Guest Column

Nonprofits strengthen voter engagement

November 4, 2016
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What do nonprofits and voting have in common? Both strive to engage people in creating positive community change.

Nonprofits seek to assess community needs and channel resources toward addressing them to create stronger communities. People vote in ways they think will result in the policies that will have the most positive impact on their communities and their country.

During the past few years, there has been an increasing distrust of government and business institutions, as well as the media. People are left trying to figure out where to get their information and where they can go to understand the issues.

Nonprofits can be that trusted education center for voter engagement to help people understand the issues and understand how to vote.

A recent report from nonprofitvote.com states nonprofits engage with over 100 million people annually. Their constituents include clients, staff and the communities they serve.

Many of those served by nonprofits are people being passed over by regular campaign voter engagement efforts. Because they are barred from partisan political activity, nonprofits chartered as 501(c)3 organizations are in a unique position to educate voters about important issues, encourage voting and teach people how to exercise this critical civic responsibility. And nonprofits benefit, because they get more donors and volunteers from this work.

The Independent Sector recently published a research study, “United for Charity,” in which it reports 70 percent of voters are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports policies that help the charitable sector become more involved in government policy making. The report also states 74 percent trust the charitable sector more than the government to spend dollars wisely, demonstrating the well of trust the public has in the sector.

Voter engagement efforts by nonprofits lead directly to increased voter participation across the board, particularly engagement by young people (an increase of 28 percent), people of color and people of low income. These statistics demonstrate nonprofits can reach the demographic groups least likely to vote.

In order to close the gap in the voting rates among different parts of the population, we need stronger social infrastructure organizations that can help educate the entire community and equip all citizens to vote. Better representation of all the voices in our country is the way to stronger communities and a stronger country.

Kyle Caldwell is executive director at the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy in Grand Rapids.

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