Thursday, October 7, 2010

Why Nonprofits? Why Now?

A recent report by the American National Election Studies (ANES) may surprise you. It found that far less than half of Americans are contacted by a major political party during an election cycle. Although this statistic seems to contradict the numerous campaign ads and media coverage we see, most voters have not been, and are not being approached about voting.

Research shows that the most effective way to engage voters and increase turnout is through direct contact. With the political space left unoccupied by the major parties, there is a great deal nonprofits can and must do to reach out to their communities. And with so many issues that could greatly impact nonprofits and the people they serve, there is also incentive for them to do so.

Don’t think nonprofits can make a difference? The nonprofit sector is bigger than you think: there are over 1 million nonprofits in the U.S., and 1 in 10 people are employed by a nonprofit organization. In the 2006 midterm election, the voter registration gap between low-income and high-income citizens was over 19 percentage points. Many of the nation’s nonprofit agencies work with underrepresented communities and can be particularly effective in mobilizing their communities because individuals come to them for services.

Many nonprofits are already taking action, using literacy classes, training programs, health services, and citizenship ceremonies to encourage they people they serve to register and vote. State nonprofits associations across the country are working with us to train their members on how to conduct nonpartisan voter engagement activities. National service provider networks like the National Association of Community Health Centers and the Alliance for Children and Families have challenged their affiliates to educate their clients about the election and to register voters.

Despite pursuing different missions, nonprofits across the board are learning that increased civic participation in their communities helps them to better provide services and ensures that the voices in their community are heard. In Massachusetts, the Providers’ Council hosted a human services gubernatorial forum, while Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, in partnership with the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation, is organizing a children’s gubernatorial forum.

Nonprofits can make a huge difference in helping our communities participate and vote. Why wait?

A version of this post was the lead story in our October newsletter. Read the newsletter here and sign up to receive monthly updates from Nonprofit VOTE here.


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