Introduction

This guide provides your 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization the knowledge you need to promote voter participation and engage with candidates on a nonpartisan basis. It begins with a review of the prohibition against partisan political activities. It then discusses the many nonpartisan activities 501(c)(3)’s may engage in to assist their constituents, staff and local communities to register and vote or connect with candidates.

Please note that this guide focuses on the many voter engagement tacitcs available to 501(c)(3) nonprofits and how to remain nonpartisan when using them. For practical, how-to guidance on conducting a voter registration drive, hosting a candidate forum, etc., visit our Resource Library.

The Power of Nonpartisanship

In 1954 Congress added a sentence to Treasury regulations requiring charities to remain nonpartisan in elections. They did it to protect charities from becoming vehicles for partisan political activity and to deter the risk of Congress eliminating the charitable deduction.

But the power of being nonpartisan is much more than this statute.

  1. Nonpartisanship respects the diversity of political opinions among your staff, volunteers and the people you serve.
  2. It strengthens your ability to advocate across partisan lines and have access to diverse community leaders and funding sources. There is a place for a more partisan approach. That’s why Congress and the IRS created 501(c)(4) social welfare advocacy organizations (and other partisan vehicles) which can do a certain amount of partisan political activity, but whose donors don’t get a tax deduction.
  3. It makes us trusted messengers who can engage underserved populations that campaigns and candidates often miss. Our nonpartisan approach is one reason nonprofits have proven effective at reaching youth, new citizens, and new voters, and increasing voting rates across all demographics. (Also see Common Sense and Reaffirmation of 501(c)(3) Nonprofit Nonpartisanship, National Council of Nonprofits)

The Benefits of Voting

Nonprofits Strengthen Democracy