Momentum Nonprofit Partners pushes for Election Day holiday

By , Daily Memphian Updated: August 17, 2020 8:41 AM CT | Published: August 17, 2020 4:00 AM CT

Kevin Dean has had a chance over six months to see the power of what sustained intention looks like when it comes to being heard and getting supplies when there aren’t any.

Dean runs Momentum Nonprofit Partners here, an advocacy group for nonprofits designed to strengthen their work by helping them look inward at capacity and what it would take to improve.

Through his own connections, he procured PPE supplies for nonprofits, who in the early days were competing with hospitals for gloves and masks, often with clients at the door. He was instrumental in getting statewide nonprofits woven into Gov. Bill Lee’s coronavirus task force, and last week, when the Tennessee Legislature offered schools and healthcare protection from negligence suits related to COVID, nonprofits were included.

Momentum scores load of masks, a key need in nonprofit sector

Momentum now is asking its members to give workers a day off on Election Day so they can vote, even if it takes hours.

It is sending its request to its nearly 600 nonprofit members Monday.

“In the pandemic, nonprofits’ roles in civic engagement has taken on a life of its own. One of the things that has kept coming up is voting and people’s ability to vote,” Dean said.

“The question we’ve asked ourselves at Momentum is what are nonprofits’ role in this election?”

Under their tax-exempt status, 501(c)(3)s may not engage or campaign for a candidate or a party. But nothing keeps them from promoting the right to vote or offering transportation to the polls on Election Day, he says.

With headaches and long waits in the Georgia primaries on June 9 as Exhibit 1, Dean is driving the conversation on what nonprofits can do.

“How hard is it going to be to vote,” he says. “How hard will our government make it to vote, especially for the disenfranchised?”

With worries that mail-in ballots won’t be received or counted and the pandemic keeping others away, Dean cannot sit back, he says.

“Everybody should have that right, and right now is so important to make sure that every citizen has the right to vote in this election. Nonprofits play a really important role because people look to us.”

Nonprofit Vote, which partners with nonprofits to encourage voter participation, studied turnout among young voters who had registered to a vote or signed a voter pledge card through a nonprofit group before the 2014 mid-term elections.

The voters contacted by nonprofits and encouraged to vote showed up at the polls in numbers that were 5.7 percentage points higher than the demographic had voted in previous elections.

Communities in Schools, a national nonprofit working in Memphis, will be giving its 28 employees a paid holiday on Election Day, Nov. 3.

“Under normal circumstances, we obviously wouldn’t necessarily have to take this action,” said Sonji Branch, CEO. “But with the pandemic, the political climate we are in now, where so many are questioning the legitimacy of the upcoming election, we want to ensure that as much as we can we are not adding to any of those concerns.

“It means our employees need to have the day off to ensure they can stand in line for however long — if that is the case —who knows?”

Wolf River Conservancy will also give employees a paid day off, said Kelsey Hamilton, chief development officer.

“Given the nature of the challenges with the pandemic, we know voting may look a little different this year. Providing that opportunity is critical,” she said.

Lisa Moore, CEO of Girls Inc., says her staff will also be off on Election Day, but notes the real work at Girls Inc. will happen in the fall through its She Votes program, a national Girls Inc. curriculum to help young women understand their role in civic life, including what it takes to run for office.

“Part of the process is that the girls determine how they want to take what they have learned further,” she said, noting there will many ways for young women to participate including working at the polls and distributing voter pledge cards.

 “Our girls will really will be encouraging others to register to vote, to make sure they have the capacity to vote and understand the rules.”

Bridges has not made “an official call yet,” said CEO Dana Wilson. “It has been an internal discussion.”

Hyde Family Foundation did not immediately respond.

The pandemic and the political implications it created, Dean says, have helped nonprofits understand the power of coalition building.

As an example, nonprofits across the state received $150 million in CARES Act funds from the governor to recover from the pandemic.

Locally, the grants will be administered through the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis and United Way of the Mid-South.

“Nonprofits in Memphis are really waking up to that and seeing that this election means more than just whether or not Trump is re-elected or Biden becomes president,” Dean said.

“It’s about, do we have people on a local level that support our nonprofit community and support the constituents of those nonprofits?

“Do we have people in our state capital that support our nonprofits and remember Memphis and remember nonprofits when they are creating legislation?” 

Nonprofits Memphis control more than $27 billion in assets and produce an annual income of $13 billion, according to July 2019 estimates by TaxExemptWorld.

While people are focused on the presidential race, Dean says, in times like these, with widespread calls for police reform and social justice policies, many of the most pressing issues are local decisions.

As a leader in the nonprofit sphere, his work is “convening” that group, he says, and he won’t be trying to recruit other sectors. 

“If there were a nonprofit entity, like the Chamber or somebody else that would consider this, I would partner with them in a heartbeat,” he said.

For Communities in Schools, which partners with 21 Memphis schools to help students with non-academic obstacles to graduation, the Election Day push includes messages to 6,000 parents.

“We want to make sure that they recognize that their voice matters, particularly because so many of our parents are disenfranchised in so many ways,” Branch said.

“Their voice, their vote is going to matter in how we recover from this pandemic.”

Editor’s Note: The Daily Memphian is making our election coverage accessible to all readers — no subscription needed. Our journalists continue to work around the clock to provide you with the extensive coverage you need; if you can subscribe, please do


Kevin Dean Momentum Nonprofit Partners Sonji Branch Lisa Moore Kelsey Hamilton Election Day holiday
Jane Roberts

Jane Roberts

Longtime journalist Jane Roberts is a Minnesotan by birth and a Memphian by choice. She's lived and reported in the city more than two decades. She covers business news and features for The Daily Memphian.


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