Guide to Election Year Advocacy

If you work for a private 501(c)(3) nonprofit, your museum receives certain tax benefits. With these advantages comes the requirement that you not participate in any “partisan” activities, or actions that appear to support or oppose a political candidate or political party. The U.S. Internal Revenue Service, however, explicitly preserves your right to advocate on behalf of your museum and its mission, and to involve your visitors, supporters, and community members in certain “non-partisan” election-related activities.

We have created the following guide to help you distinguish between what is allowed and what is not. (One exception: If your museum is operated by the city, state or federal government, there may be additional restrictions.)

YES, you can!
NO, you can't
Participate in a campaign on your own time

Use office computers, supplies, telephones, email, fax or other resources

Write a check to support a candidate

Treat any candidate differently from all other candidates

Host a candidates forum

Invite only your preferred candidate(s) or discuss only a single issue

Be an enthusiastic supporter of a particular candidate

Wear a candidate's t-shirt or buttons in your museum or at official events

Decorate your home or apartment with campaign or candidate-related items

Decorate your office space with items that can be perceived as supporting or opposing particular candidates or political parties

Do voter education: help inform voters about issues in an election

Tell people whom to vote for

Do voter registration: help register people to vote

Register only those who agree with you

Do get-out-the-vote activities

Tell people whom to vote for

Allow a candidate to rent your space for a campaign event (at fair-market value)*

Only allow certain candidates to rent the space, donate your space or provide a discounted rate

Donate personal funds

Make an organizational monetary or in-kind donation

Volunteer on your personal time

Volunteer on company time

Make candidates aware of your organization’s agenda

Ask candidates to endorse your organization’s agenda

Publicize Election Day

List information favorable to a particular candidate

Ask all candidates to fill out a questionnaire about issues

Ask only some candidates to fill out a questionnaire about issues

Work on behalf of a ballot measure: for example, a ballot initiative to set aside 1% of a sales tax for cultural organizations

Spend more than a substantial amount of time or money working on a ballot measure**

*Some museums will not do this because they wish to avoid the appearance of impropriety, but it is allowed.
** For more information on the rules around lobbying and advocacy, we recommend contacting the Alliance for Justice.

Nonprofits have an important civic role to play on Election Day.

Here’s what you can and cannot do to get involved:

 YES, you can!
No, You can't

Encourage your staff to vote

Tell them who to vote for

Allow late arrival/early departure for voting

Allow late arrival/early departure for campaign work

Allow staff to serve as a nonpartisan election worker on company time

Allow staff to participate in a political campaign on company time

Include Election Day as an organization-wide holiday

Make people participate in Election Day activities

Use personal leave time to participate in campaigns

Make your staff participate in a campaign

Provide information on early and absentee voting, location of polling places, ID requirements and links to candidate information

Present any of this information in a partisan way

Congratulate re-elected or newly elected officials

Characterize it in a partisan way (i.e., declare it a “victory for our issues”)