Non-Profits and Elections

Elections offer many opportunities for your organization to interact with candidates for elected office at all levels of government. As a 501(c)(3) organization, your NAMI cannot endorse or oppose candidates. However, you can still work with campaigns to get your issues in front of the candidates, build relationships with possible future elected officials, share your policy ideas, and influence future debates and decisions on key topics for NAMI. Below are some ways your NAMI organization can engage candidates:
  1. Share your policy ideas. Although elected officials can benefit from your ideas and research year-round, elections provide a focused opportunity to establish influence with the campaign while demonstrating your NAMI’s expertise. During a campaign, candidates need current research and fresh ideas to answer questions and connect with voters. NAMIs can – and are encouraged to – share policy ideas with candidates and campaign staff. Sharing your policy ideas with candidates, and asking your network to do the same, can help advance the NAMI mission, but be sure to make your ideas and existing research available to all candidates.
  2. Attend candidate events. Don’t be shy! Candidate events and town halls are a great opportunity to make candidates aware of issues affecting mental health, to alert them that NAMI is active in the community and to educate other attendees about mental health. Attend candidate events or virtual town halls and ask questions. However, if you are representing NAMI, your approach must be strictly nonpartisan. You or another NAMI representative must make an effort to ask the same NAMI-related question at events for all candidates in the same race.
  3. Invite candidates to join your events. NAMI events, like a NAMIWalks or even your annual conference, are great opportunities for NAMI to connect with candidates and for candidates to meet members of the NAMI community. If you are inviting a candidate to attend your event (whether in person or virtual), you must invite all candidates to attend (see the following section for more details). The invitation alone gets your NAMI’s name in front of the candidates, but hosting candidates at an event also allows NAMI stakeholders to ask questions and understand their choices.
  4. Host or co-sponsor a candidate forum. Candidate forums such as town halls aim to bring together candidates and the community for discussion. They not only connect your NAMI with candidates, but they also give your members and other invited guests a chance to meet and interact with future officials. Hosting a candidate forum can raise the profile of your NAMI and highlight your issues during an election. Consider co-sponsoring a forum with other nonpartisan organizations in your community to boost candidate interest and audience participation.
  5. Conduct a candidate questionnaire. A candidate questionnaire is also a powerful tool to advance the public policy goals of your NAMI. Candidate questionnaires let candidates — and the public — know what issues you care about. Invite all of the candidates in a particular race to respond to a set of questions. Once you’ve collected responses, be sure to publicize them on your website and in your communications. And ask your board members, volunteers, donors, etc., to share with their friends, family and colleagues as well. Many candidates often have limited time and are fielding many requests, so consider collaborating with a partner or coalition to consolidate your efforts and increase the likelihood that candidates will reply.

Once the elections are over, build relationships with newly elected (or reelected) officials. Find time to congratulate them on their win and schedule a meeting with them and their staff to share how NAMI can be a resource to their office and their constituents.

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