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Advocacy Resources

Photo by: Sheri Granger Archuleta

Every nonprofit can and should get involved in advocacy to help advance its mission. Advocacy shapes the public debate about issues that affect nonprofits. It’s the number one way nonprofits can focus attention on the issues, and bring about real change. With the right tools and information, you’ll see how you can make advocacy work for your organization and your community.

What Is Advocacy?

Advocacy can take many forms.  In simple terms, it means making the case for your cause or mission.  When we talk about advocacy for nonprofits, we usually mean making your case in a way that will change public policy to help your cause. That means reaching audiences in a position to help make those changes. Advocacy could be any one of a number of things from research and public education to lobbying elected officials and voter engagement. These activities are especially important when you want to make sure that underrepresented and vulnerable communities have a voice in decisions that affect them.  Bolder Advocacy

What is Lobbying?

Lobbying is communicating with decision makers (elected officials and staff; voters on ballot measures), about existing or potential legislation, and urging a vote for or against. All three components of this definition are required: decision makers, actual legislation, AND asking for a vote.  National Council of Nonprofits

When Lobbying is not lobbying: 

  • Self-Defense” Communications

  • Finally, communications concerning “self-defense” by an organization are not direct lobbying communications. To qualify under this fourth exception, a communication must be with a legislative body regarding possible actions of that body which could affect the organization’s existence, powers, duties, tax- exempt status, or the deductibility of contributions to the organization. So long as the subject matter of the communication is limited to these specific areas, an organization may communicate with legislative bodies, their staff or even their individual members, and may also make expenditures to initiate legislation dealing with these specific topics. Coalitions composed primarily of charities and members of affiliated groups of charities may use this self-defense exception on behalf of their members or affiliates as well as their own organization. However, this exception does not apply to any grass roots lobbying communications. Being A Player: A Guide to the IRS Lobbying Regulations for Advocacy Charities

  • Expert Witness

  • When a nonprofit staff person is requested by a legislator or committee to provide information on an issue or answer questions about a bill, it is not considered lobbying.

Can a 501(C)(3) organization engage in lobbying?

Yes, within the limits set by the Internal Revenue Service. To determine the limits for your organization, use either:

Additional Resources
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