Elections are set and nonprofits should be ready!

OpEd by Marnie Taylor, President and CEO

With the runoffs complete and the November elections set, nonprofits should be turning their attention to educating their constituents about policy issues that affect them most. Now that we know all of the players in respective races – from city councils, county commissions, state Senate and House races, Congressional races and our gubernatorial race, nonprofits should be reaching out to candidates to find out where they stand on particular policy issues.

Of course, this also means that charitable organizations should continue to remain nonpartisan at all times and focus on issues – not candidates or parties.

Election season can be very tricky for nonprofits. Our organizations wield tremendous clout with our constituents and the public. Nonprofits shouldn’t be surprised if candidates ask them for use as a public forum or even endorsement. Because of our unique nonpartisanship (and because of the Johnson Amendment prohibiting candidate endorsement), organizations should stay clear of anything that appears to be an endorsement through a polite decline.

However, many nonprofits will hold multi-candidate forums, so that candidates can talk about the issues, hear from constituents and be questioned about specific issues. In these cases, it is critical for nonprofits to invite all candidates for the election to avoid any appearance of partisanship.

Most importantly, now is a perfect time to train staff and volunteers about the rules surrounding elections. Remind them that they should register to vote and get to the polls. Let staff know that they can and should be part of the political process. However, also remind staff and volunteers that they are not to “participate in elections” at work. They should not wear campaign buttons, push out campaign information from their computers or phones, or otherwise support campaigns within the office. Let staff and board members know that they should not use the organization’s name as they personally endorse candidates.

Finally, use this time to get to know your candidates for office. Tell them about your mission, your organization’s impact and how the community benefits from that impact. Keep them apprised of your work.

November will be here before we know it, so get prepared now for the final push of the 2018 campaign season.

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