Arizona Giving & Leading: Nonprofits & Civic Engagement

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Timothy Schmaltz, an instructor for ASU Lodestar Center’s Nonprofit Management Institute, talks about opportunities for nonprofits to promote civic engagement.

Ted Simons: Nonprofits provide a community service, but they can also drive political and social change. That's according to our next guest, who believes that nonprofits have an opportunity to make a difference this election season. Here to explain is Timothy Schmoltz, he's an instructor for the ASU Lodestar center's nonprofit management institute. He's also a coordinator for the nonprofit protecting Arizona's family coalition. Thanks for joining us. Nonprofits promote civic engagement. What are we talking about here?

Timothy Schmoltz: Well, in our particular case this year, we're doing an -- it's an election year, and it's legal for nonprofits to be involved in elections, do voter registration, voter turnout. Work on ballot measures, and that's -- so we have am lied ourselves with lots of groups in town, and we're promoting voter registration, and get out the vote activities among all kinds of groups that traditionally haven't done that.

Ted Simons: That sounds like something very basic and doubt middle of the road, but you also write that nonprofits can become the new venue for building political power. Explain, please.

Timothy Schmoltz: Yeah. I think a lot of people we know that people who are involved and being served by nonprofits, people who are poor, people with disabilities, people of color, aren't traditionally involved. Sometimes their participation in our democracy is 15, meaning voting and other kinds of civic activities, is 15-20% below the general population. So nonprofits have access to these by providing services. And the nonpartisan ways they -- it is legal for -- to encouraging people to register to vote, to be come -- to become informed voters and then vote. That's what this project is about.

Ted Simons: I was going to ask, can and should nonprofits be more political, and how do you become more political and not find yourself falling on either side of the line?

Timothy Schmoltz: Well, the IRS rules are very clear about being nonpartisan. Nonprofits cannot endorse candidates, cannot be involved in partisan activities during an election. So, yes, if voting and voter registration and voter participation is political, then this is political. But it's nonpartisan political work, and it involves getting people out to vote, and participating in our democracy. This is a very Democratic, very nonpartisan activity. And they could be involved in ballot measures, like prop 204. A lot of nonprofits are involved in the prop 204 campaign. Those kinds of things.

Ted Simons: Involved in what way?

Timothy Schmoltz: Well, they're registering people to vote, they're encouraging people to consider the ballot measure. They're concerned with informing people about how to vote, about various kinds of things. Never telling people how to vote, never telling people endorsing candidates in those kinds of things.

Ted Simons: If you don't endorse a candidate and you are encouraging people to take a look at a particular proposition that requests a particular thing, is that not taking a side?

Timothy Schmoltz: Well, it's not taking a side because you're not telling people how to vote. You're basically saying, as any group can, be informed. Learn about hunger, homelessness, how it affects you. Learn how it affects your community. And make up your own mind. Nonpartisans have this role in our community to inform people; particularly these populations that are on the margins that are served by nonprofits, but traditionally don't participate. So this is a way for the nonprofit community to stay legal, but participate legitimately and legally, and in a nonpartisan way in our community.

Ted Simons: Do nonprofits consider themselves inherently political?

Timothy Schmoltz: No. Well, most nonprofits are -- the primary mission is service. Put on the symphony, have an art gallery, help seniors be independent. End homelessness. Most nonprofits have a primary mission. But that doesn't mean that they should not participate under the IRS rules in our democracy. And traditionally nonprofits have done that. It's just that this year, in Arizona, we with the alliance of nonprofits, the valley of the sun united way, the united way in Tucson, a variety of groups that just gather together and said, it's legal for us to do this. We need to encouraging people to participate in their democracy. This is -- because you're poor doesn't mean you shouldn't vote. Because you're a person of color doesn't mean you shouldn't vote. Because you're a person with a disability means that you should -- you should participate. And we know these kinds of groups traditionally are marginalized, and we need to encourage as much as we can.

Ted Simons: I know you write how nonprofits are -- keep a sense of community and help keep a sense of community. Can you keep a sense of community when you're out there poking maybe a couple of beehives?

Timothy Schmoltz: Well, again, we're attempting to say, and inform people to make up their own minds. I suppose if you're involved in issue oriented advocacy, you are going to stir up a beehive or two. But that's the nature of democracy. As long as our nonprofits are not partisan, they're not endorsing candidates and they're not doing things that violate their status, the rules are very clear that they can participate. Because you're in a nonprofit and you're served by a nonprofit doesn't mean you give up your citizenship. And all we're saying is, in this project, is participate. Play.

Ted Simons: We've got about 30 seconds left Y did you feel the need to come out with this? Why are you emphasizing this?

Timothy Schmoltz: I think what we saw was this was an election year, there's been a lot of impact on a lot of people over the last few years. There's a presidential election year, it gets a lot of publicity. This was an opportunity really to empower people who might not be empowered before.

Ted Simons: All right. Very good. Thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.

Timothy Schmoltz: Thank you.

Timothy Schmaltz:Instructor, ASU Lodestar Center Nonprofit Management Institute;

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