Bringing it Home in an Election Year: Advocating for Change at the State Level

Lindsay Ryder
July 17, 2012

Presidential election years provide an unparalleled opportunity for nonprofits to maximize their advocacy efforts. And while the public and media get swept up in “federal fever,” your organization can stay true to its roots and make sure it is representing your community’s best interests at the state level. Whether you choose to participate in a ballot measure campaign, conduct voter registration drives and other GOTV activities, or hold candidate debates or forums for state and local candidates, election-related advocacy at the state level should not be overlooked. (Just remember to remain nonpartisan if you are a 501(c)(3) organization!)

In California alone, nonprofits are busy working on a number of ballot measures affecting important rights at the state level, from labeling of genetically modified foods to abolishing the death penalty. 501(c)(3)s and 501(c)(4)s have been active in supporting both of these measures, by providing monetary and in-kind contributions to campaign committees, or making independent expenditures urging voters to support these measures. Although the deadline for qualifying a measure for the ballot is rapidly approaching in many states, it is not too late to get involved in advocating for or against measures already approved for the ballot. (For an inspiring example of how national organizations jumped into the game to help defeat a harmful ballot measure in North Dakota, check out this Bolder Advocacy success story.)

Recognizing the importance of state level advocacy, Alliance for Justice offers a series of State Law Resources, a comprehensive set of guides explaining the lobbying, voter registration, and campaign finance laws in 27 states. If your organization is already involved in, or is looking to get involved in, state level advocacy, our State Law Resources are the perfect starting point for educating yourself on how to comply with the law. You can also review our Ballot Measure Toolkit, an online resource of factsheets and sample documents that can walk you through getting involved in ballot measure advocacy. (Another great resource is the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center – BISC).

If you have questions about how your organization can effectively and legally get involved in state level advocacy, including voter registration, ballot measure campaigns or voter education, you can speak with a Bolder Advocacy attorney by calling 866-NP-LOBBY (675-6229) or emailing us at

This article was originally published on Bolder Advocacy, the advocacy blog of Alliance for Justice. It is reprinted here with permission.