Now that the primaries are behind us and the midterm elections loom large, nonprofits often wonder if—or how—to engage with their constituents around election issues and voting. Staying within legal parameters set forth by the IRS and Michigan state government is key to protecting your 501c3 tax-exempt status. The Nonprofit Voting & Elections website has a wealth of information, including a guide to engagement.
“501(c)(3) nonprofits can play an important role in helping their communities vote and participate in the democratic process. There is one basic rule: 501(c)(3)s may not support or oppose any candidate for public office. This means 501(c)(3)s may not endorse candidates, rate candidates, contribute to candidates, or provide special resources to one candidate that are not offered to everyone in the race.”
“There are many nonpartisan activities that a 501(c)(3) can legally do to help their communities participate and vote. 501(c)(3)s may educate voters or candidates on the issues, provide opportunities for voters to hear the candidates’ positions, encourage citizens to register to vote, help new voters navigate the voting process and get people to go to the polls on Election Day.”
“The guide discusses many possible activities and ways that nonprofits can make sure they remain nonpartisan.”
“The guide is not a guide about lobbying. It is about voting and elections. Lobbying rules differ from rules about voting and elections. Nonprofits have limits on how much lobbying they can do. There are no similar limits on voter and election activity. A nonprofit can spend as much as it wants on voter education and encouraging people to vote so long as it remains “nonpartisan” and does not support or oppose a candidate for elective office.”
You may also want to review the facts sheet called ‘Election Year Activities and the Prohibition on Political Campaign Intervention for Section 501(c)(3) Organizations’ put out by the IRS.
As you will see, the answer is HOW, not IF your nonprofit can legally engage in the voting and education on issues process in the months between now and November.
Bobbe A. Luce, director of ONEplace@kpl
Nonprofit Voting & Elections