The term “nonpartisan” is admittedly confusing but does not preclude such organizations from advancing political agendas. They simply cannot do so by taking positions on, raising funds or material support for, or fielding candidates in partisan elections due to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) nonprofit strictures. Such strictures vary by tax status.

In essence, nonpartisan organizations have the ability to hold elected and appointed officials accountable on every level of government – local to international. Depending on their IRS nonprofit tax statuses, such bodies may engage in an array of political activities such as lobbying, constituent mobilization, and voter education. Typically there are IRS-imposed organizational budgetary limits on such activities, and the creation of a separate action fund can allow for lobbying and/or voter education and mobilization in more robust ways than a charitable organization can on its own.

Regarding policy related to their own aims, nonpartisan organizations might contact elected and appointed public officials to celebrate enactment of measures that dovetail with their goals. When policy runs afoul of their agendas, however, such organizations may register their disapproval and ask their members or constituents to do so as well.

For a good overview of political-versus-partisan DO’s and DON’Ts from a nonpartisan nonprofit  that holds IRS 501(c)(3) charitable organization and 501(c)(4) social welfare organization statuses, read this AAUW (American Association of University Women) blog post. For specific allowances for political activity by nonpartisan nonprofit organizations, please review IRS guidance.

Amy Blackwell

President, AAUW Colorado and Member, Women’s Collaborative for Colorado Steering Committee

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