News Nonprofits help promote equity among voters

From the December issue of The Provider:

Nonprofits have a unique ability to build voter engagement in the communities they serve, according to Brian Miller, executive director of Cambridge-based Nonprofit VOTE. Nationwide, young adults, low-income citizens, along with black, Hispanic and Asian communities, have some of the lowest rates of voter turnout, with some groups registering less than 40 percent engagement. “It’s important to understand that there are gaps in voter turnout and those gaps will not fix themselves. The political parties will not fix the gaps because they are focused on winning elections,” said Miller.

In a new report released earlier this year, Engaging New Voters: If Nonprofits Don’t, Who Will?, the agency conducted a study of 64 nonprofit agencies in six states statewide.  They found that nonprofits that engaged their clients via campaigns of postcards, texts and live phone calls increased turnout among the communities they serve by 11 percentage points. “As nonprofits we regularly interact with those who have been left out the democratic process,” researchers said.

Improvements have been made in recent years to make voting more accessible for underrepresented groups, but it has not gone far enough. To reach full equity and inclusivity in society, underrepresented members must vote, said Miller. “Good policy makes it possible for people to vote, but a nonprofit looking at people in the eye and communicating with them make it probable that people will vote,” he said.

The successful nonprofits studied in the report tied pro-voting efforts to client empowerment and alignment with their missions. They also engaged their staff member as key ambassadors in the effort. Read the full report at



Talking to your clients about an election. What can you say?

Staff working for 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations should be nonpartisan when representing their nonprofit on site, at events or doing voter engagement activities.

What is ok to talk about on a nonpartisan basis? It’s fine to provide information about the voting process like dates and deadlines, early voting hours, getting a mail ballot, or help registering to vote. You can let people know about a candidate forum or debate. In addition, you can provide information about ballot measures and your organization’s views on those matters.

What if someone asks me who I support or who they should vote for? Can I say anything about specific candidates? Remind them that you must be nonpartisan. You can only answer simple facts like what party they are in, if they’re an incumbent or challenger or where they live. Don’t state your preferences.

What if I’m asked about a ballot measure? Ballot measures are about laws not candidates. You may discuss the pros and cons of a ballot measure unless it is your agency’s policy not to. Can I use social media to post or share information about the candidates? Not if you’re using the nonprofit account. It’s ok to say what you want on your personal accounts.

Source: Nonprofit VOTE,

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