Voting Resources: What Nonprofits Can Do to Support Democracy

Nonprofits continue to play a critical role in supporting a democracy where every voice is heard and every vote gets counted. In the Commonwealth, one in ten Kentuckians is employed by a nonprofits – over 151,000 people. If we come together around a common cause – such as voter engagement – we will transform our collective future.

In our everyday busyness, we often relegate lobbying and engaging with our elected officials to the end of our task list. However, many nonprofits exist because of inequitable laws, regulations, policies, and practices. Thus, we must prioritize this work. As a 501(c)(3), your organization can lobby and promote civic engagement with every level of government – local, state, and federal.  You are a trusted resource in your community. You have earned that trust. Now is the time to use it.

Here's a checklist of allowable activities that 501 (c)(3)'s can engage in and we urge you to check out our a free recording of a past Virtual Town Hall Meeting with more information: 

1. Build Relationships with Your local, State, and Federal Representatives Year-Round (not just when you want to ask for something) - click here for state and federal contact info. Examples of this: 

  • Invite ALL representatives, including candidates, to your events. Use this opportunity to promote your mission. 
  • Invite ALL representatives, including candidates, to take a tour of your facilities. Use this opportunity to tell them about how you support their local community. 
  • Meet with ALL currently elected representatives in their district offices. 

Caveat: Do not meet with candidates in their campaign headquarters. 

2. Promote Voter Registration - Nonprofits play an important role in getting folks registered to vote and despite many myths, nonprofits CAN effectively engage in nonpartisan election activities and maintain their tax-exempt status. 

  • Routinely ask those who engage with you daily if they have registered to vote and offer guidance to those who need it. 
  • Hold a voter registration drive at your nonprofit or at a community event. 
  • Encourage voter registration in your communications, on your website, and at your events. 
  • Remind people of registration deadlines and dates.
  • Participate in National Voter Registration Day on September 19 - a nonpartisan civic holiday celebrating our democracy since 2012! The annual event creates broad awareness of voter registration opportunities to reach tens of thousands of voters who may not register otherwise.
    • According to U.S. Census data from 2020, as many as 1 in 4 eligible Americans are not registered to vote. Every year, millions of Americans find themselves unable to vote because they miss a registration deadline, don't update their registration, or aren't sure how to register. National Voter Registration Day wants to make sure EVERYONE has the opportunity to vote. 
    • Click here to register for a free Town Hall Meeting recording where our speakers discuss Nonprofit Voter Registration Day and other voter engagement info!





3. Educate Your Constituents and Staff about the Voting Process – for Every Election

4. Give Staff Paid Time Off to Vote  

5. Transport Clients, Staff, and Volunteers to the Polls

  • On election day, provide transportation to the polls for clients, staff, and volunteers. 

6. Create, Distribute, and Publish a Candidate Questionnaire

  • Draft 1-5 questions around issues that matter to your mission and cause. (The 1-5 is intended to keep the questionnaire manageable for both you and candidates who participate.) 
  • Send the questions in an electronic format to ALL candidates. 
  • Publish the full answers from all the participating candidates on your website. 
  • Nonprofit VOTE provides great resources - click here to check them out!
  • Click here to see examples from our colleagues in Pennsylvania - one for candidates running for state office and the other for congressional candidates. 

7. Host a Candidate Forum - there is one simple rule for nonprofits when engaging in election activity: invite ALL the candidates to your forum. Even if all do not show up, ensure you have given all an equal opportunity to engage. 

  • Host a candidate forum either on your own, or better yet, in partnership with a trusted community partner, and invite candidates to speak on issues that matter to you. 
  • Use a panel format where you ask the questions you want answered. 
  • Ensure that all participants are given equal times to speak. 
  • Nonprofit VOTE provides great resources - click here to check them out!  

8. Distribute Nonpartisan Voter Guides

9. Host a Community Conversation on a Ballot Measure - Unlike distributing information promoting/opposing specific candidates, nonprofits may take sides on ballot measures. IRS rules treat this like a lobbying activity, not electioneering (which is endorsement of candidates - your nonprofit is not allowed to endorse candidates). 

  • Have your board take a position for or against a question on the ballot. 
  • Educate the public on your position within your normal lobbying limits. 
  • Engage your community leaders and residents in conversations about impact of a ballot measure at the neighborhood, county, or state level. 
  • Nonprofit VOTE provides great resources - click here to check them out!

10. Continue Issue Advocacy During an Election

  • Continue to advocate and lobby for issues related to pending legislation or issues related to your mission – as long as it is not timed or structured to influence how people vote for specific candidates

We Can Do This – We Must Do This

Encouraging everyone to fully participate in our democratic system is not political. Nonprofits have an opportunity to work together to protect the unalienable rights of every human, and KNN is proud to be doing this work in partnership with you. Let us hear from you - pick at least one thing from the list above that your organization plans to do and share with us. We want to hear what's working and what's not, so we can offer enouragement and support to nonprofits across Kentucky! Together, we can do this!