A Nonprofit’s Guide to Hosting a Candidate Forum

These instructions on hosting a candidate forum include to-do lists, dos and don'ts, and a planning timeline, as well as tips on how to attract candidates, select a format, publicize the event, and ensure your forum stays nonpartisan.

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Candidate Appearances at Your Nonprofit Event

Understand the three situations in which candidates may appear at your nonprofit and how to ensure that it remains nonpartisan.

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Candidate Engagement: Forums & Appearances

Learn about techniques for organizing an effective candidate forum, how to stay nonpartisan throughout the process, and gather tools to help you every step of the way.

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Candidate Forum Checklist

A countdown to your candidate forum beginning four months out with a checklist of items for each month and the days and weeks leading up to the event.

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What Nonprofit Staff Can(‘t) Do

Although 501(c)(3) voter engagement work must remain nonpartisan, staff are free to engage in partisan political activities on their own time. Learn how to keep work and private political activities separate.

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Candidate Questionnaires and Voter Guides

Follow these guidelines to ensure your candidate questionnaires and voter guides remain nonpartisan.

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Commenting on Candidates and Campaigns

Follow these tips for how 501(c)(3) organizations can respond to candidates or political parties and remain nonpartisan.

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FAQs: Candidate Forums and Debates

This checklist provides best practices for sponsoring or hosting a candidate forum or debate--ensuring a fair and well executed event.

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Hosting Candidate Debates

501(c)(3) organizations can educate voters and encourage voter participation by sponsoring candidate debates where candidates directly engage each other at the same time on particular topics in accordance with carefully drawn rules. Use these guidelines to review the rules for invitations, format, questions, and more.

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Hosting Candidates at Charitable Events

501(c)(3)s must be careful in dealing with appearances by candidates or their surrogates. This factsheet addresses appearances involving a single candidate, as the rules vary depending on the organization’s reason for inviting the candidate to speak.

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Praising and Criticizing Incumbents

501(c)(3)s can educate the public about policy issues and actions taken by elected officials that may be consistent with or conflict with a nonprofit’s position.

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Setting the Record Straight

501(c)(3)s can use voting records to provide constituents with information about how their representatives performed. Use these distribution guidelines to ensure your work does not cross the line into supporting or opposing candidates.

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