How Nonprofits Operate Within Politics

Sep 24, 2018

Nonprofit organizations such as the LDS church and Mountain Trails Foundation are advocating for various propositions and bonds this election season. Which leaves some asking, ‘Can they do that?’ The short answer is ‘yes’.

There are plenty of rules and regulations regarding what nonprofits can and can’t do. We spoke with Utah Nonprofit Association’s CEO Kate Rubalcava about nonprofits rules during election season.     

“As it comes to election season, nonprofit organizations that serve a particular type of mission whether they’re serving communities that are impacted with poverty or homelessness or education they can support issues that impact that piece of their mission. What nonprofit organizations as a general rule cannot do is lobby on behalf of a candidate or a political party. Nonprofit organizations have to make sure that their message and what they are talking about in election season ties back to mission and issue and not candidate or political party.”

Rubalcava re-iterated that 501(c)(3) organizations should not be afraid to speak out about political issues that they care about.

“They shouldn’t be fearful of talking about issues that impact the organization. The line really is making sure that you’re not lobbying for a political party or candidate. If there was a particular candidate that came up about this bond issue it would be very important to make sure that they looked at the issue and not the candidate.”

Lobbying is also legal for nonprofit organizations, although there are limits on the amounts that organizations can spend on lobbying. The IRS sliding scale starts with 20% of a nonprofit’s first $500,000 in expenditures. Organizations that exceed $1.5 million in expenditures can spend 5% of their total expenditures on lobbying.

Rubalcava suggests that people inform themselves about issues and how they impact nonprofits.

“I think that it’s so important for all of us that live and work in communities that we identify nonprofit organizations that we love and support. Ones that have a mission that speak true to us, and really identifying those issues that impact those nonprofit organizations and get involved. Because so much of what we do in the state of Utah relies heavily on the kindness of those of us who live and work in our communities. There are so many nonprofits out there that could benefit from anyone of use giving of our time and our talent and some of our donations.”

That’s Kate Rubalcava, CEO of Utah Nonprofits Association.