Faith-Based Nonprofits Involved in Integrated Voter Engagement Efforts

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  • Source: UncoverDC
  • 10/05/2023

Faith-based nonprofits like Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), established in 1940 by Saul Alinsky, The Gamaliel National Network, and Nehemiah: Center for Urban Leadership Development use, as a part of their missions, what is called Integrated Voter Engagement (IVE) to justify, among other things, Get Out the Vote (GOTV) efforts in local communities. All three of these nonprofits "train and mobilize" networks of community organizers and "identify and groom leaders" to affect social change in communities. They arguably influence elections as a result of their activities while claiming their mission is nonpartisan.

Graphic/Capital Research/From FCCP


According to an article written by Susan Bradford in 2014 for the Capital Research Center, "the Left has worked for decades" to turn faith-based institutions and nonprofits into organizations that serve a particular political agenda. Bradford focuses on the transformation of the United Church of Christ (UCC), whose most famous member was Barack Obama. IAF and Gamaliel are mentioned in the article as affiliate UCC organizations. Obama worked as a consultant and instructor for Gamaliel before he entered politics, acquiring his community organizing skills there. Bradford concludes that "the ability [of these organizations] to affect America's politics is beyond dispute."

The Industrial Areas Foundations (IAF)

The IAF boasts a massive community organizing network with national and international affiliates. It partners with faith-based and community organizations at a local level to provide training, consultation, and activist organizers. Its first project was the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council, founded in 1939 as the Packinghouse Workers. Founded by Saul Alinsky in Chicago, Marshall Field, Roman Catholic Bishop Sheil and Kathryn Lewis, daughter of John L Lewis, were among its first board members. Religious organizations and churches form the backbone of IAF.

An article from the Catholic Culture publication states, for example, that the IAF received the largest number of Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) grants of any grantee from 1992 to 1997. The article points out that IAF is not really a true grassroots organization; rather, it uses institutions to reach its goals. "Churches have a pre-existing structure, access to money, and an immediate moral credibility," and IAF leverages that institutional structure to accomplish its mission.

IAF Affiliates Map/2020

The 2020 IAF Impact Report describes one of its "victories" as the "rebuilding of our democracy" with "months of strictly nonpartisan GOTV efforts by IAF affiliates result[ing] in increasing voter turnout and protecting the vote in historically low-performing precincts in AZ, CO, LA, NC, OH, TX, and WI." IAF is "building out and expanding its power" in both current areas and new ones. The 2019 IAF Impact Report touts voter engagement victories in Louisiana and Virginia.

IAF/2020 Victories


The mission description on the 2016 IAF Form 990 states, "IAF leaders and organizers first create independent organizations, focused on productive improvements in the public arena" and then "use those new political realities to invent and establish new social realities." All nonpartisan, of course. A review of the 2020 OneLA-IAF GOTV campaign shows how IAF approaches the community with its GOTV efforts. The focus is on how to make a vote count, who and what to vote for on the ballot, and "organized power after November 3."

The Gamaliel National Network

The mission of the organization is also expressly political. The network seeks to "empower ordinary people to effectively participate in the political, environmental, social and economic decisions affecting their lives" through faith. It has 43 affiliates in 14 states.

Gamaliel Affiliates

Gamaliel also focuses heavily on power structures to understand the "laws of the jungle" to help mitigate the "systems and structures that perpetuate racial and economic inequity." Criminal justice reform is a priority for Gamaliel, whose push to end mass incarceration is central to its mission. However, its efforts on behalf of the incarcerated go beyond legislative and judicial reforms. Gamaliel's IVE work with a statewide affiliate called WISDOM helped ensure first-time voters and the incarcerated voted in the 2020 Wisconsin election. The Gamaliel website explains,

"Integrated Voter Engagement is designed to change narratives. In the lead-up to the 2020 election, Gamaliel affiliates nationwide used IVE to do just that by growing their bases, moving issue campaigns, and connecting the democratic process to local issues. But in Wisconsin, Gamaliel statewide affiliate WISDOM worked with first-time voters and incarcerated people to make clear that participation in democracy is for everyone – even those who cannot vote." 

The Gamaliel IVE campaign expressly uses Relational Voter Programs (RVP), which "emphasizes building relationships as part of get-out-the-vote campaigns." The campaigns are described as nonpartisan and influential in encouraging 10-20 family members to actually go vote who never voted before. It used community members, including Ex-incarcerated People Organizing (EXPO) and currently incarcerated people, to reach eligible voters, encouraging voters to "make voting plans and request mail-in ballots." There are plans to engage community members for the 2022 gubernatorial and Senate elections.


Additionally, the Alinsky-inspired Gamaliel Network enlists churches to pressure politicians and community organizers to further its agenda. A 2010 article for the Capital Research Center references a former Gamaliel community organizer Rey Lopez-Calderon who experienced the "strange and warped" culture of the organization first-hand. He speaks about how the concept of "self-interest."

In an interview with Foundation Watch, Lopez-Calderon said that in 2000 Galluzzo gave organizers a seminar called "The Courage to Create." One part of the seminar was called "Walking the Edge of Immorality."

 "In this particular part, it was more about willing to be ruthless—they actually used the word 'ruthless,'" said Lopez-Calderon. "It talked about how, if people are getting in the way of what you want to achieve as an organizer, you should be willing to push those people out of your way.

 "The idea was that's how power works. It's dirty. You have to get your hands dirty. But at the end, when you have enough power, you'll be able to do the right thing."

The Gamaliel website also features an "Organizing 101" page devoted to teaching activists how to organize effectively.

Gamaliel supported and funded the George Floyd protests in Minnesota through its affiliate Asamblea de Derechos Civiles. For a nonpartisan organization, they seem to focus a great deal on Left-leaning policies and initiatives. They partnered with ActBlue in Memphis by knocking on doors to get out the vote. ActBlue is a prominent Democrat fundraising machine.

Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development

Created in the 90s, the Nehemiah Center is a bridge of sorts for all three organizations. They are inextricably connected. Nehemiah provides a blueprint, or a Transition Team Facilitator guide, for assessing the readiness of targeted churches to carry out political agendas using faith-based rationales (Kingdom Gains and Losses) for the activism. Nehemiah also prioritizes power structures, prison reform, and social justice inequities. The site features an article devoted to the disenfranchisement of felons in elections and voter rights, with its voter suppression methods graphic and its voting rights timeline.

Nehemiah/Voter Rights

The interview below features Dane County Supervisor Sheila Stubbs talking with Nehemiah Founder Dr. Alex Gee about the power of Black people to shift an election. A promotional spot for the organization featuring McGee shows him speaking about Nehemiah's two decades of work and his relatively new Justified Anger Initiative. He references his work to "empower our white allies or our white would-be allies in helping us to dismantle these systems of racism that's within their grasp or spheres of influence." This particular spot features the city of Madison as a focus for their activism. Madison was one of the top five cities in Wisconsin that received significant funding from the Zuckerberg/Chan/CTCL for dropboxes.

Officials also selected Nehemiah in Madison to distribute federal rent assistance funding to the community through its Nehemiah Community Development Corporation. The Nehemiah Strategy employs "faith-based" affordable housing models throughout the nation. Nehemiah Spring Creek in New York is one of the projects featured in the 2015-2019 5-year consolidated affordable public housing plan and is also linked to the East Brooklyn Congregation, an IAF affiliate.

Community Action Coalition/

Incidentally, is also an affiliate of Comite De Bien Estar, whose Executive Director Tony Reyes confirmed was served warrants due to the recent claims of voter fraud involving trafficked ballots in Yuma County that resulted in the arrest and indictments of two San Luis women. True the Vote had been working with two local men there to prove ballot trafficking fraud. Gee wrote a 2013 article entitled Justified Anger about his anger. The Nehemiah Organization features two profiles on Twitter. @ja_madison is Dr. Gee's profile. Nehemiah Madison is the organization profile.


This column represents the fifth in a series written by UncoverDC, a series on nonprofit involvement in elections.

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