Democracy and Peace | September 1, 2020

How impact investors can help ensure racial justice includes electoral justice

Jennifer Kenning, Jesse Simmons and Ishita Shah
Guest Author

Jennifer Kenning

Guest Author

Jesse Simmons

Guest Author

Ishita Shah

ImpactAlpha, Sept. 1With voter registration deadlines rapidly approaching, our firm is seeing a desire amongst impact investors to elevate voting rights and civic engagement as a priority for racial-justice focused philanthropy in the immediate term.

 We shouldn’t be so surprised. 

Over the past several months, impact investors, galvanized and focused like never before in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and recent racial justice protests, have been stepping up in greater numbers to find ways to put their investment dollars to work with a new sense of urgency to address our greatest challenges. 

What began as an interest among impact investors to align their investments with businesses that are solving society’s social and environmental challenges has taken on a palpable urgency in the wake of the recent social justice protests and now incorporates a push towards great racial equity. Investors are making it clear that they want to be a part of the change that needs to happen so we can reform our electoral system and ensure free and fair elections for all.

Many of us recognize that the issues at stake in the upcoming 2020 elections are greater than perhaps at any other time in the modern era. Yet, if history is any indicator, over 100 million eligible voters are predicted to not turn out. 

The social inequities that have become so much more visible in the past few months are just as present when it comes to voting. Disproportionately, there is a greater fraction of Black, Indigenous and Latino eligible voters who are left behind: Pew Research shows that 2016 voter turnout rates for white Americans was 65%, greater than that of any other demographic. Black and Latino populations at 59.6% and 47.6%, respectively. 

Electoral injustice and racial injustice are intertwined. As the late John Lewis warned us: “There’s a deliberate and systematic attempt to prevent millions of elderly voters, young voters, students, minority and low-income voters from exercising their constitutional right to engage in the democratic process.” 

Impact investors, in particular, have a unique opportunity to right some of these systemic wrongs at this particular moment in time when so many crises threaten our social fabric and our environment. 

What’s exciting is that any investor can choose to allocate their capital towards greater electoral justice – it is not and does not have to be the exclusive purview of impact investors. 

Electoral Justice

While we at Align Impact typically spend most of our time educating investors on how they can activate capital beyond their foundation and philanthropic assets in ways that leverage the corpus of their assets as well, some problems are more suited to granting through philanthropic vehicles such as foundations and donor advised funds. 

We have identified a number of philanthropic investments that are designed to accelerate the path towards a more just electoral system. 

Here are three organizations we have recommended to our clients:

  1. Movement Voter Project for its extensive relationships and regranting process that focuses on local, grassroots organizations. Specifically, their Black-led Organizing Fund grants to local Black-led groups with a track record working to vote out prosecutors, sheriffs, district attorneys, and elected officials who have been supporting and perpetuating racial injustice and over-incarceration.
  2. Black Voters Matter (BVM) Fund for their focus on key southern states that have a higher per capita black American population. BVM drives innovative event programming and helps develop infrastructure where little-to-none exists. 
  3. Voto Latino (VL) for their ability to leverage a star-studded set of trusted Latino influencers who partner with the Voto Latino team to drive critical messaging for voter turnout. Leveraging a social-distancing-friendly digital campaign and culturally relevant program, VL shepherds the Latinx community towards full realization of its political power. 

Depth and breadth

These organizations embody qualities that we believe are optimal to achieving the depth and breadth of impact necessary to drive more equitable voter participation in 2020:

  • Ensure that the team displays relevant competence and experience. Collectively, they look like, understand and have built trust with the communities they serve.  
  • The messenger and messaging should be warm, not cold – meaning the relationships between the organization and the community have been nurtured overtime and the messengers are stewards of the BIPOC community. Time and time again we have seen how a text or call from an unknown entity is not as effective as it could be through other channels. People do actively listen when their church pastor, community organizer, local civic leader or respected celebrity offers words of wisdom. The message received from the trusted and valued messenger can lead to behavior change.
  • Agility is critical. The team and organization can digest curveballs and iterate their plans quickly as we get closer to elections. They have networks, processes and lines of communication in place to execute changes with speed. The extensive networks help deliver programs across the U.S. and down the federal, state and local levels, like capillaries swiftly flowing blood from the heart of their organization to the nooks and crannies of the country.

Keeping these core tenets centerstage, impact investors are energized by the potential to help accelerate our transition towards a freer, fairer and more fully engaged election. 

Granting to Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) voter engagement is critical to getting closer to systems with integrity and justice, especially in a year where COVID-19 adds an extra layer of barriers.

Jennifer Kenning is CEO and co-founder of Align Impact. Jesse Simmons is senior associate, client service. Ishita Shan is a senior associate, philanthropy.