Webinar Rundown: Take a Stand in 2016

Ballotpedia.org, an online encyclopedia of American politics and elections, predicts that somewhere between 150 and 200 ballot measures will appear on ballots around the country this November. The most popular issues, including legalizing marijuana, expanding healthcare, and raising the minimum wage, will appear on ballots in several states.Legalize ballot measure DC in 2014

Many public charities have strong positions on these and other issues, but are unsure whether or to what extent their organizations can weigh in. In our recent webinar, “Take a Stand in 2016: Ballot Measure Advocacy for Nonprofits,” Abby Levine, Director of the Bolder Advocacy initiative at the Alliance for Justice, shed some much needed light on the matter. In addition to explaining the basics of ballot measure advocacy for nonprofits, Ms. Levine walked attendees through a number of tricky questions.

Before we get into a few of those questions, if you missed the webinar and would like to catch up, you can download the PowerPoint and audio recording of the webinar on our website. You can also watch the entire webinar on Nonprofit VOTE’s YouTube channel.

The IRS regards ballot measure advocacy as a form of lobbying, something that all public charities are permitted to do, within certain spending limits. Those spending limits are clearly defined, provided your nonprofit takes the 501(h) election. However, many attendees were less clear on the sorts of expenses that ought to be counted toward their lobbying limit. Does staff time spend on ballot measure advocacy count? Does design work on literature related to advocacy count? The answer to both these questions is yes. Any work your organization does to influence the passage or defeat of a ballot measure counts toward your spending limit.

Does that include in-kind donations made by consultants or vendors? Say a designer offers to donate their time to create flyers or pamphlets for your ballot measure campaign. Are you required to estimate the value of their work and count that toward your lobbying limit? The answer is no. You are only required to count what you actually spend.

One interesting question had to do with the tax deductibility of donations made to 501(c)(3)s. Ordinarily, donations are tax deductible. However, funds solicited and received by your organization or donated to your organization specifically to support a ballot measure advocacy are not tax deductible.

If you’d like to learn even more about ballot measure advocacy, here are a few of the other resources we mentioned during the webinar:

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