CalNonprofits has wrapped up the first edition of Vote with Your Mission, and we thank you – California’s nonprofit staff and volunteers – for bringing a new spirit of civic engagement to our community.
When I came on board as the campaign’s coordinator in the spring of 2012, we had a simple yet audacious goal - to get 100% of eligible nonprofit staff, board members, and volunteers to vote in the 2012 elections with the values and ideals that brought them to the nonprofit sector. To participate, all a nonprofit had to do was sign a short pledge, agreeing to do two of six voting-related activities. We set up a website, drafted some materials, and got the word out.
Then Vote with Your Mission took on a life of its own.
Nearly 200 California nonprofits signed up, reflecting the diversity of California’s nonprofit community in terms of geography, size, community served, and type of services offered (see the full list at http://www.votewithyourmission.org/participants). From the Sequoia Park Zoo Foundation in Eureka to the Latino Arts Network in Pasadena, from the Hughson Family Resource Center in the Central Valley to Housing Resource Center of Monterey County, and from the Volunteer Center of Sonoma County to the United Ways of California, nonprofits across California began to incorporate voter engagement into their activities.
Vote with Your Mission posters decorated the San Francisco Food Bank’s offices. Five Acres’ website explained how to vote with the organization’s mission (to strengthen families and prevent child abuse through treatment and education in Los Angeles County) in mind. YNPN San Diego used Facebook to encourage young nonprofit professionals to vote. CompassPoint Nonprofit Services promoted Vote with Your Mission at its nonprofit training workshops. The Legal Aid Association of California urged its member legal services organizations to join the campaign. Philanthropic leaders Southern California Grantmakers, San Diego Grantmakers and, Northern California Grantmakers signed on to Vote with Your Mission to demonstrate the power of the nonprofit community at the ballot box.
As I reflect on the past seven months, a few individual stories highlight how Vote with Your Mission made a difference this election season.
For Marin Grassroots, Vote with Your Mission became a focal point for the organization’s fall activities. “We not only discussed the importance and the process of voting at our staff meetings and community events during the months of September and October, but we also motivated and supported other organizations to do the same,” said Ericka Erickson, Marin Grassroots’ associate director.
The social justice organization displayed voter registration cards at its offices, conducted voter registration drives at high foot traffic locations, and hosted non-partisan voter education events. Partnering with ally organizations, Marin Grassroots ultimately registered 583 voters and contacted about 3,000 voters in Marin County during the fall 2012 election season.
For Rodney Clark, the executive director of Safe Alternatives to Violent Environments (SAVE), CalNonprofits’ Vote with Your Mission was a “powerful tool” – not just to encourage his organization’s staff, volunteers, and clients to vote in the November 6 Presidential election, but also to empower the East Bay domestic violence nonprofit to become involved in the political process.
Like many nonprofit executives, Rodney incorrectly assumed that his tax-exempt organization should avoid any form of political activity. But after hearing about Vote with Your Mission, he read the campaign’s “Legal Frequently Asked Questions” document and learned that 501(c)(3) public charities may conduct non-partisan voter registration and education activities.
Moreover, Rodney realized that he had long held a misconception that nonprofits were prohibited from all lobbying activity. Indeed, nonprofits can take positions on ballot measures so long as they comply with applicable rules on legislative lobbying, he learned as a result of Vote with Your Mission. And when the local hospital asked SAVE to support a bond measure on the ballot, Rodney explained to his board of directors that supporting the bond measure would be in the best interests of the organization’s work and clients. The board ultimately agreed to endorse the ballot initiative.
For the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles (LWVLA), Vote with Your Mission was like “second nature.” According to Executive Director Raquel Beltran, “The League lives for the goals of Vote with Your Mission.” Registering and educating voters is “what we do year after year.”
Although the League is already well known for its civic engagement activities, Raquel believed that it was important for LWVLA to officially sign on to Vote with Your Mission to demonstrate support for the campaign. In addition, Vote with Your Mission appealed to her as a “simple, not overwhelming,” way to get organizations that don’t normally become engaged in elections to do so.
That simplicity was a key to Vote with Your Mission’s success. We wanted to make it easy for nonprofits to get involved and explore how voting is relevant to their work and missions. We wanted folks to see that voting is an important extension of their efforts to improve California and the world for all of us. As CalNonprofits’ Jan Masaoka frequently reminded us, if everyone who worked and volunteered in the arts voted, we’d have better arts policies. If everyone who worked and volunteered at environmental nonprofits voted, we’d have better environmental policies.
Through Vote with Your Mission, tens of thousands of nonprofit staff and volunteers heard our plea to vote in 2012. And we succeeded in encouraging more people to vote with the values and ideals that inform their nonprofit work.
In our survey right after the November 6 election, the results were extremely encouraging. Of those responding, 57% said Vote with Your Mission stirred up interest in the election among staff and volunteers, and 46% said the campaign stimulated discussion about the candidates and propositions on the ballot, exposed staff and volunteers to voter education materials to help them become more informed voters, and generated discussion about how voter engagement and advocacy work is relevant to their organization’s mission. An overwhelming 94% of respondents said that their organizations had a positive experience with Vote with Your Mission, and none characterized her experience as negative.
We at CalNonprofits personally felt the impact of Vote with Your Mission. Heeding our own advice, the election became a focal point for our office discussions, and we took pride in the passage of Proposition 30, the statewide tax measure that CalNonprofits proudly endorsed. As someone who had worked in politics early in my career but had stepped away from the political world in more recent years, I felt a deeper investment in this election and a renewed belief that my vote matters than I had felt the last few election cycles.
Although the 2012 elections are over, Vote with Your Mission lives on, and we hope you, your staff, and your volunteers will continue to make voting and civic engagement an integral part of your nonprofit work. CalNonprofits will launch the 2013 version of Vote with Your Mission this spring, focusing on state and local elections. We will build on the things that worked well in 2012 and tweak those that need improvement. In particular, we’ll cast an even wider net to get more California nonprofits involved and look at how we can more effectively use social media.
Thank you for being a part of Vote with Your Mission. You are the reason for our campaign’s success. We look forward to your participation in 2013 and beyond.
Vote with Your Mission Campaign Coordinator