While it’s not exactly what former First Lady Michelle Obama said, it does summarize a lot of her words and recent actions. Working alongside celebrities like Tom Hanks, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Chris Paul, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, and Janelle Monae, a new nonprofit has been born. When We All Vote has one simple mission: to ensure that every single eligible voter registers and votes.
The power of voting cannot be underestimated. This is our chance to have an impact on who will speak on our behalf, the laws that define our daily lives, and what the priorities are for our communities. This is especially true for the nonprofit sector and the communities we serve every day. In other words, voting directly impacts our ability to accomplish our missions, so we probably should participate in the process. Voting also reinforces the public’s engagement in our issues. NonprofitVOTE found people who vote are more likely to volunteer, contact their elected officials, and stay informed about local affairs.
National Voter Registration Day (September 25) is only two months away and now is the perfect time to plan what you will be doing to make sure your neighbors, coworkers, donors, and others are not only registered – but are actually voting.
While we know planning and executing a voter registration drive takes a lot of effort, that doesn’t make it any less important. But we’re here to help. There are plenty of resources out there to help lessen this burden. Plenty of partners who can lend a hand. And, there is still time to make it happen.
Start with a Whisper
Don’t have unlimited resources, or a grant or donor who is specifically dedicated to civic engagement? That’s okay! We all need to start somewhere, and you can get started for free. Are you an executive or Board member? Empower your employees to take time off to vote, and not just in the “important” elections. (Tip: They are all important!) Don’t have decision-making power? That’s okay, too! Take your case to your manager(s). Tell them why a voting employee can move the needle on the organization’s mission. Explain that when a nonprofit employee votes, they aren’t just voting as a private citizen, but someone who is aware of the many issues facing our communities, and that because of their daily work, they know about current legislation that impacts their organization’s issues and who the champions are. They can help make sure the strongest champions are the ones writing the laws.
Use Your Inside Voice
Feeling brave? Think you can take the next step? You know that there’s power in numbers. Now you can branch out beyond internal voter engagement. Your organization can get its feet wet and start to make an impact outside of its walls. Once you’ve got your coworkers understanding the strength of voting and therefore exercising their right to vote, you know you’re ready to reach out to your next target group. It would be great if you could get your whole network registered and regularly voting, but we all know progress takes time. First, start off with those you interact with all the time. Maybe they’re on your Board or Committee, are your regular donors, or are those you provide regular direct services. These people trust you, they likely often can speak on your behalf and they’re the ones who know what your best work looks like. So asking them to register and vote on issues that affect them isn’t a large leap.
Use Your Outside Voice
Now that you’ve got your “regulars” registered and regularly voting, it’s time to branch out. Do you host an annual conference? Or a semi-regular event? Those are ideal times to include voter registration booths. If you have the physical space for a booth, you can set it up in a common area – it doesn’t have to be near registration/badge pickup. It can be by the coffee stand, a networking area, or anywhere that there’s a lot of foot traffic. Maybe you can even catch them by the elevator – nowhere to run and they’ve got to wait for the door to open, don’t they? Kidding aside, asking people to register and vote is often compared to making a sales pitch. The trouble with that argument is that with the nonprofit sector, it’s not about selling anything, and certainly not about making money. We tend to shy away from asking a lot of our networks, because we know how valuable their time and resources are. People often want to help, but don’t have the financial resources to make a big difference, the time they want to volunteer regularly, or the knowledge that they’re allowed to do “get out the vote” work. One of the easiest ways to create change is through the voting booth.
Scream it Out Loud
Now that your coworkers, stakeholders, direct service recipients, members of your community, and expanded networks are voting, you’re ready to take the final step. Start all over. You heard me. Start back at the beginning. This time, it should be a lot easier. There will be another election, there always is. While it seems like the campaign seasons are starting sooner than ever, you’re already prepared. You’ve got a system built to succeed. It’s likely that you have hired new employees, helped new people, and have extended your reach. Use the resources you’ve spent building to help. These people heard you loud and clear: voting is important. But it’s more than that. They know that the fastest way to change the world is through voting and advocacy. When you get enough people whispering, you start to hear some real noise.
What that noise says to elected officials is, “Pay attention to me, my needs, or my issues – your job depends on it.” Voting ensures that elected officials pay close attention to the interests of the communities your organization serves. Even better, incorporating voter education and registration into your organization’s daily work makes your advocacy efforts easier and more effective. You have cultivated tens, hundreds, maybe even thousands, of voters who care about your organization’s mission. Backed by voters, your organization’s advocacy voice grows louder, enabling you to hold policymakers accountable and ask for laws that you want to see. Now, let’s go use our voices!