Equipping nonprofits to advance social change

Part II: One for the Money, Two for the Show…

...Three for Effective Nonprofits, Way to Go!

Written by Noelia Mann

Last week, I wrote a blog post questioning some of the conclusions that were presented in the Stanford Social Innovation Review series of articles focused on increasing voter turnout. My central critique of these works is the lack of focus on (or even acknowledgement of) the 16 new restrictions, aimed at low income communities and people of color, in effect since the 2010 mid-term election

This week, I’m turning my attention to some good news for those of us working in the nonprofit sector. Despite the formidable obstacle of increasing voter restrictions, fueled by the fires of systemic oppression, nonprofits are having a substantial impact on increasing and diversifying voter turnout, according to recent studies conducted by Nonprofit VOTE. In a 2015 report on data gathered from the 2014 midterm election, entitled “Engaging New Voters: The Impact of Nonprofit Voter Outreach on Client and Community Turnout," NPV states that “participation gaps, in part, reflect mobilization gaps, that is, who is personally contacted about voting and who is not. In 2014, 55% of Latinos and 56% of Asian Americans were not contacted about voting or registering to vote. Similar patterns hold for younger and lower income populations.”

Findings from this report showed that voters engaged by nonprofits – through phone calls, tabling at events, face-to-face conversations with community organizers and canvassers, etc. –were markedly more racially diverse, lower income and younger that all other registered voters in the 9 states polled. Indeed, voter turnout of these “nonprofit voters” compared to all registered voters was:

  • 15% higher for Latino voters, 31% higher for black voters and 46% higher for Asian American voters
  • 31% higher for those with household incomes under $25,000
  • 28% higher for young voters under age 30

Nonprofits were also able to reach populations with a history of lower voter turnout; “more than half the voters nonprofits engaged were identified, prior to the election, as “low propensity” voters, or voters not expected to vote in the 2014 midterm.”

These findings are consistent with a similar study conducted by Nonprofit VOTE in 2012, entitled “Can Nonprofits Increase Voting Among Their Clients, Constituents, and Staff?”. This report found that nonprofits can indeed increase turnout and reach diverse, lower income and younger voters in the 7 states they polled. The data in this report also showed that disparities in voter turnout by age, income, race and ethnicity narrowed or disappeared among voters engaged by nonprofits. 

At a time where the most marginalized voters are being suppressed, the reports produced by Nonprofit VOTE show that nonprofits can make meaningful advances towards creating and preserving a democracy that reflects the full range of American voices and opinions.

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