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Most 501(c)(3) organizations have the right to advocate for policies and values important to their mission. However, the lines between supporting, promoting, advocating, and lobbying can be confusing. Our most recent nonprofit webinar breaks down what nonprofit advocacy is, what’s not allowed, and where lobbying fits into the equation. [2:40 - 4:30]

The rules around advocacy and lobbying are dependent on the nonprofit classifications. There are different rules for different nonprofits regarding political activity and advocacy. [23:23 - 23:28]

What is Nonprofit Advocacy?

Nonprofit advocacy includes any activities that are not considered political activities or lobbying, but still support your nonprofit’s cause with the voting public. [4:50 - 5:16]

Nonprofit advocacy includes: [5:21- 8:59]

  • Educating the public and candidates about the issues
  • Convincing and persuading people that your nonprofit and its goals are worth supporting
  • Declaring support or non-support for certain legislation
  • Nonpartisan voter registration
  • Providing candidate guides to voters that state where candidates stand on your relevant issues (be careful, this may be restricted in your state!)

What is lobbying, and is it allowed for your nonprofit?

Lobbying is “propaganda” or attempting to influence legislation. Nonprofits can provide information about subjects, but as soon as you say, “Vote Yes on Prop 100!” or anything similar, that is lobbying. [11:54 - 12:19]

501(c)(3) organizations are allowed an “insubstantial amount” of lobbying, so long as you report on your lobbying activities. This “insubstantial amount” is not clarified by law, so it can be helpful to take the 501(h) election, otherwise known as an “expenditure test,” which will give more absolute parameters.

It’s important to know the classification of your nonprofit and what that means for allotted activity. Gaining this understanding can help your nonprofit navigate nonprofit advocacy and avoid prohibited practices.  Watch the full webinar here for more information: 



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