This post is adapted from a September 8, 2015 article by Melissa Barwick, State Policy Associate at the National Council of Nonprofits’ website.
How does voter engagement really align with a nonprofit’s mission?
That’s a question many nonprofit professionals have probably asked themselves in the weeks since the launch of Nonprofit Votes Count, the nonpartisan national initiative to encourage every eligible nonprofit staffer, board member, and volunteer to register and vote. Many have found the answer and have signed up as partners of the campaign, including 80+ local nonprofits, more than 20 state associations of nonprofits, as well as 14 national nonprofit networks. And as we all begin to see others start to gear up in preparation for National Voter Registration Day on September 22nd, many will continue to wonder: can I really spare time from the work of my mission to devote to encouraging my nonprofit colleagues to get registered and to vote?
At the National Council of Nonprofits, we can often be heard espousing the belief that advocacy and mission are inextricably linked; the work that you do every day to advance your mission is advocacy in its purest form. As a nonprofit staff member, board member, or volunteer you advocate for your organization’s mission in the work that you do at the office, in your communities, and often at your homes, talking and bragging about the good work and outcomes that your nonprofit achieves. So the question is, if we live the values of our mission and advocate for our mission every day, shouldn’t we conduct ourselves as engaged citizens with that mission in mind as well?
It is well known that nonprofit employees and volunteers make up a considerable portion of the electorate: the nation’s 1.4 million nonprofits employ 13.7 million workers, and benefit from the committed service of 20 million board members and 62.6 million volunteers — that’s nearly 100 million unique voices. But nonprofits also have a large stake in the decisions that their lawmakers make, especially on the state and local levels. This year alone, state legislators have proposed more than 150 pieces of legislation that would directly affect nonprofit operations, costs, and fundraising — and that number doesn’t even include the various funding decisions lawmakers make that affect the work of nonprofits in communities. Add to that the hundreds, if not thousands, of laws proposed and passed by local governments each year and it becomes clear why it’s important for those involved in nonprofit work to vote. How much easier would our jobs be if lawmakers knew we were engaged and therefore made laws that supported, or at least didn’t get in the way of, missions?
Take, for example, South Carolina. Last year, voters were asked to decide whether or not to amend the state constitution to allow nonprofits to operate and conduct charitable raffles. Who better to weigh in on that question in the voting booth than the nine percent of South Carolina’s workforce that is employed in the nonprofit community, not to mention the countless board members and volunteers engaged with nonprofit organizations? Shouldn’t decisions that directly affect nonprofits be voted on by the people closest to the nonprofit — the people who work and volunteer there? How much easier could your work be if lawmakers knew that you were voting on decisions that affect your organization’s operations and on policies and programs that help the communities you support?
When lawmakers know that nonprofits are not only engaged in their communities on the frontlines, but also at the voting booths, they’re more likely to listen to our needs. The city of Norwalk, Connecticut, for instance, will be electing a new mayor next month and in response to a set of questions posed by a local newspaper last week, it is obvious that both candidates are listening to nonprofits in their areas. One candidate wrote: “The more time and resources we take from our charities, the less they are able to focus on what they are best at; nourishing the minds, bellies, and souls of those most in need in our city.” The other candidate was equally unequivocal: nonprofits “give back to Norwalk in many ways by providing services, assistance and support, be it spiritual, emotional, or physical. In a time when so many people are in need, I do not believe it would be in our community’s best interest to request monies from churches and other nonprofits who have already been given exempt status by the federal government.” When nonprofit employees and volunteers vote, lawmakers listen.
Taking time away from the daily good works that you do is hard, and that’s why Nonprofit Votes Count has made it easy to engage staff members, board members, and other volunteers and encourage them to vote for the good of the sector. In the lead up to National Voter Registration Day on September 22, Nonprofit Votes Count has provided even more great resources for your organization to use to encourage voting in your organization:
- For graphics to use with your communications including the logo, banner, and sticker images, visit the campaign marketing page.
- You may want to include links to the Voter Registration Toolkit for staff registration, tactics and strategies, reasons to vote, and a checklist to get started.
- And as a little bonus, everyone who signs up to be a partner of the campaign gets sent two 11″x17″ NVRD posters and Nonprofit Votes Count stickers.
Other resources and how to get started and how to stay nonpartisan can be found on the Nonprofit Votes Count website.