The following appeared in the Summer 2012 issue of The Provider, the flagship publication of the Providers’ Council.

Many nonprofits see voter outreach as something beyond the scope of the services they provide, leaving their clients to instead rely on the efforts of candidates and party campaigns. As a result, many potential voters receive no assistance at all.

Factors like being nonpartisan, financial and time concerns, and a lack of resources and support further compound the situation.

Nonprofits CAN participate.

However, nonprofits can participate. It’s true that 501(c)(3) nonprofits are required to be nonpartisan, but nonpartisan does not mean non-participation. Nonprofits are realizing that voter engagement doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated. Many organizations now recognize the value of voter engagement as a key component in their advocacy toolkit and are no longer watching passively from the sidelines on Election Day.

Organizations like the Providers’ Council—a long-time partner of Nonprofit VOTE—have led this transition in recent years by bringing voter engagement into the sector mainstream through initiatives like CareVote. The Council is joined by others like CalNonprofits which encourages California nonprofits to “Vote with Your Mission” and the National Association of Community Health Centers with its ongoing Community Health Vote project.

Participation is EASY.

Voter registration, voter education, and get-out-the-vote work is most effective when nonprofits incorporate activities and conversations into ongoing services. There is no need to develop a new voter registration program when organizations can simply ask clients about registering to vote during intake or while updating their information.

Participation is EFFECTIVE.

Perhaps most importantly, the agency-based approach is effective. Research conducted with human service agencies in Detroit during the 2010 midterm election demonstrated that when nonprofits talked to their clients about voting they were not only more likely to vote, but also more likely to talk to their friends and family about voting. This year Nonprofit VOTE has partnered with CareVote to conduct additional research in Massachusetts and ten other states to further explore best practices for nonprofit service providers.

Participation HELPS nonprofits’ missions.

The ballot box is critical to nonprofits’ larger advocacy and policy efforts.

Elected officials pay attention to which communities and which populations turn out and are generally more responsive to organizations involved in registering voters and encouraging turnout. Voting is good for the people nonprofits serve, as voters are more likely to contact elected officials, talk to their neighbors, and actively engage with their communities.

But ultimately the only way to have representatives and laws that support your work is to vote and to encourage other people to do the same. Voting is an extension of your dedication to providing quality care and services, which is why it’s equally important to encourage the people you serve to vote.

JOIN US. (And get stickers!)

As a member of the Providers’ Council, your organization is already deeply involved in your community and invested in its future. We want to invite you to take the next step and support voting.

Your community contains distinct voices with specific needs. By conducting nonpartisan voter engagement your organization can help lift these concerns and empower your clients and constituents to participate in 2012.

Join a nationwide nonprofit campaign to support voting November 6 and send a message to your clients, constituents, and community. Plus every organization that signs on will receive a free “Vote November 6” kit and be eligible for weekly raffles for buttons and stickers to help raise awareness in your community.

This year, nonprofits in Massachusetts and across the country are engaging their communities around elections in greater numbers than ever. Nonprofit VOTE and the Providers’ Council want to help you do more, both now and after the election. We have materials and resources to help you get buy-in, make a plan, and achieve success. With your added efforts, we can make nonprofit voices heard at the polls like never before.

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