What Nonprofits Can Say to Influence the Transition to a New Administration – And What They Can’t

Nov 17, 2016
As nonprofits, we still need to be aware of which actions are allowed (and which aren’t) under 501(c)3 restrictions
The long-awaited 2016 Election has now come and gone, leaving nonprofits racing to refine their advocacy goals and strategies in the new administration.
But as nonprofits, we still need to be aware of which actions are allowed (and which aren’t) under 501(c)3 restrictions.
Luckily, the Alliance for Justice Bolder Advocacy initiative has pulled together a number of resources detailing what nonprofits can and can’t do to shape a new administration.

For instance, here some safe things that a nonprofit can do:

  • congratulate a candidate or say thanks for all of his or her hard work;
  • focus on policy issues you’d like to see a winning candidate address now that he or she has been elected to office;
  • comment on the results of the past election—what happened and why (but be careful not to comment too generally on
  • anyone who might be a future candidate – see first bullet point below);
  • advocate for changes in the election process (e.g., modifying voter identification laws; modifying or abolishing the Electoral College); and
  • engage with the current presidential transition team about policy issues or nominations.

And here are things a nonprofit still should avoid:

  • supporting or opposing a former candidate or a political party in a way that might carry forward to a future election (rather than, for instance, focusing on what a winning candidate should or shouldn’t do while in office);
  • taking credit for an election result, which could suggest intended intervention in the past election that may undermine the organization’s nonpartisan status in the future; and
  • indicating that the organization intends to hold the elected candidate accountable in a way that is susceptible to being interpreted as a reference to a future election.
In terms of influencing a transition specifically, nonprofits can still recommend transition team members, offer potential candidates for key positions, and offer your analysis of an issue to a transition team – without it being considered lobbying. 
(For more description and nuance, please visit the Alliance for Justice materials.) 
Do you still have questions?
For legal questions about permissible communications for 501(c)3 nonprofits, please contact Alliance for Justice directly.
For questions relating to communications strategy or messaging, please reach out to your ReThink Media contacts.
Finally, for ReThink Media members, stay tuned for a webinar with Alliance for Justice to talk about these issues in greater length.