Nonprofits Can Engage in Voter Education

There’s still work to be done to debunk the myth that nonprofits cannot engage in any election-related activities.  We can!  

As long as voter education, registration, and voter turnout efforts are nonpartisan, nonprofits can dive in. In fact, it can be a really important part of the work of 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations.  We have a lot of influence on our communities, our volunteers, and the North Carolinians we serve. They trust us. They listen to us.  And, they take action when we ask them to do so.

The people served by nonprofits are more likely to listen to us than to many other sources. In a recent Harris poll, nonprofits were ranked among the highest of organizations that Americans want to influence public policy.  Because people trust nonprofits more than they do government entities or businesses, we have the opportunity to significantly increase our communities’ civic engagement in the electoral process.

Nonprofits with constituents who vote have more access to and influence on elected officials and decision makers.  Since nonprofits are often the most informed about critical community issues, this positions us well to make a real difference.

What happens when we talk to our constituents about voting?  Recent research from the N.C. Center for Nonprofits and our national partner Nonprofit VOTE found that nonprofits’ simple, nonpartisan actions have an enormous impact on increasing voter turnout.

Disparities in voter turnout narrowed dramatically by race, age, and income among voters contacted by nonprofits.  In North Carolina, 81% of citizens who had been contacted by nonprofits voted in the 2012 election -- a much higher rate than the overall 69% statewide turnout.  With the process for elections changing in 2014 and 2016, it’s particularly important for nonprofits to get engaged soon. 

Our potential influence serves as an important reminder of nonprofits’ critical role in civil society and the democratic process.  In a recent Nonprofit Quarterly article, Grady and Aubrun wrote, “Put simply, nonprofits need democracy to bring about long-term solutions…and democracy in turn depends on nonprofits to educate the public about the important and critical issues that face us.”

Look for more resources to continue to come from the N.C. Center to help your nonprofit provide accurate, nonpartisan information about voting and many other important issues.

Bridgette Burge is Membership Director at the N.C. Center for Nonprofits.  


Vetting is important and should be done well before you issue an invitation to be a guest. Emails and phone conversations can help you anticipate how this person will perform for your learners. But in all honesty, I've never used a guest lecturer (even for online teaching) that I had not met face-to-face and in whom I had 100% confidence that they would be good for my learners.

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