5 Ways Philanthropy Can Support The Electoral Process


Voter RegistrationNo matter what your political leanings, I think we can all agree that this year’s election cycle has been one of the most tense and unpleasant in recent history. It’s enough to turn voters off from voting at all, and we probably all have a colleague, friend or family member somewhere who has announced their intention to skip the polls this year. But even if the choices may be unappealing to some, the act of voting is still important. Voting is a right, but it’s also a responsibility. And for many segments of our nation’s population (women, people of color, immigrants), voting represents the culmination of a hard-fought battle.

While funders can’t support or endorse specific candidates, they can ensure that voting remains a democratic, participatory activity by supporting the electoral process itself. The key is to focus on education and access, rather than campaigns or politics. Here are five nonpartisan ways funders can engage:

1.    Support voter registration. Use your funds to support nonprofit, nonpartisan organizations that conduct voter registration drives. Partner with your state or local board of elections to spread the word about registration locations and times. Partner with existing grantees that wish to register voters.

2.    Create voter education guides. Use the power of your reputation to fund or endorse information that informs voters about key issues that affect your grantmaking focus areas. For example, if you are an environmental funder, you might create materials that explain how runoff affects local streams and rivers, and encourage citizens to consider candidates’ positions on water quality.

3.    Host candidate forums. Use your convening power to pull candidates together for forums or debates to discuss issues. Work with your key grantees to develop questions for discussion, and use an outside, objective moderator to guide the conversation.

4.    Help voters get to the polls. Transportation should never be a barrier for exercising one’s right to vote. Support the nonpartisan nonprofits in your area that provide rides to the polls during early voting or on election day. You could even allow your staff release time on election day to serve as volunteer drivers.

5.    Ensure a smooth and fair process. Partisan and nonpartisan organizations supply trained poll-watchers to observe election day practices and report any malfunctions or disparities in the voting process. To help ensure everyone (and their ballots) receive equal treatment at the polls, you might support organizations that train poll-watchers, host a poll-watching training at your office, or encourage your own staff or trustees to serve as poll watchers.

Early voting is already underway in many states, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late to lend your foundation’s financial support or communications muscle to the electoral process in your community. And remember, it’s never too late to learn from this election cycle and plan your support for future elections.


Kris Putnam-Walkerly, MSW, is a global philanthropy advisor. Want more ideas, tips and tools to improve your giving? Read an article, listen to a podcast, or check out a case study.

“Kris provided a roadmap that allowed us to identify new funding opportunities and invest in them with great confidence.”

~Jane Issacs Lowe, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

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