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Getting Involved

Your Organization Can Make a Difference

The advantage to any organization and its members of participating in the political process are obvious. The costs of not participating are equally obvious. Still, leaders of not-for-profit organizations may hesitate to get involved in matters related to voting.

If the organization has any preferences on the rules governing our society, if its members pay taxes, if its senior members depend on government programs, if its members' children attend school, if these or any other considerations are issues of concern, then active participation in the political process is not just desirable, it is critical. A political leader in Massachusetts stated the obvious when he said, "decisions are made by those who show up." In a democratic system of government, there are no prizes for weakness.

Not-for-profit organizations such as religious organizations and social clubs are prohibited from engaging in any partisan political campaign by virtue of their tax status and often by their own by-laws. This ban broadly includes activity on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office. These organizations can, however, conduct non-partisan voter education activities.

Non-Partisan Political Campaigns

Assuming that, over the years, political candidates have come to adopt the most efficient and practical methods of campaign organization, a not-for-profit organization should imitate these practices as far as possible. The important exception to the strategy of copying a political campaign is that a non-partisan project does not have a candidate to support. A non-partisan organization essentially conducts a 'Campaign Without a Candidate.'

Notwithstanding the merits of a candidate's position, if a campaign is not efficiently organized to mobilize supporters, he or she is operating at a great disadvantage and will probably lose. Efficiency is no less important for not-for-profit organizations. The advantage of working toward a specific election is that the demands on volunteer time and energy are centered on specific events rather than spread throughout the year. There is a clear focus to the campaign.

A political campaign is not a complicated process. The steps to accomplish a Campaign Without a Candidate are straightforward:

  1. Define the problem: Are the members U.S. citizens, how many are registered to vote, do they vote?
  2. Outline resources available in terms of volunteers, organizational support, and financial resources.
  3. Determine the specific election to be targeted and list what must be accomplished by that time within the limitations of available resources.
  4. Establish a calendar of events so that the agreed tasks will be accomplished by the election date.

The essential first step is the definition of the membership's current civic involvement. Knowledge of problem areas and strengths is vital in concentrating scarce volunteer and financial resources. Any campaign plan requires this information to proceed with any degree of confidence.

Learn more about how the Portuguese American Citizenship Project can help your organization.