Skip to content
Search

Latest Stories

Top Stories

Nonprofits have the power to create a more inclusive democracy

People singing in a chorus

Nonprofits can help expand the voices in the chorus that is democracy, writes Miller.

tezzstock

Miller is executive director of Nonprofit VOTE, which works to help other nonprofits across the nation boost civic engagement and voter turnout among their allies.


Our democracy is a chorus, one that only improves when more and diverse voices join, adding richness to the sound. Despite the volume of last year's election — one that broke a century-old record for voter turnout — there were nonetheless missing and underrepresented voices. Those gaps in turnout are even more pronounced in local election cycles like 2021, resulting in an older, whiter electorate.

So how do we achieve a truly representative electorate? Voter-friendly policies are important, but they are not enough by themselves. Yes, everyone can have a right to a music stand and a song book, but who is conducting the auditions? In the end, voter turnout is largely a reflection of who is contacted about voting ... and who is not.

Political parties and campaigns have failed to close voter participation gaps because that's not their goal. Their goal is to win an election, not foster an inclusive electorate. Even the most well-meaning campaigns have to prioritize their resources on "likely" voters — the experienced singers who performed last time. The uninvited singers don't show and the cycle repeats itself.

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter

So who has the capacity and motivation to expand the invite list and create the truly diverse and representative chorus of voices? One key to that question is America's nonprofits, from food pantries to housing clinics, which are motivated by broader values of inclusivity and ensuring the communities they serve are heard.

The newly-released Nonprofit Power Report, which details our work with 180 nonprofits across seven states in 2020, shows that nonprofits that marry voter engagement with their mission can help foster a more inclusive and representative democracy. It also provides a roadmap for nonprofit leaders eager to ensure our country lives up to its promise as a diverse chorus of citizenry.

The report explores nonprofit reach and impact on turnout among other things. Let's start with whom nonprofits reach.

Nonprofits typically offer their services to the very communities that are most underrepresented in our democracy. So it only makes sense that when those same organizations do voter engagement work, they are engaging a part of the electorate most often left out of the national conversation. In fact, the report shows that voters engaged by nonprofits in our program were:

  • More than twice as likely to be voters of color.
  • More than twice as likely to earn less than $30,000 annually.
  • Nearly twice as likely to be young (18-24).

Often described as "low propensity" voters, these groups are rarely contacted by political campaigns. They represent the choral singers who don't get invited. Without that contact, they don't show up to the polls and the next election sees candidates once again not engaging them — completing the vicious cycle of exclusion.

As trusted actors with a vested interest in uplifting the communities they serve, nonprofits can sow the seeds of real and inclusive political participation. Where campaigns see low-propensity voters, nonprofits see high-potential voters hungry for genuine engagement and respect.

The Covid pandemic also provided a learning opportunity as many nonprofits pivoted to online and digital strategies, while others continued in-person engagement with social distancing and PPEs. The organizations that did Covid-safe, in-person engagement were 1.7 times more likely to reach low-income voters and 1.4 times more likely to reach voters of color than those who relied on digital strategies.

But reaching voters is just the first step in ensuring our democracy lives up to its promise. What impact do nonprofits have in getting those newly engaged voters, some for the first time, to the polls?

The Nonprofit Power Report shows that voters engaged by nonprofits have a turnout advantage over voters not contacted by nonprofits. Even in a highly saturated election year like 2020, voters engaged by nonprofits saw their turnout increase by 3 percentage points. However, when we dialed into specific voter demographics, especially people of color, young voters and low-income voters, the results were even more encouraging:

  • Low-income voters saw a 7 percentage point boost.
  • Asian American and Pacific Islander voters saw a 6 percentage point boost.
  • Hispanic voters saw a 5 percentage point boost.
  • Young voters saw a 5 percentage point boost.

At Nonprofit VOTE, we believe in this work because we believe in the power of nonprofits. Whether that's through hands-on training, our webinar series, robust resource library or research, we know that organizations genuinely embedded in their communities can be powerhouses for democracy. That's why we encourage you to take a deep dive into the Nonprofit Power Report, including the Practitioner's Report providing a roadmap for your organization.

In the end, there is no question that nonprofits that commit to voter engagement can have a positive impact on the communities they serve and the nation at large. The only question is what role your organization will play to ensure our democracy is a song for all, by all.

Read More

Blurred image of an orchestra
Melpomenem/Getty Images

The ideal democracy: An orchestra in harmony

Frazier is an assistant professor at the Crump College of Law at St. Thomas University. Starting this summer, he will serve as a Tarbell fellow.

In the symphony of our democracy, we can find a compelling analogy with an orchestra. The interplay of musicians trained in different instruments, each contributing to the grand musical tapestry, offers lessons for our democratic system. As we navigate the complexities of governance, let us draw inspiration from the orchestra's structure, dynamics and philosophy.

Keep ReadingShow less
David French

New York Times columnist David French was removed from the agenda of a faith-basd gathering because we was too "divisive."

Macmillan Publishers

Is canceling David French good for civic life?

Harwood is president and founder of The Harwood Institute. This is the latest entry in his series based on the "Enough. Time to Build.” campaign, which calls on community leaders and active citizens to step forward and build together.

On June 10-14, the Presbyterian Church in America held its annual denominational assembly in Richmond, Va. The PCA created considerable national buzz in the lead-up when it abruptly canceled a panel discussion featuring David French, the highly regarded author and New York Times columnist.

The panel carried the innocuous-sounding title, “How to Be Supportive of Your Pastor and Church Leaders in a Polarized Political Year.” The reason for canceling it? French, himself a long-time PCA member, was deemed too “divisive.” This despite being a well-known, self-identified “conservative” and PCA adherent. Ironically, the loudest and most divisive voices won the day.

Keep ReadingShow less
Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer testifies at the Democratic National Convention in 1964.

Bettmann/Getty Images

60 years later, it's time to restart the Freedom Summer

Johnson is a United Methodist pastor, the author of "Holding Up Your Corner: Talking About Race in Your Community" and program director for the Bridge Alliance, which houses The Fulcrum.

Sixty years have passed since Freedom Summer, that pivotal season of 1964 when hundreds of young activists descended upon an unforgiving landscape, driven by a fierce determination to shatter the chains of racial oppression. As our nation teeters on the precipice of another transformative moment, the echoes of that fateful summer reverberate across the years, reminding us that freedom remains an unfinished work.

At the heart of this struggle stood Fannie Lou Hamer, a sharecropper's daughter whose voice thundered like a prophet's in the wilderness, signaling injustice. Her story is one of unyielding defiance, of a spirit that the brutal lash of bigotry could not break. When Hamer testified before the Democratic National Convention in 1964, her words, laced with the pain of beatings and the fire of righteous indignation, laid bare the festering wound of racial terror that had long plagued our nation. Her resilience in the face of such adversity is a testament to the power of the human spirit.

Keep ReadingShow less
Kamala Harris waiving as she exits an airplane

If President Joe Biden steps aside and endorses Vice President Kamala Harris, her position could be strengthened by a ranked-choice vote among convention delegates.

Anadolu/Getty Images

How best to prepare for a brokered convention

Richie is co-founder and senior advisor of FairVote.

As the political world hangs on whether Joe Biden continues his presidential campaign, an obvious question is how the Democratic Party might pick a new nominee. Its options are limited, given the primary season is long past and the Aug. 19 convention is only weeks away. But they are worth getting right for this year and future presidential cycles.

Suppose Biden endorses Vice President Kamala Harris and asks his delegates to follow his lead. She’s vetted, has close relationships across the party, and could inherit the Biden-Harris campaign and its cash reserves without a hitch. As Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) suggested, however, Harris would benefit from a mini-primary among delegates before the convention – either concluding at the virtual roll call that is already planned or at the in-person convention.

Keep ReadingShow less