Politics & Nonprofits

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The political season is heating up. Television and radio waves have been filled with party conventions, candidate commercials, and pundit commentary. Dialogue and debate are running rampant in our conversations with friends, family and colleagues.

These conversations typically revolve around how politics and election results affect you as an individual, but what about how it will affect you at an organizational level? As an organization, how do you engage in the political process, and how do you do that while balancing your tax-exempt status?

There are clear rules and regulations for non-profits around the type and amount of political activities in which they can be involved. For technical details, the IRS’s website is a good resource. For more on standards, the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits publishes the Principles and Practices for Nonprofit Excellence with a section on civic engagement and public policy.

For some organizations, political activity is part of the everyday routine, but for many others, this activity follows the ebb and flow of the political process. How do you integrate political activity in your organization? Does this happen seamlessly or is it a struggle to find a balance?


In the past, these sorts of questions haven't received the attention they deserve from researchers and scholars. Recently, though, things have started to improve.

For anyone who's interested in a national perspective, Jeff Berry and David Arons' book, A Voice for Nonprofits, provides a great introduction.

I'd also recommend checking out the Urban Orgs website, which has links to good material on organizations, inequality, and conditions in urban communities

I would also note that Minnesota is the host to the national effort to engage nonprofits more directly in voter registration and mobilization. The Nonprofit Voter Engagement Network http://www.nonprofitvote.org/ provides great tools and resources for nonprofits interested in nonpartisan civic engagement efforts. The network spans numerous state-base programs that have year round voter engagement efforts. Check it out!

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