The key to successful voter and election engagement is being prepared.
It begins with understanding why the work is important to your organization, your community, and the individuals you serve. Make a list of the benefits; this might include advancing your issues, building clout, or empowering your clients by promoting engaged and active citizenship.
Follow these four key elements to get started:
- Understand the 501(c)(3) guidelines for nonprofits and civic groups on how to stay nonpartisan. Get the one page summary. Read the 501(c)(3) guide.
- Learn about voting in your state – Use our simple and comprehensive Voting in Your State tool. It directs you to your state’s election website for information on how to register, early voting options, deadlines, and more.
- Get a guide to voter registration drives: The Fair Elections Legal Network has up-to-date voter registration guides for all 50 states.
- Get buy-in from your Executive Director or other leadership for your ideas on conducting voter engagement.
- Choose a staff lead who can plan activities and involve other staff and volunteers.
- Identify a partner that can provide assistance, like your local election office or a nonprofit with voter engagement experience.
- Choose your audience: Consider your constituents and clients, staff, local community, or others.
- Select appropriate opportunities for engagement: Choose activities where it’s easiest to add in voter engagement and where you have the staff or volunteers to help. It could be as part of your services, in classes, at a training or event, a project for a youth group, or incorporated into community outreach.
- Make a plan: Start planning early. Use the Voter Participation Starter Kit as a guide.
- Create a timeline for your plan. We recommend focusing on the 8-10 weeks leading up to the election (mid-August through Election Day), but to make your plans earlier. Use our checklist as a guide.
Decide on your approach. Some nonprofits do voter registration drives. Others promote registration by announcing deadlines, making forms available, or helping voters register online. If you plan to conduct voter registration make sure to:
- Familiarize yourself with your state’s voter registration procedures, how to obtain and return forms, online registration (if available), and guidelines for hosting a registration drive.
- Set concrete and attainable goals and tie them to deadlines.
- Target pre-existing opportunities – as part of services, tabling in your lobby, at events, or in the community at citizenship ceremonies, graduations, or other events.
- Enlist volunteers and staff to enhance your efforts.
Consider one activity that engages local candidates on your issues.
- Identify a race that is important to your community: City council, mayor, state representative, Congress, governor, or others.
- Choose from five candidate engagement options: Sponsor a candidate forum. Host a candidate appearance. Share your research. Do a candidate questionnaire. Ask questions at candidate events.
Featured resource: A Nonprofit’s Guide to Hosting a Candidate Forum
The majority of states have ballot initiatives asking voters to weigh in on laws, referendums, constitutional amendments, local bond issues for public programs, and other issues.
- Find out if any ballot measures, amendments, or other questions are on the ballot.
- Learn what 501(c)(3) nonprofits can do influence passage and educate the public.
- Decide your approach: Will you take a position for or against the issue? Or will you stay neutral and share nonpartisan information highlighting both sides of the issue?
Featured resource: Ballot Measure Advocacy Factsheet
Get-Out-the-Vote and Election Day
Some of the most important work happens near and on Election Day when you encourage, help, and mobilize your community to vote. The final push takes preparation and a clear understanding of the benefits of voter participation to your nonprofit and the voter. Research shows that the most effective messages come from trusted messengers – people of similar interests and backgrounds – made in-person or through peer-to-peer social media. You can activate voters simply by:
- Providing personal reminders.
- Giving out information to help your community vote – help lines or polling hours and locations.
- Promoting early voting by mail or in-person.
- Linking the election to the future of your issue or nonprofit services.
- Making Election Day special by treating it as a holiday for democracy!
Featured resource: Voting in Your State online tool
Remember to have fun and celebrate democracy!