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.
The National Urban League has been at the forefront of the Civil Rights fight since its inception in 1910. Based in New York City, the League is a nonpartisan group working to end racial discrimination and has been at some of the pivotal moments in our history – including Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington.
Though nonpartisan voter engagement has not been necessarily central to their organization, it nonetheless aligned with their mission to “enable African Americans and other underserved urban residents to secure economic self-reliance, parity, power and civil rights.” Ebony Baylor, their Director of Civic Engagement, details how the two goals overlap and their partnership with Nonprofit VOTE.
Q: While everyone agrees that voting and voter engagement is important, how did you tie that to your organization’s core mission? With us being a civil rights organization, access to voting and voter engagement is organically tied to our mission. We’ve always been very vocal about the right to vote even before the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. We knew then that it was important to engage the community and be vigilant about participating in the electoral process.
Q: Since nonpartisan voter engagement is not your core mission, how did you convince leadership of its importance and were there any concerns about allocation of resources? I would argue that voter engagement IS a part of our core mission, it really falls under our social justice arm. Nonpartisan voter engagement is really a resurgence of the Citizenship Education Program, started by Vernon Jordan in the 1970s, which focused on increasing voter turnout after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 when we created manuals and voter guides. One concern we had about starting it back up was external funding — looking for organizations to exclusively fund this work has been a barrier. That’s why partnering with Nonprofit VOTE was important because they provide the resources that would typically cost a good deal of money.
Q: Tell us about the decision to doing a co-branded voter engagement toolkit — why did that seem like a good, first step? We wanted to make sure that our affiliates and auxiliary groups were educated and empowered to do voter engagement work. Often, we found that people are afraid of dipping their toe in voter engagement because of their 501c3 status and the toolkit was a great outline and reminder about what they COULD actually do while dispelling the myths about what they couldn’t.
Q: What were some of the immediate and/or long-term benefits of the toolkit — did it achieve the goals you set for it? We’re always getting phone calls from affiliates asking “what can I do” when it comes to voter engagement and the toolkit was this very easy and quick answer. If anyone had a question, we could quickly refer back to the guide which saved on staff time and resources. The best part, however, is that the affiliates felt better. And the toolkit is still there on our website for anyone who needs it.
Q: What advice do you have for other nonprofits who are eager to do nonpartisan voter engagement but for whatever reason haven’t started yet? First, educate yourself about what you can do and chances are, you can incorporate voter engagement into the work you’re already doing. Voting effects everyone, including your clients, even if that’s not primarily what you are engaging with them about. Also, there’s a lot you can do with limited resources, time, and money especially with social and digital media – not everyone has to knock on doors and make phone calls.