On November 4th, 36 senators, 36 governors, and all 435 members of the House of Representatives will be up for election. Here in Massachusetts, every statewide office, the state legislature, four (contentious) ballot questions, and numerous local races will be on the ballot. Voters will have lots of decisions to make.
The Benefits of Voting
The ballot box is critical to nonprofits’ larger advocacy and policy efforts. Voter engagement not only boosts our year-round advocacy, but it also makes us relevant during elections. Candidate and campaigns seek out and respond to communities with higher voter registration and turnout rates and to organizations that care about voting. When our staff and communities participate, we have more access to decision makers, increased clout for our organization, and a greater chance to have our issues addressed. Voter engagement helps build stronger nonprofits.
In addition to the benefits for nonprofits, voting is associated with numerous benefits for individual voters: People who register and vote are more likely to talk to their neighbors, meet with local officials, and engage in other civic actions. Studies show that states with higher voting levels have higher levels of self-reported health, lower ex-offender recidivism rates, and even lower unemployment. Learn more about the benefits of voting.
Nonprofits are trusted and respected in their communities. Because of the populations nonprofits reach, our voter engagement efforts have the potential to significantly contribute to the diversity of the electorate, particularly among groups that historically participate at lower rates.
Perhaps most importantly, nonprofits have proven to be effective at increasing turnout among the people they serve. A 2012 study conducted by Nonprofit VOTE and CIRCLE, Can Nonprofits Increase Voting?, found that nonprofit service providers raised turnout rates among those least expected to vote and also closed gaps in voter participation across all demographics. Young, low-income, and Latino voters contacted by nonprofits voted at rates 15-18 points higher than their counterparts in the general population.
What to Do
There is a wide range of nonpartisan voter engagement activities nonprofits can conduct to educate the public and help voters participate in elections. It’s a good idea to use August and September to focus on voter registration efforts before Massachusetts’ voter registration deadline on October 15th.
Participate in the third annual National Voter Registration Day on September 23rd. Volunteers and organizations across the country registered over 357,000 voters in the event’s first two years. Be part of this exciting celebration of democracy.
Place Nonprofit VOTE’s easy-to-use voter registration tool on your website to encourage visitors to register or update the registration. It uses simple prompts to guide users through the required questions and can be used in English, Spanish, and 11 Asian languages. Install it as a button on your website or link directly to the tool.
How to Be Successful
Successful voter engagement involves being prepared and making plans. Designate a staff lead, identify potential outreach strategies, and get buy-in from leadership and other staff. Use Nonprofit VOTE’s 2014 Voter Registration and Engagement Timeline to guide your efforts.
Voter engagement strategies differ for every nonprofit. Think about how you connect with your community and where it might be appropriate to have conversations about voting. This could include classes and trainings, while providing services, or at community events.
Try to use personal, face-to-face contact whenever possible and create a sense of urgency around the election by highlighting an issue on the ballot. Be prepared to ramp up your efforts as Election Day approaches.
Make the election visible on your website, through social media, in your communications, and at events. Place a badge on your website to direct visitors to voting information or have them register to vote. It’s important to know about the voting rules in your state, such as registration deadlines, voter ID requirements, eligibility for ex-offenders, and early voting opportunities.
Visit Nonprofit VOTE’s resource library for materials to get your voter engagement efforts started.