There are more than one million registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations that employ over 13.5 million people, rely on 61 million volunteers, and serve and engage millions more.
Nonprofits represent democracy’s highest ideals of public service, active citizenship and commitment to a better society. With their natural engagement assets and unparalleled reach, nonprofits are particularly well suited to encourage voter participation. And they have a proven impact on participation when they do.
Nonprofits are everywhere. The nation’s human service providers, community development groups, health centers, multi-service and educational organizations are deeply rooted in local communities across all 50 states. Through our daily contact with clients, constituents, staff, volunteers, board members and communities, nonprofits can reach and connect with large numbers of potential voters.
Nonprofits have access to communities that are typically underrepresented in the political process. A 2016 study by Nonprofit VOTE showed that nonprofits disproportionately reached individuals who are younger, lower-income, and more diverse than the general public—groups that historically participate at lower rates.
Nonprofits are trusted messengers. A recent Harris Poll asked the public who they wished had more influence in political affairs. Respondents said they wanted nonprofits and small businesses to have a greater say in politics—second only to themselves!
At the heart of that trust is our nonpartisan approach. Charitable and educational nonprofits by charter must remain nonpartisan and not take sides for a candidate or party. However, nonpartisanship does not mean nonparticipation. There are a wide variety of activities nonprofits can do to support voting, like voter education and registration, get-out-the-vote efforts, and even engaging candidates on a nonpartisan basis.
Not only do nonprofits reach populations that are less likely to vote, but they are effective in increasing turnout among these groups—reducing disparities in who votes based on age, income, and ethnicity. Nonprofit VOTE’s 2016 evaluation, Engaging New Voters, showed that voters contacted in-person by nonprofits during services voted at higher rates than other voters in their state across all demographics. Nonprofits had their greatest participation impact on voters considered less likely to vote.
The bottom line is that nonprofits have inherent assets that make them strong and capable proponents of voter and citizen participation. There are also strong reasons for nonprofits to promote voting and democracy in their communities. See Why Voting.