Election Rules and Resources

While many nonprofit organizations fear involvement in election could violate legal restrictions, 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, meaning a nonprofit cannot show or state a preference for or against a particular candidate or candidates, a particular political party, or candidates or parties who have taken particular positions. The resources below provide information about what your organization can do to get involved in elections, as well as ideas about how nonprofits are working to help all citizens become more engaged.

Although 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations cannot engage in partisan political activity, they may engage in a variety of nonpartisan voter education and voter participation projects. Such projects include public education, advocacy on controversial policy issues, and efforts designed to increase voting by disadvantaged or excluded groups in society. The resources below should not be taken as legal advice, but describe some of the election-related activities 501(c)(3)s may engage in and the general rules that apply.

Know the Rules

nonprofit Votes Count
Independent Sector, National Council of Nonprofits, Nonprofit VOTE, and United Way Worldwide have collectively launched a national campaign called Nonprofit Votes Count that encourages nonprofit employees and volunteers to register and vote, and to build awareness among the charitable community about how many engaged voters are in our coalitions.

Tools for Nonprofits

Election Day Involvement

Please share your own organization's activities or any resources, online or otherwise, that would help other nonprofits encourage voter participation and raise the visibility of issues important to them during this election season.

Note that this information applies only to tax issues and not with the Federal Election Laws, which generally do not affect 501(c)(3)s as they can only engage in nonpartisan election activities. However, 501(c)(3) organizations that wish to broadcast issue advertisements that mention federal candidates during election times should review the Federal Election Commission rules on electioneering communications.

Organizations should also be aware of the recent Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission that allows corporations, unions and some nonprofits to spend money on campaign communications supporting or opposing candidates. 501(c)(3) nonprofits are still prohibited from engaging in such partisan political communications, but legislative proposals in response to the decision could impact issue ad activity by 501(c)(3)s.

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