One of the easiest and most effective activities a nonprofit can engage in is encouraging its staff, board members, volunteers, supporters, and service recipients to register to vote. Bear the following guidelines in mind when preparing voter registration activities:
- Nonprofit organizations are free to conduct and finance voter registration drives and other voter education efforts to ensure more citizens have the opportunity to vote. The only restriction on such activities is that they have to be nonpartisan – intended to promote the voting process rather than to influence the election or defeat of particular candidates. That means that the drive must give its registration assistance without inquiring how the recipient plans to vote. You may not suggest what party or candidate to support.
- During the voter registration, nonprofit staff and volunteers must be reminded to avoid saying or writing anything that would indicate any partisan purpose, motive, or hoped-for result.
- It also means that the places in which the drive will operate cannot be chosen for reasons that relate to the outcome of the election. Nonprofit organizations can target specific communities of people, so long as those communities were not chosen on the basis of political or ideological criteria.
- An FEC regulation requires posting a sign or giving written notice to people you are registering or helping to vote, saying “These voter registration services are available without regard to the voter’s political preference. Information and other assistance regarding registering or voting, including transportation and other services offered, shall not be withheld or refused on the basis of support for or opposition to particular candidates or a particular party.”
Voter registration activities that may be carried out by nonprofit organizations include:
- Registering staff, board, and volunteers
- Registering clients and constituency
- Providing registration forms at events and by posting a voting registration link on the organization’s website.
Note that a nonprofit organization may not use federal funds for voter registration. Also, special restrictions apply to the use of private foundation grants for voter registration.
Independent Sector, National Council of Nonprofits, Nonprofit VOTE, and United Way Worldwide have collectively launched a national campaign called Nonprofit Votes Count that encourages nonprofit employees and volunteers to register and vote, and to build awareness among the charitable community about how many engaged voters are in our coalitions.
Tools for Nonprofits
- Independent Sector partnered with Nonprofit VOTE and the Council on Foundations to publish toolkits designed to help both community foundations and private foundations engage grantees, donors, and communities in new ways to help elevate our democracy and the voices of the people they serve.
- The Nonprofit Voter Engagement Network has re-launched its NonprofitVote website with a Voter Participation Starter Kit to help nonprofits learn the basics about nonpartisan voter engagement, voter registration, voter education and candidate forums.
- The League of Women Voters website provides tips for successful voter registration drives and answers to frequently asked questions about sponsoring candidate debates.
Know the Rules
- Election Dos and Don’ts for Public Charities (PDF)
- Election Dos and Don’ts for Private Foundations (PDF)
- Election Dos and Don’ts for 501(c)(3) staff (PDF)
- Issue Advocacy vs. Electioneering (PDF)
- Voter Education (PDF)
- Bolder Advocacy
Find Your Partners
This is to provide general guidance only and should not be relied upon as legal advice.