Nonprofit New Year’s Resolutions

Podcast

Monika Graham, Natalie Roetzel Ossenfort, Victor Labiosa Rivera

Topics

Ballot Measures, Coalitions, Election Related Activities, Lobbying


 

On this episode, we’re going to talk about those pesky new year’s resolutions… and no, we’re not talking about signing up for a gym membership or signing up for a marathon. We’re talking about resolutions that nonprofit organizations can apply as we enter into the year 2024. As you all know, 2024 is like Stefon from SNL, it has everythingprimaries, general elections, an additional day So as you are headed for your holiday break, we wanted to leave you with a list of things your nonprofit organization can do as we head into the new year.  

Our Attorneys for This Episode:

Monika Graham Natalie Roetzel Ossenfort Victor Rivera Labiosa

In this Episode

Top ten things your nonprofit organization can do to maximize its advocacy in 2024: [drumroll]

1) Host an elections training for staff ahead of the 2024 primaries and general election.  

  • Remember that while 501(c)(3)s are not permitted to support or oppose candidates for public office, they CAN engage in nonpartisan election-related activities. 
  • Bolder Advocacy can help you navigate the do’s and don’ts with an elections workshop. Request a private workshop through our website or check out one of our many 2024 public webinars. 

2) Consider organizing a GOTV campaign or voter registration drive.  

  • Check voter registration deadlines that apply to primaries and general election.
  • Brush up on your state’s voter engagement and registration laws. Check out our Practical Guidance – Voter Assistance series, created in partnership with The Democracy Capacity Project. 
  • Remember that all 501(c)(3) voter registration efforts must be nonpartisan. 
    • Prepare staff and volunteers to NOT answer the question: “Who should I vote for?” 
    • Offer services to all. 
    • Avoid partisan targeting. 

3) Invite members of your coalition to participate in a voter education campaign, which could include a nonpartisan candidate questionnaire and/or voter guide. Guidelines for creating 501(c)(3) safe candidate questionnaires and voter guides include: 

  • Use unbiased, open-ended questions (distributed to ALL candidates). 
  • Cover a broad range of issues. You’ll also want to avoid comparing your organization’s position on an issue to where candidates stand. 
  • Publish all responses impartially and equally (with no editing or variations in font, formatting, etc.), and make the final guide generally available to the public. 
  • Remember NOT to include candidate pledges. 
  • Also, do not coordinate with candidates and campaigns.  
  • Just remember, facts and circumstances matter, so consult with Counsel if you have any questions regarding your specific voter education activities. 

4) Organize events inviting public officials to speak during election season. Remember to make the distinction between a candidate appearance and an incumbent appearance.  

  • Candidate appearances: must invite all viable candidates, avoid expressing support or opposition for candidate, do not allow candidate fundraising, and ensure compliance with state and federal election laws. 
  • Policymaker appearances (in official capacity, unrelated to candidacy): No equal opportunity required, but make sure you’re working with official staff (not campaign staff) and that you reiterate to the incumbent and their staff in writing that you are a 501(c)(3) that is not allowed to support or oppose candidates. Incumbents who are also candidates should not mention their candidacy at your event. And you should also avoid speaking to their upcoming election and focus, instead, on their official acts as policymakers. 

5) If you are a 501(c)(4), consider making independent expenditures or coming up with a list of endorsements. 

  • 501(c)(4)s can engage in partisan political activity as a secondary activity of the organization, but they are prohibited from making candidate contributions and coordinating activities with federal candidates and campaigns (under federal election law) and are oftentimes subject to similar prohibitions at the state and local level. 
  • IE’s and other partisan activity may trigger campaign finance reporting. 
  • If your 501(c)(4) has an affiliated 501(c)(3), remember that 501(c)(3)s can’t support or oppose candidates. This means that any (c)(4) partisan work should be kept entirely separate from any joint projects you may have between your organizations and be carried out with (c)(4) resources ONLY. 

6) Don’t forget… you can continue to advocate or lobby for issues that are central to your organization’s mission! 

  • Know your organization’s lobbying limits. 
  • Be aware of state and local lobbying laws that might apply to your work. Our State Practical Guidance – Lobbying series (created in partnership with the Democracy Capacity Project) now includes state-level guidance for all 50 states and DC. 

7) Educate supporters, policymakers, allies, and other interested parties about the current policies and problems affecting your community. 

  • Produce resources that reflect the real story of your community and its needs. 
  • If you’re a 501(c)(3), avoid comparing your organization’s position on an issue to where the candidates or parties stand on that issue. 
  • Have a track record of working on the issue. 
  • Talk about issues as they arise, as opposed to timing your issue-based communications to coincide with upcoming election dates. 
  • Avoid suggesting how voters should vote or mentioning the election in relation to your issue advocacy. 

8) Don’t be afraid to comment on candidates or campaigns, but remember the facts and circumstances matter. To avoid impermissible partisan activity, 501(c)(3)s should: 

  • Focus on what was said (the issue), not who said it (the candidate). 
  • Avoid discussing a candidate’s record or qualifications. 
  • Avoid talking about voters and making references to upcoming elections. 
  • Avoid identifying candidates by name. 
  • Issue disclaimers / reminders of your (c)(3) status and inability to support or oppose candidates for public office. 
  • Make sure any staff who speak on behalf of the organization are well-trained and understand the rules. 

9) Write an Op-ed and share your expertise on an issue that is core to your nonprofit’s mission, and establish your organization as a trusted thought leader. 

10) Launch or engage in litigation to challenge an unconstitutional law 

  • Litigation is different from lobbying and not subject to c3 lobbying limits. 
  • Remember that state and federal courts matter. To learn more about your state courts or the federal judiciary, visit www.afj.org.  

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