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Election Day is November 7 and Yes Nonprofits Can Engage

by Jennifer Gray

Not only may 501c3 nonprofits legally get involved in elections but they play an important civic role in the election process. They may educate voters, take positions on issue campaigns and encourage people to both register and get out and vote. However, they may not endorse candidates or contribute towards a candidate’s campaign.

Issue Campaigns

Nonprofits can absolutely take a position on an issue–a bond or a referendum question, for example. If the organization spends money, you’ll want to check on campaign finance rules to determine whether you have to report your expenditures. Once the $5,000 threshold amount of spending has been reached, a ballot question committee will need to be created and reporting requirements kick in. In addition, the organization will likely need to track the engagement in the issue campaign as it would lobbying.

Candidate Forums + Questionnaires

Offering candidate forums is a helpful way to educate members about the issues they care about. It’s important to remember, though, that all candidates must be invited to an event in order to avoid the appearance of bias towards a particular candidate.

The same goes for candidate questionnaires. These are useful and informative tools but must be offered to all candidates. If you want to share the answers publicly, be sure to let the candidates know ahead of time that their answers will be made public. It’s not a legal issue but rather good public relations.

It’s critical to remember that 501c3 nonprofits cannot participate in electioneering which is considered to be participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office. Participation in electioneering is a violation of federal tax law known as the Johnson Amendment and could put your 501c3 status at risk.

Get Out the Vote

GOTV efforts are permitted. These efforts may include new voter registration as well getting registered voters to the polls. Once again, the efforts cannot appear to be biased so be sure not to recruit voters in a way that appears to favor one candidate over another. Nonprofits can play an important part in helping engaging citizens in their right to vote.

More Resources

Use this Election Year Checklist, download MANP’s free Raise Your Voice toolkit and check out organizations like Bolder Advocacy and Nonprofit Vote to find more support, including free webinars!

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