501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations are not permitted to do any partisan activities for or against a candidate for public office. They must remain nonpartisan.
This is defined by a single sentence in the IRS tax code that says “501(c)(3) nonprofits are prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.”
This political prohibition is generally known to mean that a 501(c)(3) nonprofits may not:
- Endorse or oppose a candidate running for public office.
- Make a campaign contribution to or expenditure for or against a candidate.
- Rate candidates on who is most favorable to your issue.
- Let candidates use the organization’s facilities or resources, unless those resources are made equally available to all candidates at their fair market value.
The IRS states that 501(c)(3) organizations can conduct any range of activities to promote voter participation, educate voters or connect with candidates so long as it is nonpartisan.
This guide discusses many possible activities and ways that nonprofits can make sure they remain nonpartisan. A list of common nonpartisan voter engagement activities includes:
- Conducting or Promoting Voter Registration
- Educating Voters on the Voting Process
- Distributing Nonpartisan Sample Ballots, Candidate Questionnaires, or Voter Guides
- Organizing Get-Out-the-Vote Activities
- Encouraging and Reminding People to Vote
- Hosting or Co-Sponsoring a Candidate Forum
- Educating the Candidates on Your Issues
- Continuing to do Issue Advocacy During an Election
- Encouraging Staff to Serve as Poll Wworkers
Staff and volunteers must remain nonpartisan when working for or representing the organization. However, “off the clock” or in personal time, they are free to do partisan work for a candidate or party.
For more information, visit:
- IRS Webpage on Election Year Activities for Charities
- Election Checklist for 501(c)(3) Public Charities, Bolder Advocacy
- Sample 501(c)(3) Policy for Election Season, Bolder Advocacy
- A Guide to Election-Related Activities for 501(c)(3) Organizations, Bolder Advocacy