“Don’t boo, vote” - the legendary words of former President Barack Obama have gained renewed relevance in today’s political climate. With midterm elections closely approaching us in November, nonprofit advocacy groups (with 501(c)(3) status) should commit to remaining steadfastly nonpartisan and focus efforts on voter outreach and candidate education.
While there are numerous activities that charitable organizations are allowed to engage in before political elections, nonprofits must be cautious to avoid any display of partisanship. For example, 501(c)(3) nonprofits are explicitly forbidden from:
- Endorsing or opposing a candidate
- Financially supporting a candidate’s campaign
- Offering differing levels of access to your resources for different candidates (all information must be equitably dispersed)
- Ranking candidates based on who aligns best with your organization's policy agenda
- (List source: Nonprofit Vote)
Here are two impactful ways that your nonprofit can meaningfully engage in the momentum leading up to the midterm elections:
1. Educate Candidates About Your Advocacy Issues
It is fully permissible for a nonprofit to provide educational resources and research, provided all candidates have equal access to the data. Information about your organization’s program areas and even providing candidates with a “policy paper or researching findings” are all allowed (Source: Nonprofit Vote). When crafting unbiased messaging that is going to be shared with all candidates, consider including content that appeals to candidates of all political parties, so your key policy points have a greater chance of resonating with a larger audience. Educating candidates is particularly important in 2018, when many political offices and agencies are experiencing a new level of employee (staffer) churn. The constant turnover provides organizations with an opportunity to educate newcomers to the political arena and provide their staff with desperately needed reliable information to inform policy-making.
2. Encourage Supporters to Vote
Although as a 501(c)(3) your organization is strictly forbidden from endorsing or opposing a candidate publicly, your supporters are your greatest asset in influencing future policy. Citizens become supporters of your nonprofit organization because they care about your mission, so it is likely that supporters will reflect some common values when they cast their vote. Encouraging your supporters to get out and vote is the singular most influential activity that your nonprofit can permissibly do. The following ways are approved manners of helping people vote:
- Communicate often with your supporters about the importance of voting and provide reminders through different communication channels and in-person as voting day approaches
- Facilitate get out the vote (GOTV) drives and target communities where your supporters live or work
- Hold phone banks where volunteers can remind your supporters to vote
- (List source: Nonprofit Vote)
Has your nonprofit organization successfully engaged in any of these pre-election engagement techniques? Let us know if there's something you'd add to our list by commenting below!