Get Out the Vote (Without Getting off Your Phone)
Election Day is almost here – and for 501(c)(3) public charities, that means opportunity. Election season is a time when public policy issues are explained and debated just as voters are deciding which policies and candidates they prefer. So it’s also the perfect time for your nonprofit to send a message encouraging friends and followers to get out and vote on November 6! And there’s no simpler way to do it than through your social media channels. In fact, you owe it to your community to be active at this time.
Get-out-the-vote (GOTV) activities are an easy and low risk way for public charities to engage in election-related activities, especially if this is their first foray into this type of activity. If you have not yet engaged in election-related activities, or are looking for a way to ramp up your activities, consider encouraging people to vote. Unlike other election-related activities, such as voter registration or candidate debates, GOTV activities can be organized with minimal set-up time and can be disseminated at any point, whether two months before an election or on Election Day itself.
Of course, how you frame your social media GOTV message is important. You can’t support or oppose candidates for office, and your message might be considered low-risk or higher-risk depending on the language you use. For example:
- Tweets such as, “Stand up for your rights: Vote on November 6! #VotingTuesday,” “Vote for your rights, your health, your security, your future. Vote on November 6! #VotingTuesday,” “Why scream into the void when you can be heard at the voting booths? #VotingTuesday,” or even, “Attention: Taco Tuesday is cancelled for #VotingTuesday” are likely to be low risk – they do not suggest support or opposition to any candidate.
- Tweets that read, “Let’s get out the pro-choice vote. Today is the day. #VotingTuesday” will be high risk, as it can be associated with a candidate’s viewpoints.
The hashtag #VotingTuesday can help amplify your posts on social media this year. And if you need help deciding on a message, the team at Bolder Advocacy is happy to help.
Remember, public charities can engage in a broad range of activities during election years, so long as their activities remain nonpartisan. Support for or opposition to candidates is off-limits whether the support or opposition is explicit or implicit. To make a determination about whether a communication is allowable, the IRS looks to the totality of circumstances surrounding a communication. To determine whether a communication looks partisan, a public charity should consider how likely it is that the communication will be viewed as trying to help/hurt a candidate – the more likely a communication is to be interpreted as helping/hurting a candidate, the higher the risk associated with the communication. This applies to all election year activities for public charities, including candidate education, issue advocacy, and GOTV activities.
Bolder Advocacy is here to serve as a resource for any organization interested in engaging in election-related activities. Organizations can reach out to Bolder Advocacy’s technical assistance line at 866-NP-LOBBY or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other Bolder Advocacy resources that may be helpful include:
Be BOLD: How Your Nonprofit Can Get Involved in the 2018 Elections (Recording of a recent webinar)
The Rules of the Game: A Guide to Election-Related Activities for 501(c)(3) Organizations (In-Depth)
Election Checklist for 501(c)(3) Public Charities: Ensuring Election Year Advocacy Efforts Remain Nonpartisan (Factsheet)
501(c)(3) Employees Running for Office (Factsheet)
Commenting on Candidates and Campaigns: How 501(c)(3)s Can Respond During an Election Year (Factsheet)
Praising and Criticizing Incumbents: How 501(c)(3)s Can Hold Elected Officials Accountable for Official Actions (Factsheet)