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Public Policy + Advocacy

Nonprofit organizations play a central role in the democratic process by providing a means for public participation and promotion of the common good. To the extent possible, nonprofits should engage in public policy and advocacy activities to promote community interests. In addition, nonprofits should encourage and support constituent participation in these efforts. Open communication and consultation between policy makers and constituents of nonprofit organizations contribute to the creation and effective implementation of well-informed policies.
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501(h) Election
National Council of Nonprofits
Article/Blog
This article provides a good overview of the 501(h) election, which nonprofits can take in order to gain more clarity regarding allowable lobbying limits. An organization that wishes to make the 501(h) election needs to file Form 5768 with the IRS and it must be postmarked within the first taxable year to which it applies.
Appealing a Late Filing Penalty
Article/Blog, Guide/Tool
Nonprofits that fail to file their annual return with the IRS (Form 990, etc.) are subject to penalties and fees.
Ballot Question Committees
Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics + Election Practices
Guide/Tool
Nonprofits advocating for or against ballot questions are typically considered Ballot Question Committees. The Commission on Government Ethics + Election Practices offers this reporting and compliance guidance to organizations participating in ballot question campaigns.
Bolder Advocacy
Organization/Agency
An initiative of Alliance for Justice, Bolder Advocacy advances and protects the role of nonprofits in influencing public policy. The site includes tools for effective advocacy and community organizing, a search, a blog, free action and news alerts, workshops, free technical assistance from experts and more.
Building Your Advocacy Capacity
Guide/Tool
These resources outline steps a nonprofit can take to gradually build advocacy capacity. The activities are listed in an order designed to help organizations and their staff persons who may be new to public policy develop the capacity to take action and gradually increase their impact.
Center for Effective Government
Organization/Agency
Nonprofit government watchdog organization originally founded to oversee the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), but oversees much more now, including nonprofit-related operations. Resources include: e-newsletters, lots of information and news, and links to subsidiary organizations.
Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest
Organization/Agency
Nonprofit advocacy and lobbying support organization which provides resources including tutorials, FAQ, publications, links, and resource center.
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
Organization/Agency
Policy support organization working at the federal and state levels on fiscal policy and public programs that affect low- and moderate-income families and individuals.
Commenting on Candidates and Campaigns
Bolder Advocacy
Article/Blog, Guide/Tool
Candidates for public office sometimes say things that are incorrect, or with which nonprofits disagree, and nonprofits may wish to set the record straight. While 501(c)(3) organizations may continue to engage in education and advocacy to promote their issues during the election season, they are strictly prohibited from supporting or opposing candidates for public office. So how can 501(c)(3) organizations respond to candidates or political parties and remain nonpartisan? This guide will help you stay legal.
Congress.org
Organization/Agency
A nonpartisan news and information website dedicated to encouraging civic participation. Provides daily coverage of the public policy issues being discussed by lawmakers. Includes resources and tools on communicating with lawmakers, the legislative process, and a free weekly newsletter, among other resources.
Connecting Clients to Power: How Service Providers Can Mobilize Clients for Advocacy
NPAction.org
Research/Report
The Oregon Food Bank found a powerful resource to make their advocacy against hunger more effective: their clients! This how-to manual details their approach.
Election Year Guidance for 501(c)(4) Organizations
Guide/Tool
501(c)(4) organizations have fewer tax law restrictions than 501(c)(3) organizations with regard to political activity. Provided supporting or opposing candidates is not their primary activity, 501(c)(4)s can participate in political (or campaign intervention) activities under federal tax law. However, 501(c)(4)s must also be aware of their obligations under federal and state election law. The following resources will help your organization follow the law.
eNonprofit Benchmarks Study
NTEN, M+R Strategic Services
Research/Report
An annually produced analysis of online messaging, fundraising, advocacy, social media and mobile metrics for nonprofit organizations.
Evaluating Advocacy
National Council of Nonprofits
A comprehensive list of resources and tools to help nonprofits evaluate the effectiveness of their advocacy efforts.
FedSpending.org
OMB Watch
Guide/Tool
Searchable database of government spending created by OMB Watch. Search by grants or contracts.
How to Find Your Campaign’s Pathways of Influence
An interesting five step guide to finding ways to maximize your campaign's influence through your relationships and connections.
Independent Sector
Organization/Agency
Advocacy coalition providing resources including up-to-date news and information, and great publications.
Influencing Public Policy in the Digital Age
Alliance for Justice
Guide/Tool
This publication addresses the many questions nonprofit organizations have about advocacy in the new environment of digital communication. This document provides guidance on how nonprofit advocates can stay within the law and also use new technology to enhance their participation in the democractic process.
IRS Publication 557: Tax Exempt Status for Your Organization
IRS
Guide/Tool
Detailed guide with information on most types of tax exemption, including rules and restrictions related to fundraising and lobbying.
Maine State Legislature
Organization/Agency
Homepage of the state legislature, including information on all representatives and officers, legislative council, publications, bills, statutes, and the Constitution.
Nonprofit Employees Running for Office
While 501(c)(3) organizations may engage in many forms of advocacy, they are strictly prohibited from supporting or opposing candidates for public office. Individuals who work for 501(c)(3) organizations, however, are not prohibited from supporting or opposing candidates in their personal capacity and outside of work hours and individuals who work for or serve as board members for 501(c)(3) organizations may even wish to run for office themselves. The following articles provide excellent guidance to nonprofit organizations about how to stay legally compliant when an employee is seeking elected office.
Nonprofit Good Practice Guide
Organization/Agency
Resources and information on good practices in all areas of nonprofit management, including a section on volunteerism.
Nonprofit Lobbying Resources
Independent Sector
Guide/Tool
Lobbying and public policy is an important part of mission achievement. Nonprofits can use lobbying in a variety of ways to advance their causes in federal, state, and local legislatures, but it is important stay within the rules. These resources will your organization lobby legally and effectively.
Nonprofit Vote
Organization/Agency
Organization dedicated to supporting nonprofits to get out the vote. Find resources to help clients, constituents, staff, board, and volunteers vote.
Policymaker Outreach Checklist
Guide/Tool
This checklist can help you develop strategies to reach policymakers with seven core questions to explore.
Political Campaign Activities of Exempt Organizations
IRS
Guide/Tool
Guidance from the IRS on nonprofit involvement in political campaigns.
Public Policy Committee
Sample/Template
A sample charter for a public policy committee or advocacy committee.
Recordkeeping for Advocacy Charities
Alliance for Justice
Guide/Tool
A detailed guide that outlines record keeping and filing requirements for nonprofits that lobby, including options for tracking staff time on lobbying, and differences in recordkeeping for organizations that have taken the 501h election and those that haven't.
Sample Election Season Policy
Bolder Advocacy
Sample/Template
501(c)(3) nonprofits can use this sample to develop an election year memo or employee handbook policy to remind their staff and volunteers that certain election activities on behalf of the 501(c)(3), or using the resources of the 501(c)(3), are prohibited.
Talking About Disparities: The Effect of Frame Choices on Support for Race-Based Policies
Research/Report
This research examines the effects of disparities-explicit and disparities-neutral frames on support for policies that seek to redress differential outcomes. In short, the question posed by this research is, “Does talking about disparities actually get advocates what they want?” The scope of this Message Brief is to provide advocates and experts interested in garnering support for policies that would prevent or remediate disparities with a communications roadmap of how best to get there.
The Board’s Role in Advocacy
Board members, as community leaders and champions for your mission, can help increase the likelihood of your nonprofit’s success by engaging in advocacy. This quick guide provides an overview of why and how board members can be involved.
Unincorporated Nonprofit Associations
About.com
Article/Blog
It is not necessary to incorporate as a nonprofit in order to apply for tax-exemption from the IRS, but there are many advantages to incorporation. This article provides an overview of what an unincorporated nonprofit is and some of the challenges.
Voter Engagement and Registration Toolkits
United Way and Nonprofit Vote
The Voter Engagement Toolkit provides practical ideas and strategies to carry out voter education, promote voter registration and hold candidate forums on a nonpartisan basis. The toolkit features special sections on the use of social media in an election year and distributing candidate questionnaires or voter guides.
Watchdog Organizations
Activism.net
Guide/Tool
Listing of government watchdog organizations.
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