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With midterm elections looming on the horizon, many foundations are asking the question: What can we do to get out the vote, educate the voting public, and support our grantees’ important election season advocacy work? The good news is that even during an election year, the tax code provides both public and private foundations with wide latitude to engage in advocacy. Although 501(c)(3) organizations of all types are prohibited from supporting or opposing candidates for public office, they can engage in nonpartisan efforts to educate candidates and voters about issues critical to their missions, and they can provide financial support to organizations working one-on-one with local communities to guarantee that every eligible voter has a voice in the government that serves them.
Here are 10 actions that your foundation and its staff can take now to boost public participation in elections and ensure a representative and responsive democracy:
- Host a candidate debate or forum to educate voters about those who are running for office in their local communities. To ensure that your candidate debate is conducted in a nonpartisan way, you’ll want to invite all viable candidates to participate, find an impartial moderator, publicize the event widely to ensure a diverse audience, cover a broad range of issues, and provide equal opportunity for candidates to respond to unbiased, open-ended questions.
- Compile and distribute nonpartisan candidate questionnaires to inform voters about where the candidates stand on a broad range of issues. Candidate questionnaires should avoid bias toward the views of the candidates polled. This can be achieved by asking open-ended questions (for instance, “what is your position on X” rather than a yes or no question) that do not suggest a preferred response. In addition, all viable candidates should be asked to participate. Foundations should avoid comparing candidate responses to the foundation’s position on any issue.
- Provide general operating support to public charity grantees so that they have the discretion and ability to utilize foundation funds for nonpartisan election season advocacy, including get-out-the-vote activities. By choosing not to earmark a grant for any particular purpose, foundations can demonstrate trust in their grantees and provide them with the flexibility to interact with voters and candidates in a nonpartisan way.
Read the full article about engaging in election season advocacy by Natalie Roetzel Ossenfort at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.