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Making Everyone’s Voice Heard Begins Early

One PA canvassers smile and pose

Supporting Participation in Democratic Processes

Every election carries important weight in how our elected leaders will represent the voices of the communities they serve for the years to come. In preparation for this presidential election year, the William Penn Foundation acted early and awarded grants to increase voter engagement well before election day. 

Having served Philadelphia for nearly 80 years, we have long held a role as a convener and coordinator of civic and philanthropic initiatives. This includes, among other things, improving our region through engagement with critical democratic processes. We understand that when more people can participate and make their voices heard, more of us can see our interests represented. 

In preparation for this year’s elections, we began awarding grants in late 2022 to support nonpartisan efforts to educate eligible voters on the importance of voting and how to access the electoral process through 2024 and beyond. We recognize that in Pennsylvania, our voters receive significant national attention. Unfortunately, our communities are also subject to a wide variety of targeted false information. We recognize that trusted messengers in our communities need early, consistent support to share factual, reputable information about where and how to vote, well in advance of an election day. And we made grants to help them do that.

Our recent funding supports organizations working statewide and focused specifically on Philadelphia. Grantees include community-based neighborhood organizations, good government advocates, 501(c)3 statewide coordination efforts, and nonprofit news organizations to ensure trustworthy information is available from a variety of sources. This calendar year alone, the Foundation distributed almost $3 million to support accurate information and outreach about the 2024 election. 

With these grants, we’re building on our history of supporting civic participation. Since the 1970s, the Foundation has supported work to engage people with the U.S. Census Bureau’s population count, which happens every 10 years. And for the past six years, the Foundation has been increasing its support for participation in other important democratic processes like elections and redistricting.

We were also pleased to see a group of national funders launch and promote an “All By April” campaign earlier this year to encourage funders to give grants and donations early in the year, and with fewer strings attached, to ensure that the nonprofit organizations who do important nonpartisan work educating voters have the funding they need in time to use it. 

All By April’s call to action resonates with the approach we took leading up to the 2024 elections. Nearly all of our grants for voter outreach and education were made, and payments sent, by the end of April this year. In addition to awarding our own grants, we matched grants awarded by peer funders, relying on their due diligence processes to reduce burden on nonprofits. And where possible, we reduced grant reporting requirements and had conversations with grantees to hear about their progress.

Looking to the Future

Moving forward, we are making a commitment to continue this work in a formal capacity through our new Democracy & Civic Initiatives program. The program seeks to improve our region through collective action, both by community and philanthropy: we are seeking to expand engagement with democratic processes and lead collaborative efforts to improve the City and bring more dollars here. 

When it comes to supporting a more participatory democracy, we know that voting is just one piece of the puzzle. We’re also focused on things like redistricting, Census participation, and engagement with local government to build trust. In the end, we’re pursuing a central idea: to make better the daily lives of more people. That starts with each of us making our voice heard.