Yes, Nonprofits, You Can Lobby
Lobbying is a powerful advocacy strategy. Consider these achievements won by lobbying in recent years:
- Rhode Island passes the first “Homeless Bill of Rights” law in the nation
- Paid sick leave won in Portland, Oregon
- Restrictive voter ID amendment defeated in Minnesota
And every month, we compile nonprofit policy wins from around the country, many of which involve lobbying.
Law gives 501(c)(3)s generous limits for lobbying
Yet a widespread perception that 501(c)(3) nonprofits cannot lobby prevents many organizations from exercising their full legal rights when promoting their causes. As the resources I’ve put together below explain, nonprofits can engage in limited lobbying.
Getting involved in the legislative process and policy debates is not just an appropriate role for nonprofits—it is vital. If nonprofits aren’t speaking up for their often-vulnerable communities, chances are nobody else is either.
AFJ created the Bolder Advocacy initiative to equip nonprofits to advocate for their constituencies, and lobbying is an extremely effective tool in the advocacy toolkit. Don’t let confusion about the rules or recordkeeping hold you back from advocating for your important cause.
These resources below will help you get started. Of course, our friendly attorney coaches are here 5 days a week to answer any questions you might have. And you can arrange to participate in a workshop or webinar throughout the year.
Nonprofit Lobbying 101: Bolder Advocacy Resources
Public Charities Can Lobby: Guidelines for 501(c)(3) Public Charities: 501(c)(3) public charities can lobby within the generous limits allowed by federal law. This fact sheet explains the two tests charities can use to measure their lobbying.
When Does Your Activity Become Lobbying? A fact sheet on what your nonprofit needs to know about lobbying and IRS regulations.
Being A Player: A Guide to the IRS Lobbying Regulations for Advocacy Charities: A user-friendly guide that reviews federal tax laws that govern lobbying by 501(c)(3) public charities.
State Law Resources: Find out the laws in your state on campaign finance and ballot measures, lobbying disclosure, and voter registration.
Case Studies: Public Charities Making Change Through Lobbying
Historic Win for the Homeless: Long-term relationships and creative advocacy led to Rhode Island’s homeless bill of rights.
Defeating a Divisive Ballot Measure: In June 2012, North Dakota voters defeated a religious liberty amendment that was a solution in search of a problem.