Everything and the Kitchen Sink: Your Technical Assistance Questions Answered - Alliance for Justice

Everything and the Kitchen Sink: Your Technical Assistance Questions Answered


Shannon Williams

When the Bolder Advocacy team pivoted to working from home in early March in response to the coronavirus pandemic, one of our first steps was to ensure continuity of our free technical assistance hotline. Since we’ve received more than 300 questions by phone and email over the past several weeks, we know we succeeded in staying responsive to nonprofits and foundations with questions about advocacy!

Now that it has been a few months, we thought we would take a look back at a few of the most frequently asked questions to showcase some of our factsheets and resources that help to provide answers.


“Can my 501(c)(3) say [fill in the blank] during an election year?”

With November 2020 rapidly approaching, it’s no surprise that nearly one in three questions we’ve received recently have been from 501(c)(3)s about the types of nonpartisan advocacy in which they can legally engage during an election year. Some of the most frequently asked questions have been from 501(c)(3)s wondering if and how they can praise or criticize candidates for public office, including via the use of scorecards.

Although 501(c)(3) organizations are strictly prohibited from supporting or opposing candidates for public office, they can continue to lobby or otherwise promote their issues during an election year.

Want to quickly learn how your 501(c)(3) can engage in election year advocacy while remaining nonpartisan? Our Election Checklist for 501(c)(3)s provides a short list of ideas. Some of our other factsheets dive into the specifics around how 501(c)(3)s can remain nonpartisan while praising or criticizing incumbents, responding to statements made by candidates for public office, or holding legislators accountable. And although not all scorecards are (c)(3) permissible, 501(c)(3)s can safely distribute legislative scorecards by following a few simple rules.


“One of our 501(c)(3)’s employees is running for office. Is that OK?”

We get variations of this question every election year, and the short answer is yes, it’s OK — as long as the employee only engages in partisan political activity in their individual capacity outside of work hours, and not on behalf of the 501(c)(3) organization. Check out this factsheet for practical examples and guidelines around how to navigate this situation.


“Should my 501(c)(3) start a 501(c)(4)?”

We have also seen an uptick in the number of questions from 501(c)(3) organizations seeking guidance around whether it makes sense for them to form an affiliated 501(c)(4) organization. This is because 501(c)(4) organizations can not only engage in all the permissible types of advocacy that 501(c)(3)s can, but also may participate in the political process in a limited way. We also know that the decision around whether — or when — to establish a 501(c)(4) isn’t easy, so we’ve developed resources that can help. Learn about the basics of 501(c)(4)s and get inspired by these case studies.


“Can my private foundation sign onto this letter?”

Many foundations have also been in touch recently to explore how they can incorporate advocacy into their response to the coronavirus pandemic. This included questions from private foundations asking whether they could join sign-on letters that expressed support for their communities receiving a fair share of COVID-19 relief funds. These questions led us to create our new resource, Private Foundations Engaging in Direct Advocacy Amid Disaster, which provides guidance for foundations on ways they can engage in advocacy in ways that do not amount to lobbying. And for a quick refresher on how lobbying is defined for private foundations, check out this factsheet.


Don’t see your question here? Feel free to ask us!

Remember, you can contact our team of experts by filling out this form, emailing us at advocacy@afj.org, or calling us during standard business hours at 866-NP-LOBBY (866-675-6229). We look forward to hearing from you!