While nonprofits cannot support or oppose a candidate for office, there are a number of ways to engage candidates on a nonpartisan basis.
Consider creating a candidate questionnaire: not only will it allow you to communicate with candidates, but it will also let your clients (and the public) know what the candidates think about a variety of issues impacting your community.
Draft the questions carefully.
- Pose questions in a neutral manor so that they do not favor (or seem to favor) a particular candidate.
- Don’t use the questionnaire to demonstrate whether a candidate agrees or disagrees with your organization’s views.
- Keep it fairly short–you want candidates to respond and you want people to read their responses.
- Use open-ended questions and avoid yes/no or support/oppose formats.
- Do not include pledges (e.g. “If elected I agree to support all _____ issues.”).
Distribute the questionnaire to all candidates.
- Be sure to send the questions to EVERY candidate in the race.
- Provide a word limit for responses–this helps avoid the impression of favoring one candidate over another.
- Set a deadline for replies, but leave a reasonable amount of time.
- Don’t be afraid to follow up if you don’t hear back.
Share their responses!
- Publish all responses in full (another reason for imposing a word limit). Do not paraphrase, summarize, or edit responses.
- All responses should be displayed in the same font, the same print size, and in an impartial way.
- Remember, do not compare the candidates’ responses to your organization’s views.
- Let the public know this information is available! Post it on your website, broadcast it in your communications, and make hard copies available at your nonprofit.
For further guidelines (like what to do if some candidates don’t respond) review the Alliance for Justice’s Candidate Questionnaire factsheet.
Ahead of their May 8th state primary, the N.C. Center for Nonprofits sent a list of 10 questions about key policy issues for the nonprofit sector to each gubernatorial candidate. They ranged from inquiries about personal experience with the nonprofit sector to questions about incentives for charitable giving, and plans to collaborate with and support nonprofits in North Carolina. A number of candidates participated, so check out their responses!
Consider writing your own questionnaire, and learn more about candidate engagement! Have you created a candidate questionnaire? Tell us about it!