, there remains more work to be done, including drilling down to the specific interventions that appeared to have the greatest impact on increasing voter participation, as well as determining if the changes are sustained during the next election cycle and the level of resources that are needed to be effective.

But the report provides the first answers to the fundamental question of can nonprofits make a difference in voter turnout based on personal contact with millions of Americans.

The report summary notes, “The populations reached by nonprofit providers were disproportionately younger, lower income and diverse by race and ethnicity – with a past history of lower voter participation.”

Which means, according to Nonprofit VOTE founder George Pillsbury, “When nonprofits talk to the people we serve about voting, they listen and turn out to vote. It means more election impact and a louder voice for our issues and our communities.”

We agree with his assessment and hope this work will help us expand the role of nonprofits in advancing democracy in this nation. At its core, is not that the essence of a nonprofit organization’s mission-driven purpose?

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