Unblinking Eye

This August, we have many reason to celebrate our vote as our voice: the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, as well as Women’s Equality Day commemorating the passage of 19th Amendment. These milestones serve as a good reminder that there’s no time like present to start planning your strategy to elevate your issue during the presidential election cycle. Because the right to vote is only as good as our motivation to do so.

And while it’s easy for nonprofits to get stuck in the belief that they’re prohibited from all election activities, there are many things you can legally do to draw attention to your issues. Alliance for Justice has several good resources for what is and is not permissible for nonprofits, as does Nolo Network. (And of course, be sure to consult your organization’s lawyer for the final word.) Here are a few ideas worth considering as you plan for next year:

Go Local. Even if your organization is national, this is a good time to think local. Find a local hook for your issue and use the spotlight on elections to draw attention to your work. In 2012, the Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Oregon Environmental Council and the Oregon League of Conservation Voters came together to host a debate among Portland’s Mayoral candidates. It was a great way to bring supporters together to hear firsthand from the candidates on environmental issues. Be sure to invite all candidates and cover topics that address a broad range of issues. Just remember your moderator must stay neutral and give every candidate equal opportunity to speak.

Stick to the Issues. The laws are very clear that a nonprofit cannot influence voters one way or the other about a candidate, but you can educate on your issue and elevate your ideas through the candidate. A good rule of thumb is to think: “educate people” rather than “influence voters.” Seek to get candidates on-the-record talking about your issue. This is a great educational tool, and asking the right questions will help bring out the information to help people draw their own conclusions about the candidates. Our friends at Compass Point have some great examples of what some nonprofits did in 2012. Look them over and see if any of them inspire ideas for your issue.

Take a Pledge. The Make it Work Campaign champions policy solutions to support working families, and offers a great example of how a pledge can advance your mission. A pledge is a good way to solicit commitment from your supporters – and candidates. Just be sure to ask all candidates to join the pledge, and not single out any one candidate. You can also publicize your results and which candidates – and how many of their constituents – have signed the pledge as track your results over time.

Don’t Wait. But don’t wait for Election Day to advance your cause in the political cycle; stay on top of how your issue fares with policy makers year round. Showing that your organization has a track record for following your issue between election cycle helps solidify that your work during election season is an extension of your yearlong plan. For some good ideas on how to talk about the record of specific legislators, check out this tip sheet from Alliance for Justice.

Yes, the 2016 presidential election is more than a year away, but the primaries are already bringing many key issues to the fore. Is yours among them? You can elevate your issues and educate people on your cause, by learning from these savvy examples to hook your ideas to election cycle.

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Photo courtesy of flickr user Darron Birgenheier

claudetteLightBox Collaborator Claudette Silver wants to know what issues you think will get the attention they deserve during the next election.