Do's and Don'ts for Nonprofits in an Election Year

election legality
SparkAction
January 31, 2012
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Think that because your part of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit you can’t engage in any electoral advocacy? Think again.

The IRS prohibits some election-year activities—for (c)(3)s, anything that smells like electioneering or supporting a particular candidate or party is out—but there are plenty of things that nonprofits can safely, legally do during an election year.

Below you'll find a brief guide to the basics. This is not designed to serve as legal counsel or advice. For specific answers, you must get advice from a qualified legal professional. The Alliance for Justice is a great resource too; they have a team of lawyers on call to answer questions from nonprofits – for free! Nonprofit Vote is another great resource. Find more helpful resources here.

And now, back to a few basics:

What we CAN do:

  • We CAN lobby under  501 (H) lobbying limits.
     
  • We can encourage voting and enable voter registration.
     
  • Criticize or celebrate legislators but not candidates.
     
  • You can work to educate candidates about issues, but (c)(3)s cannot create and provide information on an issue to candidates upon the request of a candidate.

We CANNOT:

  • 501(c)(3)’s cannot support or oppose any candidates running for public office, nor can you encourage anyone to run.
     
  • We can work to get out the vote in a non-partisan way, but cannot encourage specific candidates, particular party, or use issues to suggest who people should vote for (for example, “Vote for the candidate who supports TANF!” is a no-go).
     
  • We can provide information to educate the public about where the candidates stand a broad range of issues. We cannot compare your organization’s views with those of the candidates.
     
  • 501(c)(3)’s cannot ask candidates to take pledges.

Tip: A disclaimer of your 501(c)(3) status and your non-partisan ship is always a good idea to include on your website, social media, and publications, especially during an election year.


Open Webinar: Do's and Don'ts for Nonprofits in an Election Year

Jan 31, 2012  |   Archived recording: watch and listen  |   Get resources and slides (from the Coalition on Human Needs)
 
SparkAction joined the Alliance for Justice, the Coalition on Human Needs, the Half in Ten campaign, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the Children’s Leadership Council to provide a valuable resource to our local partners, members, and allies about what not-for-profit organizations (501C3’s) can do during election years. 
 
In this webinar, the Alliance for Justice gave some great tips for 501(c)(3) organizations and what activities are legally permissible during an election year, especially as possible activities and activites to push issues are planned.  Abby Levine of the Alliance for Justice gave some solid advice on allowable activities during this election year and practical examples of things your organization can do.
 
This information is vital for any organization during an election year, so don't skip over this one.  In the link you'll find the recorded webinar along with the slides presented and number of helpful resources in planning and moderating your activities during an election were also metioned in the webinar.
 

Some other great resources:

  1. Nonprofit VOTE: Comprehensive guides, factsheets and webinars (some translated into Spanish)
  2. National Council of Jewish Women: Promote the Vote, Protect the Vote Resource Guide
  3. NonProfit Vote: Nonprofits, Voting & Elections - A Guide for 501(c)(3) Organizations on Non-Partisan Voter participation and Education
  4. RESULTS: Activist Toolkit
  5. Going from activist to elected official: New Organizing Institute's Candidate Project
  6. The Leadership Conference Grassroots Toolkit
  7. Half in Ten Shared Prosperity Report Advocacy Resources and Tools for Action
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