With just over two months left until Election Day it is important to remember that being a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization does not mean non-participation in the election process.
In fact, as organizations that provide important community-based services to individuals across the state and rely on funding from the government, it is critical that we actively engage candidates and voters during the campaign season. However, you may have some questions about what is and isn’t allowed.
Below are five dos and don’ts for nonprofits when participating in election activities.
Approved 501(c)(3) campaign activity
- Register voters: It’s 100% okay, and an important public service, so promote and assist with voter registration, as long as it’s done in a nonpartisan environment. (Watch out for more information about ARRM’s Voter Registration Day drive in September!)
- Candidate forums: Creating a nonpartisan event for your community to hear from candidates on your specific issues is a great way to engage with candidates and voters. (ARRM is sponsoring six across the state- dates and locations to come soon.)
- Candidate education: Educate the candidates on your issues.
- Get out the vote: Provide information and encouragement to help ensure as many people who care about your issues cast a ballot.
- Issue advocacy: Continue to do issue advocacy during an election. The Best Life Alliance has put out a great election guide full of messages and ways to be involved.
Not-for-profit election no-nos:
- Candidate endorsements: Nonprofits must be completely candidate-neutral with campaign related activity.
- Campaign contributions: Corporations may be considered citizens by the Supreme Court, but nonprofits need to keep their contributions to themselves to keep their tax-exempt status.
- Biased social media: Use social media to engage with voters, campaigns and share factual information, but keep your opinions to yourself.
- Exclusive candidate invites: To stay nonpartisan, if you’re inviting one candidate to an event, such as a site tour, you need to invite the other candidates, too. Just be friendly and invite everyone to the party!
- Rank or score candidates: You can provide factual information about candidate positions and background, but no analysis or comparison of their compatibility with your issues.
Boiled down, just follow the simple rule: when participating in any election activity, keep your events and information focused, stay nonpartisan and non-biased. You can find more information and resources on the Nonprofit Vote website and for any questions you can contact Sara Grafstrom at firstname.lastname@example.org.
--Sara Grafstrom, Director of Advocacy and Community Relations