What Political Candidates Better Know about Nonprofits

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January 15, 2014; Campaigns & Elections

Politicians need to pay more attention to America’s nonprofits, and it will help them and their constituents, says the assistant director for advocate engagement/government relations & advocacy at the American Alliance of Museums.

In a column in the latest issue of Campaigns & Elections, a trade journal for political consultants, Ember Farber says, “It’s not completely clear to me to what degree nonprofits are, or are not, on the radar of the average candidate for elected office. But there are plenty of good reasons why they should be.”

She goes on to say why; here are some excerpts from the column:

The 10 Percent: “Did you know that nonprofit workers represent 10 percent of the work force? That’s a whole lot of voters who care about a whole lot of causes.” She goes on to remind readers of something we in the sector know well: “Nonprofits can engage in advocacy and getting out the vote—for many nonprofits, it is part of their mission.”

A Broad Range of Issues: “Many…nonprofits are monitoring a much broader range of issues than the public or candidates may realize. More issues means mean more touches with elected officials and more regular opportunities to educate supporters about the process than ever before…. We’re watching what issues are on the agendas of policymakers, where they stand on them, and encouraging nonprofit voters to do the same.”

The Nonprofit “Newsfeed”: “Many nonprofits are active communications platforms, regardless of the specific type of work they do in the nonprofit sector…. Nonprofits are finding ways to utilize Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram and other vehicles to identify followers and get their messages out. Not only do we use social media to follow elected officials, but we encourage [our] advocates to do so as well…In a world where we are all on information overload (especially in election years), nonprofits are often seen as a trusted, third-party source of information and analysis. That seems like a pretty powerful combination to me.”

Early and Often: “I treat all [nonprofit stakeholders] as advocates, and encourage all advocates to engage…and educate elected officials and candidates early in their careers, and regularly throughout their public service.”

The Super-Engaged: “Nonprofit employees tend to represent a super-engaged portion of the electorate. For starters, nonprofit workers have chosen to do mission-based work. The full-time job is often just the tip of the iceberg.”

“…My nonprofit colleagues are some of the most engaged, connected, and followed people I know. Many of us serve on the boards and committees of additional community organizations, giving us multiple platforms and networks for sharing our opinions and analysis…. Nonprofits and the people who work for them are paying attention.”

Farber goes on to cite statistics from NonprofitVote that demonstrate the ability of nonprofits to increase voter turnout among the “diverse and underrepresented voters they often serve…. The bottom line is that nonprofits are powered by people, and those people are voters…. The real question is whether elected officials and candidates will be listening.”—Larry Kaplan