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Pride Advocacy 101

LGBTQ and Pride organizations are often called upon to engage in local, state, or national political advocacy. But what kinds of political work can nonprofits do? Here are some tips.



Many nonprofits, both inside and outside of the LGBTQ community, are often faced with a tension over what kinds of political advocacy they can engage in. Nonprofit leaders are right to be cautious and to know all the facts before getting involved in political work, especially because certain IRS rules prohibit 501(c)(3) organizations from engaging in certain types of "politics."


USAP has pulled together some high-level information to get you started as you navigate these legal and financial waters. But, be warned: we are not lawyers and we are certainly not tax attorneys, so take this resource article as a beginning step to do more research. Be sure to consult your organization's attorney for more guidance.


Politics ≠ Partisan: Most Pride organizations, likely including yours, are registered as nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations under IRS Code 501(c)(3). If that's the case, then your organization is prohibited from engaging in partisan political campaigning. That means you are prohibited from supporting or opposing any specific candidate in a political race. The highest-level takeaway is this — "politics" does not equal "partisan," and that "civic" engagement does not equal "partisan politics." There are plenty of other ways your organization can engage in the civic, social, and political life of your local community without being involved in partisan electoral politics.


Lobbying:

Nonprofit organizations like Pride groups can lobby local, state, and federal officials to support or oppose specific legislation or policy proposals. Many LGBTQ groups do this by asking their members or supporters to call or email elected officials in support or opposition of a specific piece of legislation or policy. Other times, this kind of work looks like general public statements supporting or opposing legislation or policy proposals. Lobbying, however, cannot be a core mission or purpose of your 501(c)(3) organization's work; the IRS notes: "While a 501(c)(3) organization is allowed to do some lobbying, too much can hurt its tax-exempt status. Its lobbying activities cannot be more than an insubstantial part of its overall activities."


Voter education and engagement:

Nonprofit organizations can engage in efforts to educate and engage voters, citizens, and residents. There is no limit on the amount of educational material you produce to encourage people to get registered to vote or to go to the polls. Your educational and engagement materials, however, must be nonpartisan in nature. You cannot endorse a political candidate and you cannot oppose a political candidate. However, so long as your guide is based on fact, you can create voter guides that outline how a candidate has or has not voted or the documented positions a candidate has taken on issues important to the LGBTQ community.


Issue advocacy: Similar to lobbying, your organization can engage in public education campaigns, grassroots organizing, and media outreach to bring attention to specific issues your community is facing. Remember, you cannot engage in partisan political work, but there is nothing necessarily partisan about educational campaigns bringing attention to important issues like discrimination, employment protections, housing, education, or other civic and social issues your local community might be facing.


Grassroots and community organizing:

Your organization can utilize a variety of tactics in bringing attention to important issues faced by your local community. You can create voter and issue guides, do public education campaigns, and even host rallies or marches (maybe even including your own annual parade or march!). Just remember that your organization's lobbying and nonpartisan political work "cannot be more than an insubstantial part of its overall activities."


Dig deeper:

Want more extensive resources and information on lobbying and advocacy from a nonprofit, LGBTQ perspective? The great folks at Bolder Advocacy have put together a fantastic guide on LGBTQ advocacy for nonprofits.


A necessary note:

Remember that this article is meant as a general guide to get you started and thinking. This resource article is not intended as and should not be construed as legal advice. Please consult your own legal counsel for any additional questions you might have.


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