Is Digital Advocacy Right for Your 501(c)3 Organization?

October 13, 2016 at 11:04 AM

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Nonprofits that are designated 501c(3) organizations are often hesitant when it comes to engaging in advocacy. There's often fear in getting too political or losing their c(3) status because of their advocacy efforts. I'm here to dispel those fears. If your nonprofit is not engaging in some form of digital advocacy, you're losing out. You're losing out on supporter engagement, increased donations, and creating policy change that your organization can celebrate. 

 

Getting Started

So how does my 501c(3) get started with advocacy and "lobbying activities." Simple, take the 501(h) election. The IRS's actual form has an incredibly long and complicated name — "Election/Revocation of Election by an Eligible Section 501(c)(3) Organization To Make Expenditures To Influence Legislation" or Form 5768 to be exact. Its function is simple, though — it allows your organization to opt-out of the vague "substantial" test and instead uses the expenditure test.

 

"This doesn't change the fact that I could lose my 501c(3) status." 

 

True. But only if you engage in "excessive" spending on lobbying activities over four years.

 

Your 501(c)3 is free to engage in lobbying activities, more importantly, digital grassroots advocacy, as long as it doesn't equate to a substantial amount of your organization's operations. 

 

Next Steps

Identify legislation that affects the heart of your nonprofit's mission. 

This can often be the hardest step for organizations. 

 

"How am I supposed to engage in advocacy when I don't know what legislation I should be advocating for or against?"

 

That's fair, but you're never going to get an advocacy program going with that mentality. There are some initial steps you can take to get an idea of how to approach policy identification.

 

Adopt some bill-tracking software.

 

Legislative tracking can help your team in the process of legislative identification and monitoring. Check out our blog for a comprehensive breakdown of bill-tracking software for nonprofits.

 

Reach out and work with similar organizations.

 

Rising tides carry all boats; collaboration makes us better — sharing information like relevant legislation in upcoming sessions can help give you a better understanding of where you should be guiding your grassroots efforts. 

 

Survey and open up discussions about legislation with your supporters.

 

Creating this dialogue with your supporters can create a fantastic feedback loop in your advocacy and lobbying. Gauging what pieces of policy they care about, what matters to them when it comes to a budget. You can hear directly from the source what your supporters care about, and then push policy or a budget in that direction. Your supporters see you are listening, and you can prove the value of your efforts (which we'll talk about more later). 

 

Grassroots Advocacy Software — The Answer For 501(c)3 Nonprofits

Yes, traditional lobbying is effective. Does that mean your (c)3 should hire a lobbyist? 

 

In short, no. 

 

There are many reasons for staying away from the traditional lobbying route — from the connotations it brings to the lack of definable ROI for 501(c)3's, but digital grassroots advocacy is just better. 

 

Why? 

 

  • It keeps costs down/is a fixed cost and allows your organization to budget for the yearly subscription. 
  • It pulls people into your organization as a marketing tool.
  • Creates a valuable engagement tool for current supporters
  • Advocacy = More Donations. 

With advocacy software, there is a clear return on investment for 501(c)3 nonprofits. They can build their supporter list, get policy wins, and engage supporters in donation campaigns using data from their advocacy campaigns.

 

Data for 501(c)3's perhaps is the most critical, overlooked piece. Understanding who your supporters are, who are your most active advocates, and how to engage them to create better marketing, donation, and advocacy campaigns. 

 

Conclusion

 

Take the 501(h) election, understand the policy environment around your issue, and get the digital tools to help you reach your goals. 

 

Getting involved in lobbying and advocacy can seem daunting for your 501(c)3 — especially if you're on the smaller side. Digital tools make it incredibly simple for your organization to be active, without the risks of ever losing your (c)3 designation. To learn more about digital grassroots advocacy for nonprofits, check out our advocacy platform built for nonprofits. 

Corey Vaughn

Written by Corey Vaughn

Corey leads marketing and brand efforts at Muster — creating content and initiatives to help nonprofits reach their advocacy and engagement goals.

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