Funding Democracy and Voting: A Must for Philanthropy

posted on: December 23, 2011

“So, what do you do for a living?”

It’s the habitual question at parties, meetings, dinners with friends and family, anywhere. Then, it’s assuredly followed by the habitual answer: a one to two sentence summary, also known as the elevator speech.

Here is mine:

“I work for a watchdog organization that encourages and challenges grantmakers to use funding best practices—high-impact strategies that benefit marginalized communities and promote democratic values of transparency, inclusive participation, accountability, power, and equality of opportunity.”

Depending on my audience’s ostensible interest level, I often elaborate:

“We all witness massive problems in our world, and each year about $45 billion is dispersed to help alleviate some of those problems. This $45 billion per year comes from philanthropy (grantmaking foundations). However, even though $45 billion is a lot of money, it is not nearly enough to cure every disease, house all of the homeless, or feed all of the hungry. A lot of that $45 billion is used to help cover the surface of the problems, and not enough is used to responsively address the roots of the problems. Therefore, NCRP wants that the $45 billion per year used as effectively as possible, not by simply funding projects that are the philanthropic equivalent of a Band-Aid on broken leg, when Haves give to Have-Nots producing short-term benefits (i.e. covering the surface of the problem). Rather, NCRP promotes funding organizations that are committed to identifying and attacking the deep, systemic roots of problems, while employing high-impact strategies of advocacy, community organizing, and civic engagement and democratic values of transparency, inclusive participation, accountability, power, and equality of opportunity.

This explanation is rather abstract and academic. So, concrete, relatable examples are required to ground the theories. “Engaging the Emerging Majority: The Case for Voter Registration in 2012 and Beyond,” the latest report from the New Organizing Institute (NOI) provides just that.

Here are some key findings from the report:

  • “By 2018, there will be a new majority in America. The demographic contours of the United States are changing. In 2018, for the first time, African Americans, Latinos, Asian/Pacific Islanders, Native Americans and unmarried women will be the majority of the American citizen voting age population—this is the Emerging Majority.”
  • “In 2010, the difference in voter registration rates between the Emerging Majority and the rest of the population—the registration equality gap—was 11% with the Emerging Majority registered at a rate of 59% and the rest of the population registered at a rate of 70%.”
  • “The Emerging Majority is young and moves frequently, exacerbating lower voter registration rates. Fifty-nine percent of all 18-29 year olds in America are in the Emerging Majority. 56,000 Latino citizens and 58,000 African Americans turn 18 every month, becoming eligible to vote. The Emerging Majority has also borne the brunt of the economic crisis, with unemployment and foreclosure rates increasing the rates at which these voters move and have to be registered.”
  • “It does not have to be this way. In 2004 and 2008, with significant investment of human and financial resources, we saw the registration equality gap begin to close. However, the gap has widened during the non-presidential election years like 2010 when non-partisan independent voter registration efforts have had insufficient resources. Currently, it would require registering 9.8 million new Emerging Majority registrants to close the registration equality gap with the rest of the population.”

Grantmaking foundations each have inspiring mission statements of wanting to improve the world, help create a more equal and just world, etc. However, the nuts and bolts of bringing those lofty missions to fruition require some rolled up sleeves and some putting-money-where-your-mission-statement-is, if you will. It’s hard to think of a grantmaking foundation that doesn’t fund at least one of the groups in the Emerging Majority. So, imagine how much more could be done for any or all of those groups if they were empowered by being registered to vote. Imagine how much more time and attentiveness government officials will give to the registered Emerging Majority.

For additional ideas about funding voter registration of the Emerging Majority, please note the latest edition of NCRP’s Fall 2011 Responsive Philanthropy and the article titled: “Who Doesn’t Get the Vote Should Matter to Philanthropy.”

Christine Reeves is a field associate at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP).