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: A single question could have a huge impact

How could adding one new question about citizenship to the 2020 Census impact nonprofits?

It’s still about two years away, but nonprofits are going to work now to advocate for elimination of a last-minute addition of a question on citizenship from the 2020 decennial census. The request to add the question came in the form of a letter from Arthur Gary, General Counsel at the Department of Justice. The DOJ says it wants to include the question (last used in a decennial census in 1950) to allow for better enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. Critics of the decision say it will lead to a serious undercount of the immigrant (both legal and undocumented) population, which could have big consequences for nonprofits, as well as businesses and state and local governments.

According to the Pew Research Center, “The Justice Department sought to include the question because it uses data about eligible voters – the citizen voting-age population – to help enforce protections for minority voters (including those who speak languages other than English) under the federal Voting Rights Act. The Justice Department now relies on data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, a sample survey that covers 2.6% of the population each year. The department wants more “scope, detail and certainty” that only the full census can provide to enforce the Voting Rights Act, [Commerce Secretary] Ross said.”

But data from the decennial census, which is mandated by the U.S. Constitution, is used for many purposes – including the apportionment of Congressional representation and the distribution of more than $800 billion in federal funding to the states. Scientists also rely on the data to inform studies on community health and societal trends (such as disparities in access to Internet, services for women, etc.). Importantly, businesses and nonprofits use the data to make decisions about where to locate, services to provide, and identification of developing needs.

Nonprofits are concerned that inclusion of the citizenship question will exacerbate an already existing fear amongst immigrant and minority populations that the census information will be used against them (although it is illegal to do so) and result in a significant undercount. Further, they are concerned that Congress has not allocated adequate funding to the Census bureau. For instance, no testing has been done on the inclusion of the citizenship question, and other tests have been cancelled due to lack of funding.

The National Council of Nonprofits has made a request for removal of the citizenship question and the addition of adequate funding to support the census, an important part of its advocacy platform. According to the Council, “… A fair, accurate, and complete count of all persons is important for our democratic institutions as the census determines how representatives are apportioned among the several states, as well as how hundreds of bills of federal dollars are allocated to states and localities for key programs, many of which are administered through charitable organizations. Undercounts of individuals and demographic groups that charitable nonprofits serve can lead to inadequate representation and funding, which in turn put more pressure on nonprofits and foundations, state and local governments, and businesses in undercounted areas to do even more to address unmet needs. The National Council of Nonprofits believes that it and all charitable nonprofits have a significant stake and role to play in ensuring that all residents are counted as part of the 2020 Census.”

Regardless of whether your organization serves the immigrant population, an inaccurate census count has the potential to impact the nonprofit community across the board. To learn more about this issue, and to access a toolkit of resources for your advocacy initiatives, visit the Census Project website or contact our Advocacy Network Program Manager, Betty Dean at

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, "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.