Alliance for Justice: Advocacy Digest

Question: We are a 501(c)(3) organization that works with several immigrant communities, and many people have recently become American citizens. We want to make sure that everyone who is eligible to vote gets registered. I heard that some foundations may not fund this type of voter registration activity. Is that true?

Answer: It’s true that there are some federal tax law restrictions on private foundations funding voter registration drives, but only in certain circumstances.

Private foundations may conduct, and fund 501(c)(3) public charities to engage in, non-partisan voter engagement activities, such as candidate and public education, get-out-the vote efforts, and voter registration drives. Federal tax law only imposes special restrictions on private foundation grants earmarked for voter registration activities. Private foundations may make grants earmarked for voter registration activities only if certain requirements are met. For detailed information on these requirements, see AFJ’s fact sheet on the topic and the comprehensive publication Investing in Change: A Funder’s Guide to Supporting Advocacy.   

It is important to remember that these requirements apply to grants from private foundations that are earmarked for voter registration and to grants made to public charities that engage exclusively (or almost exclusively) in voter registration activities only. If a private foundation provides a general support grant to a charity, the charity may choose to use some, or all, of the grant for voter registration work without penalty to the charity or to the private foundation. Similarly, grants earmarked for a grantee’s other projects, other than voter registration, are not subject to these special rules.  These restrictions do not apply to public foundations, which may make earmarked grants to 501(c)(3) public charities for non-partisan voter registration activities without penalty.

For more information on permissible election-related activities for 501(c)(3) organizations, check out The Rules of the Game, our updated guide to tax and election laws for nonprofits.

If you have any questions about lobbying or other issues related to 501(c)(3)s and elections, please call Alliance for Justice’s toll-free technical assistance hotline at 1-866-NPLOBBY or email us at advocacy@afj.org.

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