Influencing legislation – or “lobbying” – is a key advocacy strategy that nonprofits can use to advance their cause. In fact, by not lobbying, many 501 (c)(3) organizations are not taking full advantage of their rights under federal tax laws, which set out generous lobbying limits.

The Internal Revenue Code defines lobbying as activities that attempt to influence specific legislation. There are two types of lobbying – direct and grassroots. Direct lobbying refers to a communication with a legislator (federal, state, local) or legislative staff member that refers to specific legislation and expresses a view on that legislation. Grassroots lobbying refers to a communication with the general public that refers to specific legislation, expresses a view on that legislation, and urges the public to contact their legislator(s). Not all communications that refer to, or even express a view about legislation, constitute lobbying.

Contrary to popular belief, nonprofits can lobby. The amount of lobbying a nonprofit organization can engage in depends on its tax-exempt status. 501(c)(3) public charities can engage in a limited, but generous, amount of lobbying; 501(c)(3) private foundations are subject to a prohibitive tax on any lobbying expenditures they make; 501(c)(4) organizations can engage in an unlimited amount of lobbying; and political organizations exempt under 527 may make very limited lobbying expenditures, but these expenditures may be subject to tax if they do not further a political purpose.

NOTE: This activity may be covered and disclosure required under federal or state lobby disclosure provisions.

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Transition Team Advocacy

Advocates have an important role to play when a new administration—either a new president or governor— is coming into power. Advocates will find that some of the activities discussed below will also be appropriate actions to take with newly elected legislators as well. The transition period (the time between election and inauguration days) is an important window of time when organizations, including 501(c)(3) charities, can build relationships and work to have their concerns made a priority of the new administration. There are many activities, including ones that do not constitute lobbying, that organizations can engage in to influence the policies and direction of a new administration.…

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. …

Understanding City of Los Angeles Lobbying Disclosure Rules

Do you or your nonprofit organization advocate in the City of Los Angeles? If so, you may be required to register as a lobbyist and report your activities to the City if your activities qualify as lobbying under the Los Angeles Municipal Lobbying Ordinance (LAMLO). …

Worry-Free Lobbying for Nonprofits

How to Use the 501(h) Election to Maximize Effectiveness. This guide describes how lobbying can be conducted legally and effectively via the 501(h) election.…

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.…

California Lobbying Disclosure Thresholds: When an Organization Needs to File

Is your organization active in California legislative or administrative policy change? California has a sunshine law designed to reveal who has influence on California politics, and that sunshine law may apply to your organization. An organization is required to register and report its California lobbying activities if it exceeds specific monetary thresholds, or if an employee(s) of an organization spends enough time communicating with certain state officials. Just because an organization engages in lobbying at the state level in California does not necessarily mean it will have reporting obligations under state law. This factsheet will help you understand if your organization should report as a $5,000 Filer, a Lobbyist Employer, or neither. …

Understanding California Lobbying Disclosure Rules

In addition to complying with the federal tax rules governing lobbying, nonprofits working in California need to keep state lobbying requirements in mind. California has a sunshine law designed to reveal who has influence on California politics, and that sunshine law may apply to your organization. An organization is required to register and report its California lobbying activities if it exceeds specific monetary thresholds, or if an employee(s) of an organization spends enough time communicating with certain state officials. This factsheet will help you understand more about the California Political Reform Act (CPRA) and these rules differ from federal tax rules and certain local sunshine laws. …

Communicating with Your Members: Tracking and Treating Grassroots Communications with Members

Federal tax law allows certain lobbying communications with a 501(c))(3) public charity’s members to be treated more favorably than communications with the general public. This fact sheet provides information on how to identify such communications and explains how to track and treat them. It is important to understand the basic lobbying rules and the differences between direct and grassroots lobbying before delving into the member communication rules discussed in this fact sheet.…

Reglas de cabildeo para entidades religiosas

Con más y más recortes en los presupuestos federales y estatales, es imperativo que las organizaciones sin fines de lucro hablen y eleven voces de sus comunidades en debates sobre políticas públicas. Esta hoja informativa ofrece sugerencias de cómo se puede involucrar su organización sin fines de lucro en abogacía relacionada al presupuesto, y explica cuando las organizaciones de beneficencia pública tienen que contar actividades contra sus límites de cabildeo.…

Las organizaciones sin fines de lucro pueden influir en la elaboración de presupuestos

Con más y más recortes en los presupuestos federales y estatales, es imperativo que las organizaciones sin fines de lucro hablen y eleven voces de sus comunidades en debates sobre políticas públicas. Esta hoja informativa ofrece sugerencias de cómo se puede involucrar su organización sin fines de lucro en abogacía relacionada al presupuesto, y explica cuando las organizaciones de beneficencia pública tienen que contar actividades contra sus límites de cabildeo.…

Private Foundations and Social Media

Social media presents great advocacy opportunities for private foundations. This fact sheet offers tips on how private foundations can use social media platforms like Twitter, Pintrest, Facebook, and Tumblr for advocacy, when social media communications cross the line into lobbying, how to ensure partisan content does not get attributed to the foundation, and how the foundation should approach making grants for social media campaigns. …

Sample Timesheets

Public charities should spend at least a minimal amount of time each day, week, month or quarter to track finances and project time. This pays off in the long run, particularly for smaller charities that engage in advocacy and operate on limited budgets. Good recordkeeping helps an organization report how grant dollars were spent, and demonstrate the quantitative and qualitative work of the organization. Below are some timesheets public charities have found useful to track their lobbying costs for staff time.…

Lobbying Under the Insubstantial Part Test

Many direct service providers and other nonprofit organizations that are new to advocacy often wonder if they can sign on to letters in support of, or opposition to, legislation or if they can take a position on a ballot measure. This fact sheet is designed to help those organizations that are new to advocacy feel……

Transition of Power: Influencing a Presidential or Gubernatorial Transition Team

Whenever a new President or Governor is elected, nonprofit organizations, including 501(c)(3) public charities, wonder how they can be involved in nominating cabinet-level, judicial and executive branch nominees, including those that require legislative confirmation. This fact sheet addresses when influencing a president’s or governor’s  transition team may be considered lobbying under the IRS rules, as well as the federal……

Understanding the Lobbying Disclosure Act

Charities, foundations, unions, and 501(c)(4)s that influence federal legislation, regulations, nominations, contracts and permits need to be aware of the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA), a federal law that imposes registration and reporting obligations on individuals and entities that lobby various federal officials once certain thresholds have been exceeded. This fact sheet provides an overview of……

Lobbying Disclosure Act Thresholds

At the federal level, the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) imposes registration and reporting obligations on individuals and entities that lobby various federal officials once certain thresholds have been exceeded. This fact sheet provides an overview of the LDA registration thresholds applicable to charities, foundations, 501(c)(4), union and for-profit organizations. The thresholds under the LDA do not limit your organization’s lobbying, but rather impose certain disclosure and reporting obligations. This fact sheet will be useful for nonprofits that influence federal legislation, regulations, nominations, contracts, permits, and other governmental decisions.…

Lobbying Rules For Houses of Worship

“Churches” (which is how the Internal Revenue Code describes all houses of worship, including churches, temples, synagogues, and mosques), as with all other public charities, can lobby. Federal tax law draws a distinction between activities intended to influence public policy, and campaigning for a specific candidate. Campaigning for a candidate is strictly prohibited, while influencing……

Nonprofits Can Influence the Budget Process

With budget cuts at the state and federal level showing no signs of slowing, it is vital that nonprofits speak up on behalf of their constituents and communities. This fact sheet offers tips on how your nonprofit can get involved in budget advocacy, and explains whether the organization would need to track each activity as……

State Lobbying Registration Thresholds

Nonprofits that lobby must comply with two distinct sets of laws: Federal tax law setting the amount an organization can lobby, and state, federal and in some cases local laws that impose certain reporting and disclosure obligations. This fact sheet explains when a nonprofit (or its employees) must register as a lobbyist under state lobbying……

Influencing the Budget in California

There are many opportunities for nonprofits and members of the community to get involved in helping policymakers and the public understand the very real impact the budget has on all of our lives.…

Public Foundations Can Lobby

501(c)(3) public charities, including grantmaking public charities like community foundations and women’s foundations, can lobby within the generous limits allowed by federal law. This fact sheet explains the lobbying rules for public foundations.…

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.…

Private Foundations May Advocate

While private foundations incur a prohibitive tax when they engage in or fund lobbying, they may still engage in a variety of advocacy activities.…

Keeping Track: A Guide to Recordkeeping for Advocacy Charities

This publication is designed to help public charities comply with federal tax law by tracking their lobbying activities. The guide includes sample forms, and describes multiple options for tracking staff time, overhead expenses, and direct costs.…

Standing Up for Your Community: Influencing the Redistricting Process

The redistricting process presents an excellent opportunity for your nonprofit organization to get involved to ensure your community is not unfairly divided by district boundaries. To understand the classification of particular redistricting-based activities, read our new fact sheet.…

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.…