Foundation Engagement in Election Season - Alliance for Justice

Foundation Engagement in Election Season


Quyen Tu, Natalie Roetzel Ossenfort, Tim Mooney


We spend a lot of time on the pod talking about what public charities can do around election season, but let’s spend some time talking to the funders out there. If you’re making grants to public charities, you play a big role in your communities… and as it turns out, you can also join them in many of the same nonpartisan activities around elections. On this episode, we’re covering the types of voter engagement and funding opportunities available to private and public foundations. 

Our Lawyers for This Episode:

Natalie Roetzel Ossenfort Quyen Tu Tim Mooney

Quick Overview

Nonpartisan Candidate Education 

  • Great way to make sure the candidates understand the issues of importance to your foundation and its work 
  • Candidate education must be done by both private and public foundations in a nonpartisan way. 
  • Being nonpartisan means no support or opposition of candidates (facts and circumstances test) 
  • For candidate education 
  • Offer educational materials to all candidates in a race 
  • Make efforts to ensure that candidates are provided with equal information 
  • If making a legislative ask in your educational materials, it could count as lobbying if person running for office is incumbent legislator 
  • That’s a no for private foundations, but public foundations are free to engage in lobbying in limited amounts 

Candidate Debates / Forums 

  • Public and Private foundations can get the candidate together so that they can relay information about their policy positions to voters 
  • Again, facts and circumstances matter… keep it nonpartisan! 
  • Invite all viable candidates 
  • Impartial moderator / unbiased audience  
  • Fair rules with open-ended questions covering a broad range of issues 
  • Provide equal opportunities for candidates to respond 
  • What happens if all candidates decide not to participate? 
  • The more that do agree to participate, the better…. really comes down to a facts and circumstances analysis 

Election Advocacy Funding 

  • Provide general operating support to your public charity grantees 
  • Can be used for any permissible 501(c)(3) purpose 
  • By providing grantees with flexibility to spend funds how they choose, you give them the option to use your funding to engage in nonpartisan election season activities 
  • Provide grants to fund specific, nonpartisan, election season advocacy programs 
  • Just remember private foundations should avoid earmarking grant funds for lobbying 
  • In addition, there are special rules related to private foundation voter registration grants. (Section 4945(f) of tax code) 
  • Does not apply to other GOTV activities