Nonprofit VOTE and Independent Sector are partnering to bring you a new blog series, Mission Possible. This series will explore the different ways a variety of nonprofits are embedding voter engagement into their work. We believe that even limited voter engagement can help you enhance your mission and drive positive change for your communities and the people you serve. But don’t take our word for it, check out these examples. Each month, Mission Possible will feature one organization and the unique way they are mobilizing their communities.
Welcome to Mission Possible: Our ongoing series highlighting nonprofits, foundations and other organizations who partnered with us to execute nonpartisan voter engagement.
As one of the world’s largest nonprofit home builders, Habitat for Humanity has earned a highly-regarded reputation for helping families find stability through shelter. In 2018, Habitat improved housing conditions for more than 8.7 million people across the globe through new home construction, rehabilitation, incremental improvements, repairs or improved market access to affordable housing. This year, in response to the rising home affordability challenge in the United States, Habitat launched a national advocacy campaign – Cost of Home – aimed at finding solutions and creating policies that will help 10 million people gain improved access to affordable homes.
To learn more about how Habitat is increasing their advocacy focus through voter and candidate engagement, we turned to Anne Myers, Habitat’s senior director of advocacy campaigns:
Q: It’s a no-brainer that voter and candidate engagement is important. How does it tie into Habitat’s campaign strategy and goals?
Candidates and elected officials are the ones who can make change, and voters are the people they listen to. One in six U.S. households pay half or more of their income on a place to live. The Cost of Home policy platform focuses attention on four core policy areas that are critical to making the cost of home something we all can afford. Meaningful change in policy, systems and legislation will only happen once people begin to identify the issues and voice those concerns with their local and state legislators.
Q: Since nonpartisan voter and candidate engagement is not your core mission, how did you convince leadership of its importance and were there any concerns about allocation of resources?
The Cost of Home campaign is an important inflection point in Habitat’s work, marking significant growth in our commitment to ensuring that everyone has a safe and decent place to call home. More than 38 million U.S. families are spending too much on their housing. We know we can’t meet the need through building homes alone. That’s why it’s so critical for us to address the underlying policies and systems that hinder access to housing. Our local Habitat organizations have told us that they want to invest Habitat’s name and voices in a more concerted effort, and our leadership strongly supports this growth in our mission. We are proud to be advised, endorsed and supported by a number of high-profile individuals and organizations.
Q: Tell us about the decision to do a voter and candidate engagement training webinar with Nonprofit VOTE — why did that seem like a good, first step?
A lot of nonprofits like Habitat may at first be wary tying voter and candidate engagement to their missions, because we must remain nonpartisan and issue-focused. Trainings such as those offered by Nonprofit VOTE help break down misconceptions about what nonprofits can and can’t do, and help bridge a gap between nonprofits and communities in need by offering guidance on how to unite to make our collective voices heard.
Q: What were some of the immediate and/or long-term benefits of the webinar — did it achieve the goals you set?
The webinar spurred momentum and interest throughout our network to further engage in advocacy and the Cost of Home campaign. Each opportunity we have to share tools and leverage partnerships like this one, helps motivate and ready the network to connect with their communities on affordable housing policies.
Q: Since the Cost of Home campaign is a new effort for Habitat for Humanity, what are you most looking forward to this year?
Our goal is to improve and expand housing affordability for 10 million people in the United States over the next five years. We’re already seeing progress—from zoning changes and reducing development requirements in Austin, Texas to halting legislation that would’ve expanded predatory lending in Indiana. While we’ve already developed a number of tools and resources to help our network of local Habitat organizations move the needle forward, we are excited about collaborating with Nonprofit VOTE to develop a new, custom-tailored voter and candidate engagement toolkit as well. It will help our colleagues engage housing advocates, Habitat homeowners, volunteers and supporters, as well as federal, state and local policymakers to advance access to safe, decent and affordable homes.