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Understand the differences: advocacy, lobbying, political activity

With an abundance of issues affecting your business life, you often have a desire to be involved and make your position known. Below are definitions that can guide you and your organization to stay within acceptable practices for a 501(c)(3).

Advocacy for your organization means that you want to influence individuals, employers (companies) or the government. You are promoting your cause, and this is the least restrictive form of promotion. Advocacy covers a broad range of activities designed to change public opinion.

Direct lobbying is making your position known to public officials in an attempt to influence legislation, but you must not dedicate a substantial amount of your activities in the effort. You can stay within the safe harbor provision for lobbying by filing form 5768 with the IRS. This puts your activity on record, and you must stay within defined expenditure limits for lobbying.

Grassroots lobbying is appealing to the general public to contact legislature. An organization can only spend 25% of total lobbying expenses on grassroots lobbying.

Political activity for or against a political campaign or candidate is strictly forbidden for 501(c)(3) organizations. Such activity may lead to a loss of tax exempt status.

If you have questions about how to draw the line on your activity, be sure to seek professional advice.

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