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Can Nonprofits Advocate for Social Change? Yes!

Posted Jul 30, 2019 04:39 PM
501(c)3 nonprofit organizations are legally allowed to advocate for social policy changes that would benefit the communities they serve…but it has to be done correctly.

Nonprofits fill the gap where there is no government mandate or economic incentives for businesses to take action. This is why the social sector must step forward and take charge of leading for the changes they want to see in the world.

On Aug. 13, 2019, 501 Commons is teaming up with the Alliance for Justice’s Bolder Advocacy, Win/Win Network, and Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS) to present our annual “Bolder & Wiser” workshop that will teach you the rules and best practices of nonprofit advocacy.

Register for either
part 1 (8:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m.) that covers the basics of lobbying and advocacy, part 2 (1:15 to 3:30 p.m.) that discusses reporting activities to the state and forming 501(c)3/501(c)4 partnerships, or both.

Before you attend, here are some quick facts about nonprofit advocacy rights:
  • What’s the difference between advocacy and lobbying? Advocacy is any action that publicly supports a social cause or public policy. Lobbying is a specific form of advocacy that intends to influence specific legislation or ballot measures.
  • Nonprofits are not allowed to support or oppose political candidates. This rule in the tax code is known as the Johnson Amendment.
  • However, this does not prohibit nonprofits from publicly supporting causes (such as LGBTQ rights or environmental protection rules), assisting people to register to vote, providing legal representation, holding educational conferences, and a whole host of other non-partisan activities.
  • Lobbying activities – such as meeting with public policymakers or their staffers – are perfectly legal, but it must be reported to the IRS.
  • Additionally, lobbying activities must comprise an “insubstantial” amount of the nonprofit’s total activities, or else you could lose your tax-exempt status. Read more about what this means.