Election week is ushering in strong feelings and much anxiety in our communities. This anxiety is understandable, as the election has the potential to significantly impact our organizations and the communities that we serve. The stress is intensified as it is layered on the enormous stress of COVID, racial unrest, and recent fires.
As community leaders and trusted messengers, nonprofits are vital voices in promoting civic participation and sharing good, reliable information. Although 501(c)(3) nonprofits cannot endorse or support political candidates, we can take a stand in favor of a fair election in which every vote is counted. We can oppose violence and intimidation. And regardless of the outcome of this election, we can come together to uphold our democracy and support our communities.
Nonprofits are unifiers. We are people who have come together around a shared mission and values. Our sector has a long-standing commitment to a strong and inclusive democracy. In fact, nonprofits and democracy go hand in hand. Around the world, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) thrive where democracy is strong. Our work can be an antidote for partisanship and polarization. This is true whether or not your organization takes an active role with regard to the election.
Here are some things that we can be doing amid and in the wake of the election:
- Care for your staff team. I know you are already doing this given all the stresses that 2020 has brought. Surrounding the election, communicate with all staff members to ensure they know what is expected of them and what the organization’s plans are. Express care and concern for your staff and acknowledge that this is a difficult time. Encourage staff to vote and support them in doing so—including offering time off.
- Communicate that the election outcome could be delayed or held up for weeks or months. This will be troubling for many and adds to numerous other stressors. Express faith that our democratic process will work.
- Many nonprofits work with marginalized populations, and people are worried about election-night and post-election violence. Immigrants, Black people and other people of color, people in certain religious groups, and LGBTQ people are more likely to have heightened concerns. If appropriate, help members of your community think through how to continue their work safely (see resources below). At the same time, try not to inflame fears.
We’ve pulled together resources to help you and your team get through this election season, as well as links to pro-democracy organizations. Please also let us know of any local efforts and events in your community that we can support and amplify.
As you are there for your communities, so we are here for you. Do not hesitate to reach out and let us know how we can best be supporting you and your organization during this time.
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I also want to acknowledge that COVID cases and deaths are rising in many parts of Washington state. The election may not be your or your organization’s primary concern amid the ongoing pandemic. My heart goes out to all those affected by this terrible virus, and I remain grateful for the healthcare providers and public health officials working to keep us safe and tending to those who are affected.
What can nonprofits do after the election?
501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations can not endorse political candidates, but we can advocate to protect democracy.
- You can advocate for all votes to be counted.
- You can oppose violence and intimidation.
- You can counter misinformation and provide your community with truthful information.
- If you are concerned about post-election happenings, you can let your local elected officials know. This letter to elected officials in Spokane is a great example of a local coalition advocating for the government to take steps to maintain community safety and election integrity.
- You can publicize a demonstration and encourage people to go to it. You can also explain risks or discourage people from attending a demonstration.
How can your nonprofit prepare for what comes next?
Consider doing some scenario planning with your board and staff. Here are some questions you might discuss:
- What might different election outcomes mean for your organization?
- If there is a period of unrest, how will that affect your organization (programs, fundraising, etc.)?
- Is there contingency planning that needs to be done?
- How will you ensure that you are putting the needs and safety of communities most affected by civil unrest first when considering our actions?
- What will our community be looking for from us?
- How can we prepare organizational leadership for possible situations and what might be required of us?
An Event or An Era? is one scenario planning resource. Some nonprofits may also decide that this is the right time to do continuity of operations planning or disaster planning. You may also find this safety checklist helpful.
Upcoming and ongoing opportunities to learn, gain perspective, and dialogue:
- November 5: Attend Civil Conversation in an Angry Age with philosopher David Smith, offered free by Humanities Washington and Lewis County AAUW.
- November 10: Seattle Arts & Lectures is hosting an election debrief with PBS Newshour White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor.
- Anytime: Host an election debrief for your staff and/or board using these guidelines.
- Watch whenever: Last weeks recording of Democracy’s Ghosts: Fear and Hope in the 2020 Electionfeatures political science and history professors from across Washington state offering insights regarding the election and the issues it raises.
Resources for Civic Engagement and Democracy Building:
- 10 Actions Nonprofit Leaders Can Take to Support Our Democracy and Their Constituents
- The Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights, a national coalition working on voters’ rights.
- Count Every Vote, a non-partisan campaign to count every vote.
- More Equitable Democracy, a Washington-based nonprofit that is working to improve electoral systems to achieve greater racial equity.
- What Nonprofits can do in a Contested Election from Bolder Advocacy