How do I correctly incorporate advocacy into my organization?
Answered by: Ben Bullock

Advocacy should be a part of every nonprofit organization’s activities. How can we improve the lives of our client populations on a big scale if we cannot talk to those who have power? However, 501(c)3s, because we are charitable organizations, do have some restrictions.

First is that a 501(c)3 organization cannot endorse a particular candidate for office or a particular political party. Being proactive to avoid the appearance of endorsement is a good idea.

The second restriction is that advocacy, or lobbying, cannot be a “substantial part” of your organization’s activities. The IRS has two tests for determining this, and you get to choose which test to use. The easier test is called the “Expenditure Test”, and to opt-in, you need only fill out Form 5768. Under this test, all that matters is how much money your organization spends overall and how much it spends on lobbying. Organizations with budgets under $500,000 can spend up to 20 percent of their budget on lobbying. The percent goes down the larger the overall budget is.

What if you’re thinking about inviting a political speaker to one of your organization’s events?
As long as your organization does not declare support for the candidate, and the candidate is not permitted to distribute campaign materials at the event, and the candidate’s speech is not just a stump speech but is instead relevant to your organization, you should be fine.