Written by Keely O’Sullivan Kurtz, MS, CNP
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Nonprofit professionals are resource gatherers, community builders, and changemakers. We work to educate our stakeholders, build coalitions and mobilize them to take action. We are advocates.
Even though advocacy is a regular part of the nonprofit gig, one form of advocacy often makes nonprofit professionals nervous. This is the act of lobbying. We’ve heard that lobbying can get our organizations into trouble with the IRS and risk our tax-exempt status. This fear pushes many nonprofits to the legislative sidelines. Which means that we, the people with the most expertise in our content areas, aren’t in the rooms where the policy affecting our missions is negotiated and set.
Cold-hard lobbying facts for nonprofit professionals
The Internal Revenue Service relays that:
No organization may qualify for section 501(c)(3) status if a substantial part of its activities is attempting to influence legislation (commonly known as lobbying). A 501(c)(3) organization may engage in some lobbying, but too much lobbying activity risks loss of tax-exempt status.
While this definition is a bit technical, the important takeaway here is that: YES, you can lobby. You can communicate with elected officials to influence legislation as long as it isn’t a substantial part of your organization’s activities. If you want expert advice on what this means in your organization, connect with your legal counsel.
Lobbying in action
The Certified Nonprofit Professional (CNP) network is vast and encompasses nonprofit professionals from across the United States working to further their missions. A current CNP learner working toward her credential in the Workforce Track has taken great lobbying strides to further the arts nonprofits in her community.
Shaylene Smith, President of the Blue River Arts Council, testified for a bill in the Nebraska legislature to help nonprofits in her state finish capital campaigns that were halted by the pandemic. Due in part to her lobbying efforts, LB566, the Shovel-Ready Capital Recovery and Investment Act, was passed on May 26, 2021, and allocated “…$25 million of state dollars, along with $75 million of federal coronavirus relief dollars, to help nonprofits complete capital construction projects.”
Share your advocacy efforts!
Regardless of where you’re at in your nonprofit career, you have likely participated in some form of advocacy. Whether you lobbied a bill or advocated in another way, we want to learn more about how you’re taking action on the local, state, and federal levels.
Share your advocacy efforts with the rest of the CNP network! We can’t wait to hear about your challenges, your successes and to learn from your endeavors.