Nonprofits, philanthropies lead effort to ensure paid time off for staff to vote

Nonprofits, philanthropies lead effort to ensure paid time off for staff to vote

In early September, Global Citizen and HeadCount, a nonpartisan organization that uses the power of music to drive voter registration and participation among youth, announced Just Vote, a three-year initiative to encourage U.S. employers to provide paid time off for their staff to vote and volunteer. With early commitments from industry giants such as Verizon, Cisco, Procter and Gamble, Delta, Coca-Cola, and Chobani, Just Vote joins a growing number of nonpartisan, nonprofit-driven campaigns, including Nonprofit VOTE and Power the Polls, aimed at addressing critical needs related to voting and this year's election. These campaigns are focused on everything from boosting voter registration in the midst of a pandemic, to staffing up underresourced polling sites, to getting businesses, universities, and philanthropies to provide voting information to their employees — as well as paid time off to do so. 

In response to these various calls to action, Ford Foundation president Darren Walker and Wallace Global Fund executive director Ellen Dorsey penned an op-ed calling on the philanthropic sector to join and support these campaigns. They also asked grantmakers to encourage their grantees to do the same and set up an online commitment form for nonprofit and philanthropic executives interested in joining the effort. 

The collective response has been impressive. Within days, nearly two hundred organizations  responded to Walker and Dorsey's call to action by guaranteeing their staff paid time off for nonpartisan volunteering and civic engagement activities. Signatories include major funders such as Omidyar Network, the Rockefeller Foundation, the David Rockefeller Fund, and the Surdna Foundation, as well as nonprofits like the Bridgespan GroupBrookingsLincoln Center, the National Trust for Historic PreservationOxfam, and StoryCorps. Nonprofit VOTE saw similarly high levels of engagement. 

"In just a few short weeks, hundreds of nonprofits, including YMCA, Feeding America, United Way and others, have come together through Nonprofit Staff Vote around a common goal of providing their staff with paid time off to vote and encouraging others to do the same," said Debi Lombardi, the organization's director of partner engagement. "This is a testament to how vital a thriving democracy is to many organizations in the nonprofit sector." 

For their part, HeadCount and Global Citizen report the Just Vote campaign has engaged corporate, nonprofit, and philanthropic partners who collectively are ensuring that more than four hundred thousand employees have access to nonpartisan resources and time off to register and vote in the 2020 election.

"We are very encouraged by the Just Vote campaign's momentum across all sectors and proud to see such important civic engagement leadership from our Just Vote partners," said Sarah Acer, head of global philanthropy at Global Citizen. "We know that for many people, voting begins with time off — and time off to vote begins at work — and we encourage all organizations to implement time off to vote measures and encourage their employees to engage in this year's election." 

As a result of the collective success of these campaigns, nearly half a million employees will have paid time off to vote and volunteer this year. 

Research shows that their engagement could be hugely significant. Nonprofit staff comprise 14 percent of the U.S. workforce, or more than twenty million voters. If every one of them voted, it would be the equivalent of 16 percent of all the votes cast in the 2016 election. What's more, the ripple effects of the commitments already made — and publicized — may lead to more organizations, funders, and institutions agreeing to provide paid time off to their employees to vote. 

In an election year like this one, nonpartisan funders, nonprofits, movements, and corporate employers alike have realized that the myriad challenges to voting — from public health-related precautions, to long lines, to the reduced number of polling places, to challenges with arranging child care or pandemic-scrambled work schedules — mean that we all have an obligation to do as much as possible to lessen the burden on our employees. With less than a week to go before Election Day, the most important step employers can take to support staff who want to make their voices heard  is giving them paid time off to vote and volunteer.

Kindred Motes is senior officer, communications and strategic engagement, at the Wallace Global Fund.