Rules of the Game: Advocacy to Newly Elected Officials


Leslie Barnes, Shyaam Subramanian, Natalie Roetzel Ossenfort

On this episode of Rules of the Game, we’ll take a look at the ways nonprofits can work with newly elected officials to advance missions and policy agendas. Now that all votes have been cast, we have to begin looking forward to what’s ahead and what we want our local, state, and federal policymakers to consider over the comings months and years. 

Our attorneys for this episode:

Leslie Barnes , Natalie Ossenfort, Shyaam Subramanian

Show Notes

How 501(c)(3) public charities can build relationships with newly elected officials and their staff to amplify the organization’s mission and advance community’s policy priorities 

  • Congratulate or acknowledge those who won their elections 
  • Take care not to take credit for victory or “flipping the state” 
  • Can discuss how c3 registered “x” number of voters 
  • Can discuss how c3 increased voter turnout 
  • Can share why it’s good/bad X was elected 
  • Can share issues your organization hopes to work on with new official 
  • Remind officials what they promised during campaign 
  • Identify likely allies 

During a site visit or meet-n-greet with new official a 501(c)(3) public charity may do the following: 

  • Inform official of organization’s mission 
  • Inform official of community’s policy priorities 
  • Share statistics on number of community served by organization 
  • Shine light on issues of importance
  • Make budgetary asks or legislative requests (lobbyingIRS purposes) 

501(c)(3) public charities can lobby a limited amount.  

Lobbying is defined as activities designed to influence legislation, for IRS purposes. 

501(c)(4) social welfare groups can lobby an unlimited amount. 

Private foundations cannot lobby without incurring a steep excise tax, but they can engage in the following non-lobbying activities: 

  • Congratulate newly elected officials 
  • Hold elected officials accountable 
  • Schedule meet-n-greets
  • Share funding interest 
  • Share foundation’s mission 
  • Build relationships 
  • Influence executive orders, rules, regulations (not IRS lobbying) 
  • Join us for future episodes of funding advocacy AND direct advocacy for private foundations!

Advocating on Executive Orders 

  • Don’t involve legislative action, therefore NOT IRS lobbying 
  • Safe for 501(c)(3) public charities and private foundation alike 
  • Ex. Gov. Newsom’s moratorium on death penalty 
  • Ex. Pres. Trump’s ban on gender & racial diversity training that conflicts with administration’s view of country’s founding