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Tracking Nonprofit Lobbying

Get ready for another election season

As we gear up for another pivotal election season, it’s more crucial than ever for 501(c)3 organizations to make sure their lobbying house is in order. Navigating the complexities of election laws and regulations can be a daunting task, but it’s an essential part of making your voice heard in the political arena. 

While 501(c)3s are absolutely prohibited from endorsing or opposing candidates in elections, there are still important ballot measures and legislative bills and policies that you can and should be ready to play an important role in advancing.

Being well-prepared and compliant isn’t just a best practice; it’s a necessity to ensure your organization can effectively engage in the issues that matter most. Let’s dive into how you can keep your lobbying activities organized and above board, so you can focus on making an impact when it counts.

Lobbying is important – so is compliance

In the bustling world of political advocacy, staying organized isn’t just helpful—it’s your lifeline. 

Here’s how you can ensure that your lobbying activities are both efficient and above reproach:

File your (h) election: If you haven’t already, or aren’t sure, file your (h) election with the IRS, which lets them know that you’re a 501(c)3 organization that is electing to do lobbying. This filing only needs to happen once but be sure to keep a copy of what you filed in your organization files. This election gives you more flexibility and higher lobbying limits as a 501(c)3.  

Implement a Robust Time-Tracking System: First things first, establish a comprehensive timesheet system. This isn’t just about logging hours; it’s about understanding where and how your team’s efforts are being utilized. Accurate time tracking ensures that you can report on your staff’s lobbying activities with precision, making compliance a breeze. Ensure you have space to track time for both direct & grassroots lobbying. 

Detailed Expense Tracking: Every penny counts in lobbying, and so does tracking it. Utilize a spreadsheet or specialized software to meticulously record all lobbying expenses. This level of detail not only keeps your finances transparent but also aids in budget planning and financial reporting, keeping you on the right side of the law. Also, make sure that you track expenses as either grassroots or direct lobbying. 

Regular Compliance Training: The world of lobbying is ever-evolving, with laws and regulations frequently changing. Regular training sessions for your team on compliance matters are non-negotiable. This ensures everyone is up-to-date and reduces the risk of inadvertent violations. Be sure to be aware of federal, state and local reporting requirements and when they apply to your organization. 

Documentation and Reporting: Keep a paper trail. Documenting your lobbying activities and expenses is not just for internal use; it’s a critical component of your legal and ethical obligations. Detailed records simplify the process of filling out necessary forms, like the Form 990, and provide a clear audit trail.

Ethical Guidelines and Policies: Establish and enforce a set of ethical guidelines. Lobbying, by its nature, treads in areas where moral and ethical lines can become blurred. Clear policies help maintain integrity and public trust.

Utilize Technology Wisely: In today’s digital age, leveraging technology can make a significant difference. From cloud-based storage for easy access to records to using data analytics for strategy development, technology can be a game-changer in keeping your lobbying activities streamlined and effective.

Stay Informed and Adaptive: Finally, keep your finger on the pulse of political and legislative changes. Being informed allows you to adapt your strategies in real time, ensuring that your lobbying efforts are always relevant and impactful.

By focusing on these key areas, you can ensure that your lobbying activities are not just organized and compliant but also poised to make a significant impact when it matters most.  Remember, effective lobbying is a combination of meticulous planning, ethical conduct, adaptive strategies and understanding what laws & regulations apply to you when. 

Fun with Financials Nonprofit Lobbying Tools

Here are a few tools we have developed at Fun with Financials to help you keep track of your lobbying activities to easily report on your Form 990.

The first is a timesheet so you can report on your staff’s lobbying activities. 

Download the Lobbying Timesheet


And the second is a spreadsheet to track all your lobbying expenses. Keep the IRS off your back and stay engaged in the issues that matter!

Download the Lobbying Tracking Spreadsheet

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