What Can a 501(c)(3) Say During a National Political Convention?
With the start of the Democratic National Convention on August 17 followed by the Republican National Convention on August 24, 501(c)(3)s may be wondering how they can respond to issues that arise. Coverage generated by a national political convention offers a great opportunity, as well as risks, for c3s wishing to harness the sudden peak in publicity on issues they care about. What should a c3 do when its priority issue is highlighted by a speaker at one of the political conventions?
As always, the first rule of nonprofit advocacy in an election year must be kept in mind. A 501(c)(3) cannot support or oppose any candidate or party for elected office; all of their activities and communications must remain nonpartisan. While there is no completely risk-free way to comment on political candidates, a nonprofit should feel confident it is remaining nonpartisan if it considers the following guidelines when deciding what to say when responding to issues raised during the national political conventions:
- Only comment on issues your organization already has a record of working on and speaking about.
- Focus on what was said, not who said it. A best practice rule is to focus on the issue, and to refrain from talking about the candidate.
- Do not talk about a candidate’s qualifications, personal characteristics, or whether they are a good or bad candidate.
- Refrain from talking about a candidate’s record — good or bad — on an issue.
- Avoid talking about voters or the election, especially in a way that implies voters should support or oppose a candidate.
- Do correct misinformation in a neutral manner, including directing readers to sources for nonpartisan information or assistance.
- Do discuss your organization’s work on an issue and why it is important.
- Absolutely do not say voters should vote for or against a candidate!
A 501(c)(3) should not promote a partisan event that is connected to a political convention; however, public charities may engage in nonpartisan, issue-oriented activities designed to educate convention attendees and the candidates on the issues important to the organizations. For more information on how 501(c)(3)s can engage during a political convention, see our factsheet 501(c)(3) Organizations and National Party Conventions.
And finally, a word on hashtags. A hashtag is a communication, so 501(c)(3)s should not use a partisan hashtag. It would be risky to use a hashtag that uses a candidate’s name or their campaign slogan. Provided the message in a tweet is nonpartisan, a c3 could safely use the trending convention hashtag, such as #DemConvention2020 or #RepublicanConvention2020.