Every voice counts. Every person counts. Every vote counts. This month’s edition of Nonprofit Knowledge Matters celebrates the vital roles that nonprofits play in championing respect for everyone by advocating for every person’s most fundamental right – to have a say in their own future – by lifting their voice, by being counted in the census, and by casting votes. The pandemic has magnified, not lessened, the importance of this work by charitable nonprofits.
Before we can help others, however, we must take care of ourselves. We’re all dealing with multiple pandemic-related stressors, personally and professionally, so remember that there are resources available to help. Mental Health America has a wide variety of free resources targeted to different audiences. There are also numerous tools available from the CDC, National Alliance on Mental Illness, and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Follow the flight attendant’s directions on what to do in the event of an emergency: put your mask on first so you can help others. A pandemic qualifies as an emergency, so #maskup! Then model the way for others by lifting your own voice, completing your own census form, and making sure you and everyone you know is registered to vote.
How Are Your Nonprofit and Your Community Faring?
For many years, state lotteries used this slogan: “You can’t win if you don’t play.” We believe the same is true when it comes to alerting others – the public, policymakers, potential donors, and more – about conditions nonprofits are facing in trying to advance their missions: "You can’t be heard if you don’t speak up." That’s why we asked you back in March and April to share your stories with us. Many of you did, describing heroic efforts to help people in your community as well as heartbreaks, such as funding drying up, forcing organizations to make difficult choices.
Your stories made a difference. They inspired people to lend a hand or make a donation. And they made a difference in advocacy efforts locally and nationally, leading lawmakers to include nonprofits in the CARES Act and in many states’ relief funds. Stories you shared with us – and gave us permission to share more broadly – have appeared on the front page of The New York Times and in The Wall Street Journal, which in turn generated additional newspaper, radio, and television coverage. By lifting your voice to tell your story, you provided important real-world perspectives that, among other things, gave needed leverage for the House and Senate to pass a partial fix for nonprofits that self-insure for unemployment by unanimous consent last month. Your voice counts – not only for your nonprofit and not just for the broader nonprofit community, but also for the countless people who rely on nonprofits in this time of great need.
But we’re in a new world now. Closures have lasted longer than we initially imagined. Reserves have dried up, as have PPP loan funds. Millions more people are turning to nonprofits for assistance with everything from food security to mental health services. And, as Congress and the Administration continue to haggle over the details of a relief package and state and local policymakers make difficult decisions as their government budgets shrink drastically, stories of the currently unfolding conditions nonprofits encounter still need to be told.
That’s why we ask and hope you will take a minute to share your nonprofit’s story with us so we can continue lifting up your stories and advocating for the solutions our communities need. Your voice counts. And so do the voices of others, so please feel free to share our request with others. Thank you.
Complete the Count
The Constitution mandates that the federal government conduct a census every ten years that counts every person in the United States. Federal, state, and local governments then use the census counts every year for the next decade when allocating hundreds of billions of dollars between states, localities, and communities. When undercounts occur, the uncounted person still exists, but funding is erased in that community for human services and education, health care and transportation, plus lots more. States stand to lose between $5,330 and $23,090 over the next ten years for every person who isn’t counted. Some states lost tens of billions of dollars due to undercounting in the 2010 census. Funding shortfalls deepen inequities and heap added burdens on nonprofits – uncounted individuals still have basic human needs, so they turn to nonprofits.
This year’s census has faced unprecedented challenges – first from a series of attempts (some recent and ongoing) to reduce the count in order to influence reapportionment, and more recently from pandemic-related roadblocks that will make in-person counting more difficult. Liz Moore, Executive Director of the Montana Nonprofit Association, lays out many of the evolving obstacles and the serious consequences of an undercount in this Nonprofit Quarterly article in which she calls the nonprofit sector to action.
As Moore, whom we proudly count as a member of our Board of Directors, writes:
“So many problems will be made worse with an undercount, and so many solutions made better with a fair, accurate, and complete count, especially in the months ahead as we contend with the long-term ramifications of COVID-19.
"Now it’s time for all of us to lift up our collective voice to ensure every person in our communities participate in one of the most fundamental actions of our society: that of being counted. Together, despite the challenges we face, we can still make this happen.”
See this toolkit from Census Counts for resources your nonprofit can use to ensure everyone in your community is counted.
Get Out the (Mail-In) Vote
In a normal year, many nonprofits promote active civic engagement by hosting in-person events encouraging people – in legal, nonpartisan ways – to register to vote. This, of course, is not a normal year. In-person events are not possible. And, with the US Postal Service informing 46 states that delivery delays could slow down the arrival of ballots, both to them and from them, the window of time to provide that encouragement to vote has shrunk.
As with the 2020 Census, nonprofit organizations are often the best equipped to encourage every eligible voter to cast a ballot. We are trusted and work closely with populations that frequently have to overcome obstacles to vote. Voto Latino has tips for voting safely during the pandemic. For many, a mail-in ballot (sent as early as possible or dropped off at a ballot drop box) may be the best option. The New York Times created an interactive map showing where vote-by-mail is an option and what, if any, changes have been made to make absentee voting easier this year. You can also visit this state-by-state listing from Vote.org for the rules, deadlines, and applications for your state.
And, even though in-person events are limited this year, National Voter Registration Day will still be happening. Find out how your nonprofit can be part of National Voter Registration Day on September 22. Every person has a right to have a say in their own future, so encourage everyone to register to vote and then to cast their ballot.
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