Sometimes words fail.

Row of empty lockers illustrate how words fail for student on day MLK was assasinated.

She slammed her locker door so hard the hall shook, and she roared her anger and anguish. Oddly, I remember her pastel orange dress. We were 13. The school had closed early that day, and somehow, we were the last two to leave. Another day she probably would’ve had a lot to say, but there are times when words fail. And I was silent because I was scared – not of her doing anything to me, but of the depth of her pain. She wasn’t in any of my classes, and I didn’t know her name. Still, she taught me a profound truth: I knew nothing, absolutely nothing, about her experience as a black kid on the day Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.

More than 50 years later, I understand a bit more. And I see that our country has made a bit of progress toward addressing the racism that is America’s abiding sin, but only just a bit. This calamitous year has put a glaring light on the disproportionate suffering in America. COVID 19, the related economic crisis, the pollution, fires, and storms intensified by climate change, and the horrific videos of police violence all show what a long, long way we still have to go.

When words fail, actions speak louder.

However, this year we have a chance – and an obligation – to do at least one thing for all the 13-year-olds watching these terrible events. We can vote, and help make sure others can cast their ballots, despite the obstacles they confront.

Many NPOs are actively working to fight voter suppression and support voter participation in the election. However, the burdens of this moment shouldn’t fall just on organizations that focus on these issues. Your organization may already be hard at work on voter registration and education. But at the risk of being Captain Obvious, I urge everyone reading this post to do as much as possible, regardless of your nonprofit’s mission or field of expertise. Here are some resources for things  that 501c3 organizations can do:

Voter registration and voting options:

  • Get specific information about voter registration and voting options in your area.
  • Hold voter registration drives and help people verify that they are registered.
  • Publicize information about whether people in your district can vote early, how they can vote by mail, and how they can make sure their vote is counted.
  • Run a plan-to-vote campaign that helps people make a specific plan for how they’ll vote.

Nonpartisan ballot information:

  • Help people from your community learn more about where local and national candidates stand on a range of issues. The League of Women Voters has nonpartisan info for races across the country.
  • Election guides and sample ballots help familiarize people with how initiatives and candidates will appear on the ballot in your area.

Advocacy amplifies your nonprofit’s voice.

The election will be just the beginning of raising our voices in support of the country we believe in and that we want for our children. There will be policies and legislation to fight for – not to mention future elections that matter nationally, locally, and that are particularly important for your nonprofit. You can’t afford to let your nonprofit’s words fail in the public arena.

Advocacy is something that every nonprofit can do. And there are lots of reasons you should:

  • Embodying your organization’s values
  • Being a go-to resource for people in your community and your field
  • Attracting new audiences
  • Deepening supporters’ engagement
  • Protecting and sustaining your nonprofit for the long term

It also heightens the effectiveness of your communications and reinforces your nonprofit’s message. Below are some resources to provide insight, guidance, and reassurance to those who aren’t sure what 501c3s can and cannot do.

Yes, You Can—and Should! Nonprofit Advocacy as a Core Competency

Everyday Advocacy

Advocacy Basics Every Nonprofit Should Understand

Nonprofits, Voting, and Elections

Lastly, although I love nonprofit communications in general, advocacy is an abiding professional passion and I am eager to share whatever resources might be of help.

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