Amplifying your voice and advancing your mission

The Center supports advocacy for the nonprofit sector to ensure governments understand the critical role nonprofits play in nurturing stronger communities.

Policy Tracker: Effective advocacy in one word: Vote

Nonprofits are rediscovering the power of the vote.

So many issues, so little time! Between the screaming headlines, the social media blitzes and the mountains of position papers, developing an effective advocacy strategy for your nonprofit—much less finding the time to implement it, can seem like an impossible task.

At the federal level alone, current issues surrounding charitable giving, unrelated business income (UBIT), the 2020 Census, the Johnson Amendment and more are all important and worthy of attention. Add state and local issues to the list and it grows exponentially. With so many issues competing for our time and attention, how can nonprofits maximize our impact and effectiveness in the public policy arena? One place to start is by fully leveraging the most powerful advocacy tool we have – the vote.

Nonprofits today employ approximately 13.5 million people and rely on the services of more than 61 million volunteers. Perhaps most importantly, nonprofits provide services to millions of people who tend to be under-represented in the ranks of American voters. Many nonprofits are waking up to the notion that together these groups can be an incredibly powerful influence on public policy, and they are creating initiatives to leverage that fact.

While as nonprofits we are required to be nonpartisan (at least for now – read more about efforts to eliminate nonprofit nonpartisanship) – we must not be nonparticipants. Here are some things we can do:

  1. Start in-house – you have a ready-made voting bloc in your employees.
    • Are they all registered to vote and have you made sure they know the deadline to register before the next election?*
    • Do they know where their polling place is and how to vote early and/or absentee?
    • Does your organization have a policy of giving time off to vote?Take advantage of already existing internal communications channels to share information and encourage every employee to vote. Make sure they are aware of the issues of importance to your organization. You can’t and shouldn’t tell them how to vote, but you can help them be informed voters and make sure they get to the polls. Don’t forget your board members! They are key influencers – encourage them to share their own insights about the importance of voting.
  1. Engage your volunteers – volunteers are passionate about your organization’s mission. Make sure they know that their vote, and their efforts to encourage others to vote, is another important way they can help.
  1. Reach out to clients and the community – many nonprofits serve a client base that may include a large proportion of people eligible to vote but who do not. Consider hosting a voter registration event and asking those who are already registered to sign a “Pledge to Vote”. Help them understand that their vote can be the most effective tool they have to advance their own interests.
  1. Make sure your representatives know what you are doing – let them know you are encouraging their constituents to be informed, engaged voters.

For more information and tools to start a voter engagement initiative in your organization, check out NonprofitVote.org – and get started now to leverage your most powerful advocacy tool!

*Deadlines for in-person Voter Registration for the November 6, 2018 Elections are:

Maryland: Tuesday, Oct. 16
Virginia: Monday, Oct. 15
District of Columbia: Same day registration available

More info at: https://www.voterparticipation.org/2018-election-dates/

Lobbying as a nonprofit

According to the IRSIn general, no organization may qualify for section 501(c)(3) status if a substantial part of its activities is attempting to influence legislation (commonly known as lobbying).  A 501(c)(3) organization may engage in some lobbying, but too much lobbying activity risks loss of tax-exempt status.

An organization will be regarded as attempting to influence legislation if it contacts, or urges the public to contact, members or employees of a legislative body for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation, or if the organization advocates the adoption or rejection of legislation.

Organizations may, however, involve themselves in issues of public policy without the activity being considered as lobbying.  For example, organizations may conduct educational meetings, prepare and distribute educational materials, or otherwise consider public policy issues in an educational manner without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status.

To discover whether or not your current lobbying efforts are legally allowed under the Internal Revenue Code, check out these two tests, provided by the IRS: 

Measuring Lobbying: Substantial Part Test

Measuring Lobbying Activity: Expenditure Test

 

Local Elected Officials

For nonprofits located in the district, you can find elected officials at this link Washington, DC.

For nonprofits in Maryland you can find elected officials for state and counties at these links: Montgomery County and Prince George’s County.

For nonprofits in the state of Virginia, you can find elected officials at Who’s My Legislator.

Nonprofit Vote

There are countless reasons why people involved with nonprofits should vote in every election and encourage their communities to do the same. We represent a large network of people that deal with social issues that are important to everyone.

According to NonprofitVote.org, "voter engagement is a critical part of nonprofit work because it not only empowers the people and the communities we serve, but it also helps us further our missions. Voter engagement makes our nonprofits relevant both during and after elections, helping to make us part of critical public policy discussions and allowing us to weigh in on our issues. Voting is associated with better health outcomes, cohesive communities, more effective advocacy, and more."

Registering to Vote:The first step to making sure the nonprofit sector’s voice is heard in all elections is to encourage widespread voter registration. The more people registered, the louder the sector’s voice can be!

Voters should make sure they know where their polling place is ahead of Election Day.
*Please be advised, to receive an accurate polling location, your address of residence must match the address on your voter registration form.

Nonprofit Vote Count Campaign:The National Council of Nonprofits, of which the Center is a member and partner, has teamed up with Independent Sector, Nonprofit VOTE, and United Way Worldwide in an initiative to encourage nonprofit staff, board members, and other volunteers to get registered and to vote. Called Nonprofit Votes Count, the nonpartisan campaign provides a wealth of resources that make it easy to ensure that all people connected with our nonprofits are registered and ready to vote this fall.