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Issue Advocacy During Election Season

by Sarah Skillin Woodard

As part of our blog series focused on the theme How 501c3 Nonprofits Can Engage in Elections,we now focus on Issue Advocacy.

501(c)3 Nonprofits may legally engage in issue advocacy during election season but should be careful.


  • The fundamental consideration is whether the issue advocacy benefits or appears to benefit one candidate over another.
  • The issue should not be one that divides candidates unless it is an issue the nonprofit has been working on for an extended period of time and not just during election season (see more below).
  • Extra care should be taken before increasing such efforts during an election season.
  • Advocacy or lobbying efforts should be focused on issues and activities that the organization has previously worked on or are continuing to work on as opposed to a brand new issue or activity.
  • For example, if an organization has worked for an extended period of time on an issue that happens to be coming up for a vote in the fall, that organization can continue to advocate on that issue but it should not call attention to the fact that a decision maker is also a candidate who is up for reelection.
  • There is a greater risk of appearing partisan when you mention the names of candidates or upcoming elections in a communication.
  • Nonprofits may respond to external events such as a facility closure or an oil spill that occur close to the election that are outside the organization’s control but such efforts should not mention the election.

Additional Resources

There are a lot of excellent resources available that help 501c3 nonprofits learn how to legally engage in Get Out the Vote (GOTV) efforts. Particular thanks to Nonprofit VOTE, whose materials we’ve referenced in developing this content.

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