Nonprofits make democracy work by engaging in electoral activities. These activities include registering voters, educating candidates about issues, hosting candidate debates and forums, endorsing candidates, making contributions to candidates and parties, supporting or opposing ballot measures, and much more. Depending on how they are structured, many of these activities may be conducted in a nonpartisan or a partisan manner. Nonprofits need not shy away from electoral activities—elections provide nonprofits with opportunities to connect with community members, interact with elected officials, and promote their issues.

An organization’s tax and corporate status will determine the breadth and depth of permissible electoral activities.

  • 501(c)(3) organizations can engage in nonpartisan electoral activities only—they cannot support or oppose candidates for public office.
  • Other organizations, such as 501(c)(4)s and labor unions, may be openly partisan as long as doing so is not their primary activity.
  • Political organizations, on the other hand, essentially exist to support or oppose particular candidates or political parties.
  • In addition to complying with federal tax law, organizations must also follow federal or state (or local) election laws.

 

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Preguntas Frecuentes (FAQs) de las Organizaciones Sin Fines de Lucro de los EE.UU.: Involucrando a los Activistas Indocumentados en la Defensa y Promoción de Causas

Muchas organizaciones comunitarias en los Estados Unidos dependen en activistas indocumentados. Inmigrantes indocumentados tienen el derecho constitucional a la libertad de expresión y reunión, y pueden participar en actividades de defensa y promoción de causas de la organización. Aprenda como los inmigrantes indocumentados pueden ayudar legalmente a estas organizaciones, y aprenda algunas precauciones para evitar riesgos innecesarios con consecuencias graves de inmigración. …

FAQs about Nonprofits Engaging in Advocacy with Undocumented Activists

Many nonprofit organizations have leaders who are undocumented immigrants. In general, undocumented immigrants in the United State have a constitutional right to free speech and assembly, and nonprofit organizations have a right to integrate immigrant leaders into their organization’s advocacy. This factsheet answers frequently asked questions (FAQs) about nonprofits’ rights to engage undocumented immigrants in issue advocacy, lobbying, ballot measure campaigns, and lawful public protests. The factsheet also identifies legal and practical limitations for nonprofits collaborating with undocumented activists.…

Board Members and Election-Year Activities

501(c)(3) organizations are prohibited from supporting or opposing candidates for public office (“campaign intervention”). This prohibition, however, does not apply to the activities of 501(c)(3) board members when they are acting in their individual capacity. This fact sheet can help an organization and its board members avoid having personal activities attributed to the organization.…

Community Foundation Support for Election-Related Activities

Supporting election-related activities is an effective way for community foundations to strengthen democracy by broadening the civic dialogue and giving a voice to underrepresented communities. This fact sheet explains how community foundations can support election-related activities. …

Citizens United: Three Years Later

On our Citizens United v. FEC page, we keep you informed about legislative and regulatory developments in the wake of this controversial decision.  …

FEC Disclaimers and Disclosure

This resource from Harmon, Curran, Spielberg + Eisenberg, LLP provides an overview of what legal activities 501(c) organizations can do around federal elections, but will trigger reporting or other specific requirements. This resource covers the disclosure and disclaimers required for electioneering communications, independent  expenditures, and member communications.…

Seize the Initiative

Increasingly, citizens groups are using ballot initiatives and referenda to advance their issues. This guide answers questions frequently asked by nonprofit organizations about working on ballot measures. For more information about this publication, please call us at (202) 822-6070.…

Investing in Change: A Funder’s Guide to Supporting Advocacy

This book is an indispensable guide for foundations in explaining the various roles they can play in the advocacy process. Investing in Change can serve as an in-depth guide to navigating the tax code surrounding support of public charities, or a quick reference guide to answer a specific question.…

Candidate Questionnaires and Voter Guides

Candidate questionnaires and voter guides may be an important and effective tool in ensuring an organization’s issues are kept in the forefront during an election year.  This fact sheet provides guidelines to help organizations make use of these important advocacy tools without putting their tax-exempt status at risk.…