Independent Sector partner and nonpartisan civic engagement ally Nonprofit VOTE just released their newest report, Engaging New Voters, which provides compelling data on why all nonprofits should be actively engaging their communities in the electoral process. The report was released on May 30 with an event at the National Press Club here in Washington, DC.
Nonprofit VOTE partnered with and supported what they call “state-based anchors,” examples of which include “state nonprofit associations and civic engagement initiatives, who in turn recruit and support nonprofits in their state to do voter engagement work.” The organizations participating in this program also receive training and regularly check-ins. The data compiled from pledge-to-vote cards or equivalents collected from these organizations comprise the bulk of this report.
For the report, Nonprofit VOTE collected and analyzed qualitative information through voter registrations, pledge-to-vote cards, and absentee ballot request forms, as well as quantitative information through registration and pledge collection, combined with a survey that was sent to all partner sites.
The report found that not only did the nonprofits who participated in the Engaging New Voters program see more people register and turn out to vote, but they also found that they closed the gap between white and non-white voters (see highlights below).
A crowd of about 100 people heard from the researchers and a panel of nonprofit professionals engaged in this type of work. The challenge that Nonprofit VOTE and the panelists acknowledged is that there is a perception around how much work is required to begin engaging voters. But there was also an acknowledgement that this is important and necessary work, especially because nonprofits are often the strongest, if not the only ally with direct and regular contact with the communities they serve. Engaging New Voters focuses on some of the reasons why nonprofits should be the ones doing this:
- Nonprofit voters turned out at rates 11 percentage points higher than comparable voters
- Nonprofit voters who were “engaged in the program” were more likely to be non-white, young, and low-income than registered voters in the study states
- 84% of those who were engaged in the program were actually matched to the voter file and turned out to vote (19,000+ matched to voter file out of 22,500+ engaged)
The catch to all of this is that policies around the right to vote are only part of the equation. There are too many people who have no barriers to registering to vote that simply don’t. The underlying factors vary. Some people don’t think politics matter, that their vote doesn’t count, their elected officials don’t represent them or their interests or care to listen to their constituency. As with any advocacy or grassroots effort, voter engagement and civic participation rely heavily on how motivated the program staff are to achieve its goals. The best thought-out, get-out-the-vote (GOTV) campaign will only be successful if the people in charge are motivated to make it happen.
As the panelists pointed out, these efforts don’t take much to get started. Ebony Baylor of National Urban League told the audience at the release that it can be as simple as placing a postcard on a table at an existing event. Another panelist, Rebecca Gorrell of Community Resource Center, acknowledged that one of the ways they have lightened the lift on their organization is through sharing existing resources from organizations like Nonprofit VOTE.
As part of our own efforts to highlight examples of nonprofits doing nonpartisan civic engagement, Independent Sector and Nonprofit VOTE have teamed up to produce, Mission Possible, a blog series highlighting different nonprofits that are prioritizing and navigating this work while staying true to their mission.