Nothing Has Changed! 501(c)3s Can and Must Continue to Strategically Advocate.
By Rebecca Lucero, MCN public policy director
With the start of new administrations both here in Minnesota and at the federal level, many of us 501(c)(3)s across the state are wondering how we can best engage with elected officials to advance our values and missions. This question has received extra attention and urgency with news that President Trump filed paperwork with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) on January 20 as well as discussions regarding changes to the Johnson Amendment.
Nothing has changed! We as 501(c)3s can and must thoughtfully, strategically and effectively advocate around our values and mission, including with President Trump, as it best makes sense for each of our organizations. While there are hints of some proposals being discussed, MCN is monitoring and will report back if there is any urgent change. Until then, MCN’s website has more comprehensive resources. Here are some best practices:
1) Focus all comments or feedback to an elected official on their official duties. What would we like them to support or oppose in their official capacity? Express enthusiasm, disappointment, frustration and joy, but best practice is to focus on official duties.
a. Focus on policy issues.
b. Comment on adoption or repeal of executive orders.
c. If supporting or opposing a cabinet nominee, focus on the policies that the cabinet nominee holds, not their character.
2) Nonprofits can and should invite elected officials at every level to learn more about our programs, missions and values. Invite legislators and their staff, commissioners, city council members, etc., to events or to meet with various stakeholders. They won’t know how important this partnership is unless they hear from you.
3) Nonprofits can lobby! It is important to note lobbying must be properly tracked and reported. You can learn more about what constitutes lobbying, the rules that govern nonprofit lobbying and how to properly report it on our website.
4) Nonprofits can attend rallies! But, avoid rallies or protests that are specifically about or have the appearance of being for or against any specific person. Keep it focused on issues, topics or policies.
5) Nonprofits can and should register and encourage a healthy and vibrant democracy. This includes registering and encouraging people to vote as well as participating in the Census.
(Of course, staff on their own personal time can attend rallies, engage in political work or make broader statements about an elected official.)
1) As a nonprofit organization, do not discuss the character of a person. We can comment on the position of a decision-maker, but we should not discuss the character or fitness of an elected official.
2) Do not suggest that the organization or voters will reward or hold the elected official accountable in the next election. As a nonprofit organization, we cannot engage in any partisan electoral activity or at any time promise to reward or provide retribution at the ballot box.
3) Do not mention an elected official’s re-election.
4) Do not discuss voters. Discuss constituents, community, stakeholders, partnerships, etc.
MCN knows it feels like it is a time of great uncertainty and change, but it is also an opportunity to make sure that we lead with our values and with a clear vision of what we want for our future. We must be at the table to ensure those values are prioritized and that all oppressions are broken down and not further codified. It is a great time for nonprofits alongside government officials, foundations, corporations, religions organizations and private citizens to continue our work together to create and maintain strong, thriving communities.