Public Policy & Advocacy

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Nonprofit organizations play a central role in the democratic process by providing a means for public participation and promotion of the common good. As entities that serve the public, nonprofit organizations should engage in public policy and advocacy activities to promote constituent, organizational and sector interests. Nonprofits should work to promote broad public participation in public policy and advocacy efforts and should provide assistance to the public in these efforts.

Infrastructure Checklist


Yes No In Progress Not Applicable Not Sure
501(h) election, if conducting any lobbying (Internal Revenue Code §501(c) (3), §501(h)) US
Compliance with lobbying reporting requirements ( Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995; Neb. Rev. Stat. §49-1483.03; Iowa Code §68B.37; 990) US, NE, IA
Compliance with prohibition on supporting/opposing candidates or elected officials (Internal Revenue Code §501(c) (3); 990) US
Compliance with prohibition on using federal funds to lobby (Office of Management & Budget Circular A-122; 990) US
Federal lobbyist registration, if you have lobbyists at the Federal level ( Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995, 2 U.S.C. §1605) US
Iowa lobbyist registration, if you have lobbyists in IA (Iowa Code §68B.36) IA
Nebraska lobbyist registration, if you have lobbyists in NE (Neb. Rev. Stat. §49-1480.01) NE, US
Understand that nonprofits may support/oppose legislation (subject to lobbying limitations) (Internal Revenue Code §501(c) (3), §501(h); 990) US

Strongly Recommended

Yes No In Progress Not Applicable Not Sure
Procedures to track lobbying expenses for reporting purposes


Yes No In Progress Not Applicable Not Sure
Constituent engagement plan
Monitor public policy climate
Advocate on behalf of policies you believe in
Provide appropriate training/information to organizational advocates
Written public policy & advocacy policy/plan

Practices Assessment

Public Policy & Lobbying

No/Not Begun In Process Yes/ Complete Not Applicable Not Sure
We are aware of the 501(h) election. US
We ensure that the activities of the organization are nonpartisan. US
We adhere to all electioneering laws and regulation, including remaining non-partisan in position, communication and activities. US
When we promote public participation, we ensure that our activities are nonpartisan and within permissible lobbying limitations. US
We never use federal funds to pay for lobbying activities. US
We understand that we may support/oppose legislation subject to lobbying limitations. US
When we engage in lobbying, we adhere to legal expenditure limitations. US
Our lobbyists are properly registered at the federal (if applicable) and state levels. US, NE, IA
We file accurate and timely reports on our lobbying activities. US, NE, IA
We participate in and support the formation and amendment of public policy consistent with our mission.
We have an understanding of the current public climate and the resulting impact on policy.
We assist our constituencies in public and civic engagement by encouraging voting and other participation in local, state and federal policy-making efforts.
We ensure that board and staff distinguish between personal opinion and organizational positions.
We have procedures in place to track lobbying expenses for reporting purposes.


No/Not Begun In Process Yes/ Complete Not Applicable Not Sure
We proactively develop strategies to address key issues facing our organization, its constituencies and the nonprofit sector, and we include our stakeholders in those efforts.
We advocate publicly on behalf of our mission and organizational values.
We encourage our board members, staff, volunteers and constituents to act as advocates and ambassadors for our organization and the entire nonprofit sector.
We ensure that individuals who are authorized to act as advocates and ambassadors for our organization are knowledgeable and prepared to speak on our behalf.
We ensure that information provided to policy makers, the media and the public is timely and accurate, and that the social and political context of information is clear to avoid misunderstanding or manipulation of the message.
For our public policy and advocacy activities, we have adopted a written policy that clarifies the scope of the work, as well as the time and resources to be allocated to those activities.
We build relationships with elected officials, community leaders and other nonprofits in order to strengthen our ability to effect change and impact public policy.
We provide stakeholders with nonpartisan resources and training on issues important to us and our constituencies.

Walking the Talk

  • Subscribe to online policy alerts to keep abreast of current policy trends, issues and action needed.
  • Engage in regular conversation with colleagues regarding the legislative and social environment. Maintain your awareness of trends and activities impacting your constituents or your mission.
  • Build discussion regarding advocacy and issues awareness into your meetings, at the board and staff level.
  • Participate in a good training related to lobbying and advocacy. Make sure staff and board members understand the opportunities, responsibilities and restrictions. Don’t allow fear or misinformation to limit the work you do on behalf of your constituents and mission.
  • Encourage your constituents to be advocates: encourage them to vote and to make their opinions known.
  • Develop a media specialist on your staff. Correctly formatting and submitting media releases, opinion editorials, and public service announcements is critical in getting attention – make this part of somebody’s job. Spend some time developing a database of local media, get to know their focus areas and deadlines, and identify the right contact in each outlet.
  • Establish yourself as a resource for media outlets: in addition to releases about your organization’s events, help them with breaking stories by sharing relevant data and background information on a particular topic. Give them leads on other stories that may be newsworthy. Build relationships with reporters and editors by meeting periodically to discuss community issues and innovative strategies to address them: when they know you’re interested in more than just promoting your organization, you will earn their respect and attention.
  • Establish yourself as a resource for policy makers and community leaders by following the strategies outlined above. Relationships are built on time and trust.