About Nonprofit Advocacy

Be a Better AdvocateAll nonprofits have a vital role to play in strengthening democracy, advancing freedom of expression, and adding richness and diversity to community life. Throughout our history, Americans have turned to nonprofit organizations to provide a strong, collective voice to inform and influence public policy.

Advocacy Rules
Advocacy is a broad term covering a range of activities that seek to bring about systemic social change. One form of advocacy is lobbying – attempts to influence specific legislation through direct or grassroots communications with legislators or their staff – but advocacy also includes executive branch activities, issue organizing, and nonpartisan voter engagement.

501(c)3 Public Charities, including Community Foundations, have every right to advocate on behalf of policies they believe in. But, when nonprofits advocate for specific legislation (i.e. lobby), it may trigger specific rules and limits. Follow these links to learn about what is and what is not considered lobbying, how much lobbying a public charity can do, and whether an organization that does federal lobbying needs to register with Congress and follow gift rules.

Private Foundations are generally not permitted to lobby except on self-defense matters, but they can inform public policy in other ways, and they can support nonprofits that lobby and advocate on issues. Elections / Voter Engagement: Many nonprofit organizations have stood on the sidelines during election season, due in large part to fears that they could violate legal restrictions – but the law clearly allows 501(c)(3) nonprofits to engage in voter education, voter registration, and get-out-the-vote activities. There is one overriding rule: The activities must be nonpartisan.

Advocacy Skills

Connecting with Congress
Get to know your senators and representatives and their staff, and let them know about the impact of your work in their communities. You have valuable knowledge to share and elected officials are eager to hear about the potential impact of their decisions on the people you serve -- their constituents.

Building a Successful Advocacy Effort
Learn about the components of Building a Successful Advocacy Effort in this five-part webinar series designed by Independent Sector, in partnership with the Center for Evaluation Innovation. The webinars examine measuring the effectiveness of advocacy strategies, building internal capacity, adapting to changes in the political climate, creating effective coalitions, and using communications to enhance advocacy efforts. 

The Nonprofit Lobbying Guide: Second Edition
Written in 1999 by Bob Smucker and published by Independent Sector, The Nonprofit Lobbying Guide demonstrates the many ways charitable organizations can use lobbying to advance their causes in federal, state, and local legislatures. This guide to advocacy is essential for organizations already engaged in policy work and an invaluable resource for those that want to get started.

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