8 Tips for Nonprofits with Employees Running for Public Office
More and more, Bolder Advocacy is responding to questions from 501(c)(3) public charities that have employees running for office. Knowing that 501(c)(3)s cannot support or oppose any candidates for public office (even nonpartisan races like school board), organizations are looking for guidelines on how to stay compliant when an employee announces their candidacy for elected office. The following tips will help 501(c)(3) organizations safely navigate the prohibition on supporting (or opposing) any candidate for public office.
1. Do not publicize the employee’s candidacy in a way that indicates support—so, for example, do not announce it in your newsletter (unless you do it neutrally and have a track record of providing staff updates), website, or social media, and do not wish them well in any public communications.
2. Do not allow the employee to use company time or resources to campaign (including conference room, copy machine, mailing list).
3. Ask the employee to refrain from saying or implying that the organization supports their candidacy.
4. You can offer the employee leave for campaigning on the same basis as you would grant leave to any employee seeking leave for other purposes. For instance, the employee could use vacation time to campaign or take an unpaid leave of absence, just as you would allow an employee to take time for any other personal reason.
5. If the employee has a public face as part of their organizational responsibilities, be cautious, thinking of whether your organization’s actions or the employee’s role could be seen as support for the candidate, especially as you get closer to the election. For example, it would not be a good idea to have the employee leading a GOTV effort, particularly if their role includes interaction with voters. Similarly, it may be risky for the organization to have the employee make public presentations in the district in which the candidate is running close to election day.
6. Fellow employees can support the candidate in their free time, using their own time and resources. However, be careful that the organization is not pressuring any other employee to contribute time or efforts to support the candidate employee.
7. After the election is over, you may congratulate the employee if they win, or if they lose, can acknowledge the effort.
8. For more in-depth information see our factsheet on employees running for office, and don’t forget to reach out to Bolder Advocacy for technical assistance if you have any questions about advocacy or the rules that apply to nonprofit organizations.