Nonprofits make democracy work by engaging in electoral activities. These activities include registering voters, educating candidates about issues, hosting candidate debates and forums, endorsing candidates, making contributions to candidates and parties, supporting or opposing ballot measures, and much more. Depending on how they are structured, many of these activities may be conducted in a nonpartisan or a partisan manner. Nonprofits need not shy away from electoral activities—elections provide nonprofits with opportunities to connect with community members, interact with elected officials, and promote their issues.
An organization’s tax and corporate status will determine the breadth and depth of permissible electoral activities.
- 501(c)(3) organizations can engage in nonpartisan electoral activities only—they cannot support or oppose candidates for public office.
- Other organizations, such as 501(c)(4)s and labor unions, may be openly partisan as long as doing so is not their primary activity.
- Political organizations, on the other hand, essentially exist to support or oppose particular candidates or political parties.
- In addition to complying with federal tax law, organizations must also follow federal or state (or local) election laws.