#nonprofitsvote: Tips on Voter Engagement
By Lina Khatib, CCVO Policy Analyst
With the federal election set for October 21, and the campaign period officially underway, nonprofits have an important role to play in voter engagement. As trusted sources of information, nonprofits hold unique positions in communities, and can help inform and empower the people that they serve to exercise their right to vote.
As familiar service providers and advocates, nonprofits have personal relationships with communities that have traditionally been underrepresented during elections. Studies have shown that recent immigrants, people with lower income and young people vote at lower rates than the general population. These same groups often get missed by political parties as candidates tend to focus on eligible voters who they think will show up and vote. Although this is an unfortunate reality, nonprofits have been successful at engaging people who are not expected to vote. They do this by incorporating voter information and awareness in their day-to-day activities and by providing the resources and knowledge that people need to get to the polls.
Voter engagement does not need to be a daunting or controversial undertaking. Encouraging people to vote is a nonpartisan activity that does not require a great deal of time and resources.
Here are some tips to help get you started:
Start small and build on success. The easiest way to include voter engagement in your work is to integrate it into ongoing activities. For example, if you are conducting an intake assessment, you can use that opportunity to inform people about the election and ask if they plan to vote. Young people, new citizens, and other first-time voters particularly benefit from information about the voting process. Although many nonprofits have limited staff, money or available space, consider the fact that even minimal voter engagement can have an impact on getting people to vote.
Leverage the resources at your disposal. We put together a vote kit especially designed to help you share information on where, when and how to vote. Through the vote kit, you can help people look up their polling station and find the resources they need to vote. You can even download a tent card to display, inviting people to ask you about voting.
Use positive messaging. Telling people, for example, that if they don’t vote, they don’t have a right to complain, doesn’t do much to encourage people to vote. Evoking shame or guilt is not very effective. People generally respond better to the idea that they can drive impact or make a difference by committing to a tangible action, like voting.
Give them a reason to go to the polls. Everyone has an opinion about how the government should handle various issues, even if they don’t realize it. Encourage potential voters to look into issues that they care about (ex. nature conservation, affordable child care, employment, etc…) and see where the parties stand. You can even help make a connection between voting and the services that your nonprofit provides. While it is important to remain nonpartisan, especially if you are a registered charity, you can still encourage people to get informed about policy issues that will impact them and their communities. Vote Compass is a neutral tool that can help people figure out where they sit on the political spectrum. While ultimately, we want people to vote, voter engagement is also an opportunity to spark and elevate conversations about what people care about and the future of our communities.
Help remove barriers to voting. There are all sorts of reasons why people might not make it to the polls. Figure out what the barriers are and do what you can to help remove them. You can inform people about the ways to vote to accommodate needs ex. voting by mail, advance voting, how to find out if a polling station is accessible, etc. You can also help organize vans or set up a ride share for people who cannot drive to their polling place. Additionally, you can check with people ahead of the election to see if they have the proper identification needed to vote.
Lastly, don’t forget to celebrate the act of voting, especially for first-time voters!
As part of the #nonprofitsvote campaign, we encourage people involved with nonprofits who are voting or engaging others to vote to use #nonprofitsvote throughout social media – so that we can continue to inform and inspire one another during this very critical time.