April 07, 2017

Nonprofits CAN take a stand, and are positioned to do so

By Halley Henry, Communications and Fundraising Coordinator

From our personal lives to our professional ones, for far too long we've been warned, "don't bring up politics" or "you have to stay neutral on this issue." Sometimes it's simply to avoid an argument with your obstinate uncle.  However, from time to time nonprofit organizations have assumed that they are legally barred from civic and political engagement.

Well, that's simply not true. In point of fact, nonprofits can, and should, engage in issues that affect them...and the people they serve. Have you read Shelterforce's Miriam Axel-Lute's recent article? She explains that nonprofit organizations play a huge role in advocacy work:  

"As nonprofit organizations, we have an additional moral authority to bring to bear when we advocate as compared to people acting alone. Many of us have relationships with and access to policymakers in our official capacities that individuals do not. We have the ability to gather and share stories from our constituents to underscore the points that need making. We cannot make every cause our own, but neither can we keep our heads down and not speak on anything beyond our doors."

Moreover, Miriam explains how to engage in this conduct legally:

"You cannot take sides for or against a candidate for election, nor engage in or use resources for any partisan activities. (Please note, despite fears to the contrary, this does not mean you cannot comment on the sitting president or his policies just because he has filed for re-election early. You can. Just do not make any commentary about the 2020 election in the process.)

You can make unlimited commentary about issues, both to the public and directly to legislators. This does not count as lobbying. Lobbying is only telling a legislator your opinion on specific legislation (direct lobbying) or telling the public your opinion on specific legislation while including a very specific call to action (grassroots lobbying). (Without the call to action, it is not lobbying.)

You can lobby, as long as you don't spend too large a percentage of your budget on doing so (either up to 5 or 20 percent of your annual expenditures depending on how you report it on your taxes, according to the American Bar Association)."

This is not a time for nonprofits to remain silent. You can mobilize within certain boundaries, and here's how:

  1. Add your organization's name to sign-on letters or start a sign on letter.
  2. Let your legislators know about the work you do and the programs your nonprofit offers.
  3. Work with your networks, your residents, members, and clients to encourage civic engagement of their own.
  4. Join with other organizations focused on a similar mission to draft columns, blogs, articles and op-eds. Then share them across your collective outlets.

NHT always has and will continue to openly advocate for policies that support our mission and the residents who reside in affordable housing. We encourage you to do the same.