Nonprofit lobbying. Is now a good time to talk about this? Did you just shudder a little bit?
Navigating the rules and regulations of the IRS is maybe not something that’s on your “oh yippee, yes, let’s do that” list, but to retain your tax-exempt status, you do need to follow their rules.
Fortunately, with Alliance for Justice’s Bolder Advocacy initiative, you’ve got plenty of resources to help you improve your nonprofit lobbying plan and processes.
First, a few quick tips to get the conversation rolling:
You can lobby, you just need to report it.
As part of your nonprofit work, you can encourage your supporters to contact a legislator in support of a particular political position. But what does lobbying mean exactly?
It’s all in your words…
When you’re communicating for change, you’re certainly already sensitive to the importance of words, but when it comes to nonprofit advocacy, your words matter even more. How you craft a call-to-action drastically impacts whether you’re lobbying or advocating and whether your advocacy needs to be reported for IRS purposes.
If you generally say “Support a $15 minimum wage,” that’s not lobbying. If you encourage your supporters to contact their legislators and add info to make it possible for them to do so, however, that’s lobbying.
Alliance for Justice provides some great example statements and stances in Influencing Public Policy in the Digital Age.
It’s about the issues. Not the candidates.
Remember, 501(c)3 nonprofits cannot support political candidates. You can express opinions on issues, but not on whether a candidate is fit for office.
It seems so straightforward until you start wading through the internet. As explained by Alliance for Justice, if a third party creates a website through which they are advocating for a particular candidate, even if your organization is not affiliated with that website, you cannot share their website with your supporters, as it still seems like you’re supporting the candidate.
There’s plenty to worry about when it comes to lobbying as a nonprofit, but with help from the Bolder Advocacy resources, some practice and advance planning, you can strengthen your nonprofit’s advocacy with effective lobbying tactics.
Hat tip to Isaiah Castilla with Alliance for Justice for his Netroots Nation training, 7 Legal Rules for Online Advocacy That Everyone Should Know.