Advocacy, Civic Engagement and Supporting Social Movements as 501(c)3 Organizations

  • Policy & Advocacy

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There are many ways nonprofits can support their surrounding community when fighting for social justice. This session focused on engaging with communities on housing discrimination, social issues, lobbying and the impacts of discrimination.

Session Overview

Discrimination and Inequality in the Community
  • There are many forms of discrimination and inequality in local communities and nationwide. One of those is housing discrimination.
  • Many people do not know where or what to report in terms of their own or someone else’s housing discrimination, or they do not report it at all.
  • Recognize what the opposition is out there and what kinds of biases are impacting the organization and community; look at the culture of the area.
  • Organizations must adapt how they operate from the inside to get rid of biases.
    • Think about what kinds of technology communities have.
    • Think about the timing of meetings and strategic planning. (Can customers meet, or do they have other responsibilities going on?)
  • Admit that some issues are uncomfortable whether they are in the nonprofit sector or a reality of the community’s situation.
  • Make connections with and support grassroots leaders. Build trust and make them part of the decision-making process.
  • The Housing Equity Ordinance from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation is a plan to expand housing protections, but it can be used as a model for other areas that require protections and advancements.
Civic Engagement
  • Work in the community depends on good government and fair representation that looks to nonprofits for a voice.
  • A functional democracy is imperative for nonprofits to function and fulfill their missions.
  • Remember there are systemic policies and practices that silence voices and inhibit actions to help those who are at a disadvantage.
  • One way to be empowered is to do what you can as a citizen, such as filling out the census every 10 years; the census provides data on public services funding for such things as:
    • Schools
    • Traffic lights
    • Fire and police departments
  • Another way to impact public policy and representation is to vote in all elections, not just presidential elections.
Lobbying and Advocacy
  • Lobbying is the attempt to influence legislation by proposing, supporting or opposing certain legislation.
    • A 501(c)(3) organization is allowed to lobby to a limited extent.
    • Having a 501(h) election allows nonprofits to opt out of substantial activity and lobby somewhat without overstepping IRS limitations.
  • There are two types of lobbying: direct and grassroots.
    • Direct lobbying: conveying a message about specific legislation directly to legislators or contacting your members or employees regarding specific legislation and reflecting a view on it.
    • Grassroots lobbying: An attempt to influence legislation through an attempt to affect the opinions of the general public or any segment of the public.
  • Section 501(c)(3) lobbying definition requires that a communication address “legislation” while the 501(h) definition speaks about “specific legislation.”
    • Legislation includes any action by Congress, any state legislature or any local council.
    • Specific Legislation includes both legislation that has already been introduced in a legislative body and a specific legislative proposal that the organization either supports or opposes.
  • 501(h) Expenditure Limit on Lobbying
Exempt Purpose Expenditures Total Lobbying Nontaxables Amount Grassroots Nontaxable Amount
Up to $500,00 20% of exempt purpose expenditures​ 25% of total lobbying nontaxable amount​
Over $500,000 to $1 million $100,000 + 15% of excess over $500,000​ $25,000 + 3.75% of excess over $500,000​
Over $1 million to $1.5 million $175,000 + 10% of excess over $1 million $43,750 + 2.5% of excess over $1 million
Over $1.5 million to $17 million​​ $225,000 + 5% of excess over $1.5 million $56,250 + 1.25% of excess over $1.5 million
Over $17 million $1 million $250,000
    • 25% excise tax on excess amount​
    • More than 50% excise tax averaged over four years + possibility of losing 501(c)(3) status​
  • Some actions do not qualify as lobbying:
    • Analysis and research
    • Nonpartisan studies
    • Communication with members
    • Examination of broad, social and economic problems
  • Non-legislative bodies and people in positions of power can help with reform:
    • Prosecutors
    • Police commissioners
    • Elected officials

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  • Looking at and facing a local issue, e.g., housing discrimination, can help organizations understand what resources their community needs and how to reach community members.
  • Activities such as voting and filling out the census give power to the people. The data collected shows areas that need reform.
  • As a 501(c)(3) organization be careful to not extend lobbying activities beyond what is allowed by law. If your organization wishes to lobby, have a 501(h) election.
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