Nonprofit SuperPACs are generating a lot of buzz this election year. Headlines detail the millions of dollars in anonymous donations being used to run divisive ads, send direct mail and launch robo-call campaigns. But I'll argue the real news is from an altogether different PAC. One powered not by millions of dollars, but by the 10.7 million people who work at a nonprofit. Its name? CForward.
CForward works on behalf of the nonprofit sector as a whole. It links nonprofit employees from divergent, and often competing interests in a unifying political strategy; elevating the essential role their combined work plays in the economy. Its goals are both audacious and achievable: organizing private citizens to use new media tactics to help educate and elect candidates who will make strategic use of the nonprofit sector to stabilize communities, attract investment dollars and help revitalize the economy and create jobs.
In the last six months, over 50 candidates have been nominated for CForward support. These candidates are vying for a wide variety of seats at the city, state and federal level. Today, CForward is making history by endorsing eight of these candidates, and it is urging all nonprofit employees to support them by making personal contributions to their campaigns, spreading the word about their vision and contributing to CForward so it can support more candidates who support nonprofits.
This is a big deal.
Nonprofit organizations, their boards and employees traditionally shy away from overt political action. They have been warned time and again that mixing politics and charitable work could lead to their tax-deduction status being revoked. CForward's breakthrough is providing a means for private citizens who work at a nonprofit organization to nominate candidates for CForward to support. CForward vets and then endorses candidates based on who, if elected, could do the most to support and elevate the work of all nonprofits. CForward chooses candidates who understand that nonprofits are major employers in every community and contribute millions in payroll taxes. It promotes candidates who demonstrate the kind of vision required to help economies grow and thrive. And it works to help elect candidates who champion innovation and social enterprise, or who pledge to appoint a liaison who would be tasked with helping nonprofits attract investment dollars, develop earned income streams, partner with government or thrive independently. Most importantly, CForward wants to promote candidates whose example could usher in an era when all candidates are expected to speak to the role that the nonprofit sector -- America's third largest employer -- would play in their effort to strengthen the economy and create jobs.
The list of candidates that CForward endorses includes:
Sam Singh running for State Legislature, District 69 (Michigan): Fresh from his primary victory, Sam enters the general election race with mayoral as well as state-wide nonprofit CEO experience. Through his work at the New Economy Initiative, Sam worked tirelessly to promote social enterprise as a way to create jobs in Detroit and southern Michigan. If elected, Sam will also become the first Indian-American elected to the State Legislature.
Kate Bolz running for State Legislature, District 29 (Nebraska): Kate's commitment to service is obvious; she works for the Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest, serves as secretary for the National Association of Social Workers (Nebraska chapter), is on the executive committee of the Lincoln/Lancaster County Human Services Federation, and was the associate director of the Emerson National Hunger Fellows Program in Washington, D.C.
Jefferson Smith running for mayor (Portland, Ore.): Jefferson, who regards himself as a "nonprofit entrepreneur" was the founder of the highly regarded Bus Project, a mobile voter engagement nonprofit. He has also served two terms in the state legislature.
Ellie Hill running for State Legislature, District 94 (Montana): It's not every day the executive director of a local homeless shelter and food program is elected to state politics and named one of TIME magazine's "40 under 40 Political Rising Stars." Her re-election could mean great things for nonprofits in Montana and beyond.
Nate Shinagawa running for U.S. Congress, District 23 (New York): A proven legislator with local and state-wide experience, Nate also served as administrator for the nationally recognized nonprofit Robert Packer Hospital. He has pledged to appoint a liaison to the sector and, if elected, Nate would also be the first Asian-American representative in Congress from a northeastern district.
These are just a sampling of the candidates that CForward is endorsing. Soon, additional candidates will be endorsed from a growing pool of nominees that already include alumni from service groups like Teach For America, and CEO's of local chapters of Big Brothers Big Sisters and the United Way. Some have decades of experience (one candidate began his service career in 1961 as a Freedom Rider), while others have recently founded or led nonprofit organizations that help unemployed men and women find jobs, or that fight for environmental causes, support returning veterans, promote social enterprise or advocate for LGBT rights.
I question that all politics is local. If a nonprofit employee in Maine can help elect someone in Michigan who understands the importance of the nonprofit sector, I believe that person in Maine will do it, and tell others. Why? Because they are part of a new movement that seeks to build on a historic American principle; that nonprofits, like the communities we serve and the country we love, are strongest when we stand together.