Civic Engagement

10 Actions Nonprofit Leaders Can Take to Support Our Democracy and Their Constituents

By Yordanos Eyoel

At a time when we are fatigued by a multitude of crises and social isolation, we face one of the most important elections of our generation.

Nonprofit leaders and organizations have a historic and moral role to play.

There are approximately 1.6 million nonprofit organizations in the US employing ~ 10 percent of the workforce, with 11.4M jobs. And 1 in 4 Americans volunteer with a nonprofit organization.

Even as institutional distrust has increased, people have higher levels of trust in the nonprofit sector. The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer reported that nonprofit organizations are seen as more ethical compared to the government, the private sector, and the media.

Despite this moral authority, many 501(C)3 nonprofit organizations are hesitant to engage in civic engagement and/or electoral efforts for fear of legal incompliance. While understanding the legal parameters is critical, nonprofit organizations are uniquely positioned to support and protect our democracy. As civil society organizations, nonprofits serve those most impacted by systemic inequity.

Irrespective of the organization’s mission – whether in education, health care, or workforce development – the foundation for an equitable society is a strong democratic system. And during this pivotal time in our country, nonprofit organizations have an unparalleled opportunity to provide a civic home to their constituents by informing, activating, and supporting them to exercise their civic power.

With uncertainties around the election process and potential post-election disruption on the horizon, nonprofits can serve as trusted messengers who can mitigate misinformation and encourage civic engagement—especially with historically disenfranchised groups.

To support their constituents, organizations can take three specific categories of actions: get out the vote; support safe and secure elections; and prepare for potential post-election disruption and develop an action plan.

Nonprofits can serve as trusted messengers who can mitigate misinformation and encourage civic engagement—especially with historically disenfranchised groups.

— Yordanos Eyoel

1. Provide voter education and registration information
Even before the pandemic, 22% of voters cited logistical challenges as a barrier to voting including long wait times, difficulty accessing polling locations, and scheduling conflicts. With Covid-19 coupled with rampant voter suppression, the logistical hurdles have multiplied. A variety of online voter registration tools exist to simplify and support voter registration, vote-by-mail requests, and share notifications.

TAKE ACTION:

Register to vote and receive important electoral updates using tools such as TurboVote, Vote.gov, and Rockthevote.org. It is important to note that in some states, you cannot complete the full registration process on-line but these sites and others enable you to access accurate information for your state. You can learn more about a range of online voter registration tools here.

2. Promote early voting
According to Ballotpedia, “early voting permits citizens to cast ballots in person at a polling place prior to an election. In states that permit no-excuse early voting, a voter does not have to provide an excuse for being unable to vote on Election Day.” Currently, 38 states and the District of Columbia permit no-excuse early voting.

TAKE ACTION:

Check out this Early Voting Calendar to see if your state has early voting and when the process begins and ends.

 

3. Support poll worker recruitment
Over 50% of poll workers are over the age of 60. With the pandemic, many of them are hesitant to serve in this capacity. Power the Polls is a nonpartisan organization bringing together nonprofits and businesses such as Alliance for Youth Organizing, Civic Alliance, Comedy Central, Fair Elections Center, and MTV in a coalition to promote civic engagement. Power the Polls is working with election administration officials to ensure that they have sufficient PPE for poll workers.

TAKE ACTION:

Sign up to serve as a poll worker here.

4. Provide information for how to accurately request, complete, and submit mail-in ballots
Nearly 85% of all eligible voters have the opportunity to vote by mail. The process for obtaining a mail-in ballot differs from state to state. In nine states and Washington, DC, voters will automatically receive a ballot. In a few other states, ballot requests are sent to voters. In the majority of states, however, voters have to take a proactive step.

TAKE ACTION:

Check NBC’s Plan Your Vote to get state-by-state guidance. It is important to have sufficient time to request, complete, and return ballots. Some states have stringent rules about signature matching and even a notary requirement. To ensure that your ballot is not rejected, follow these steps.

5. Make election day a holiday
With the logistical complications of voting in a pandemic, you can help to reduce one barrier by giving your employees paid-time off. This not only promotes voter engagement but it also establishes a culture of civic empowerment and action within your organization.

TAKE ACTION:

Give your employees paid-time off on election day and sign the pledge, A Day for Democracy, to encourage your peer organizations to do the same.

6. Debunk the concept of “election night” and build awareness around potential delays in determining election results
Multi-modal voting in a pandemic will cause delays in determining the full election results. The Transition Integrity Project conducted a bi-partisan post-election scenario analysis and concluded that “the concept of ‘election night,’ is no longer accurate and indeed is dangerous.”

TAKE ACTION:

Inform your team and constituents about this highly likely period of uncertainty, between November 3rd and January 20th, as the country determines the winner of the presidential election.


7. Scenario plan for potential organizational disruption
With the high likelihood of delayed election results and a period of uncertainty, your organization may experience operational disruption including programmatic and in fundraising. Using this pre-election period to engage in organizational scenario planning will enable you to mitigate some of the risks.

TAKE ACTION:

Utilize scenario planning resources such as An Event or an era? Resources for social sector decision-making in the context of COVID-19 and The Art of Scenario Thinking for Nonprofits.

8. Care for your people
Most of us are emotionally beat! 2020 has been a challenging year with a confluence of crises that continue to disrupt and impact our daily lives in profound ways. With the added uncertainty and potential challenges that will ensue after the election, we will be in stronger need of community, care and love. There are a few things you can do now to be positioned to support your team and constituents post-election.

TAKE ACTION:

    • Organize a staff meeting for November 4th or 5th to provide space for fellowship and to discuss the latest information about the post-election period
    • Coordinate with Affinity/Employee Resource (ER) Group leads to schedule meetings following the election to provide an additional space for fellowship and support
    • Gather resources (such as the ones listed in this guide) to share with your team and constituents
    • Consider scheduling a post-election constituent forum
    • Review Q4 organizational goals and workstreams to determine what is mission critical to achieve by the end of the year and provide clear guidance to your team
    • Create a plan for flexible schedules to support staff to self-care
    • Prepare managers for how to address fatigue, psychological and physical insecurity, and reduced productivity
    • Make what is happening discussable. While CEOs can and should set the example, we should all feel empowered to lead by example

9. Provide accurate, timely, and clear information
In March, Forbes reported that employers were the most trusted source of information about COVID-19 and that most people believed that their employer was better prepared for the virus. In the case of a post-election crisis, your employees and constituents will look to you to provide guidance.

TAKE ACTION:

    • Create a communications plan for your stakeholders, internally and externally
    • Consider whether and under what conditions you will make a public statement
    • Identify peer organizations you can partner with to share and exchange resources

10. Leverage resources for nonviolent civic action
In a democracy, nonviolent protests and actions are as integral as a free and fair electoral process.

TAKE ACTION:

Declare your commitment by taking the Choose Democracy Pledge. Sign up for nonviolent direct action trainings. You can also review Part IV of Hold the Line: A Guide to Defending Democracy, which outlines a range of civic engagement and nonviolent civil resistance actions as well as this resource on building community resilience.

Finally, resist the urge to “wait and see what happens.” Your team and constituents rely on you and need you to provide a sense of stability as we navigate an uncertain time in our country!

The nonprofit sector is poised to play a historic role in shaping the future of our country.

If you are a nonprofit leader and/or supporter ready to take these actions in support of our democracy, declare your commitment by sharing with your network these 10 Actions Nonprofit Leaders Can Take to Support Our Democracy and Their Constituents.

 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

  1. State by State Guide for What to do if groups of armed individuals are near a polling place or voter registration drive, Georgetown Law
  2. Democracy for President by More in Common
  3. Absentee and Mail Voting Policies in Effect for the 2020 Election, National Conference of State Legislators

 

Yordanos Eyoel is a Partner at New Profit where she leads the organization’s civic engagement strategy and Civic Lab initiative.