Non-Profits and Elections

NAMI State Organizations and NAMI Affiliates are 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations. While 501(c)(3)s are prohibited from engaging in political campaign activities (activities that support the election or defeat of a candidate for office), nonprofits and their volunteers can promote and participate in a number of nonpartisan election-related activities. Below is information on dos and don’ts, as well as some FAQs, to protect your 501(c)(3) status.

What 501(c)(3) organizations can do:

  • Promote voter registration/Get-Out-the-Vote efforts. 501(c)(3) organizations can conduct a voter registration drive, encourage people to register to vote in affiliate communications, provide information on how to vote or on vote-by-mail rules, and encourage people to vote through general communications about participating in the election (though not in support of or against a candidate).
    For more information, click here
  • Host candidate forums. Candidate forums are an excellent way to elevate mental health issues during the election season and learn what strategies candidates will take to address key policy issues surrounding mental health. Click here to find more tips for hosting a nonpartisan candidate forum. 
  • Send out candidate questionnaires. Sending out candidate questionnaires can be a great way to learn candidates’ proposals regarding mental health policy issues. However, these questionnaires should ask about a broad range of issues, include open-ended (and neutral) questions, and be shared without edits or comments. As a nonprofit, these responses should not be rank-ordered, and they can only be shared if more than one candidate responds. Learn more about candidate questionnaire rules for nonprofits here.
  • Share NAMI’s positions on the issues. Share information on NAMI’s position on key policy issues and encourage your members to ask candidates questions about these issues. Members may attend candidate events and ask candidates questions about mental health policy priorities. You can share sample questions with your members, but remind them to be nonpartisan if they are representing NAMI. Click here to learn more about NAMI’s policy priorities.
  • Educate your staff, Board members and volunteers on election rules. Your staff, leaders and volunteers represent NAMI, so it is important they understand what they can and cannot do when they have their “NAMI hat” on. Share these FAQs with your staff, Board members and volunteers.

What 501(c)(3) organizations should avoid:

  • Do not endorse or oppose a candidate—or appear to be favoring or disfavoring one candidate or party over another.
    • Example: A candidate mentions what he will do for mental health in a speech. His opponent does not mention mental health at all. In this circumstance, you should not comment on either candidate or link to a candidate’s speech.
    • Example: Both parties release a party platform that mentions mental health. Since both platforms mention mental health, you may provide access to or copies of the platforms to your members—but you may not comment on either platform’s provisions.
    • Example: Both candidates for the same elected office talked about or provided answers to questions on mental health. In this circumstance, you can provide both candidates’ commentary or answers—but without commentary or unbalanced placement.
  • Do not make a campaign contribution to, or an expenditure for, a candidate from NAMI. It is not legal under any circumstance to contribute NAMI funds to a candidate. Additionally, NAMI may not use any staff time, office resources, etc. to support a candidate. Individual staff or board members may contribute personal funds to candidates. If your title and organization are requested, ask that they be listed on any websites or reporting as “FOR IDENTIFICATION PURPOSES ONLY.”
  • Do not rate candidates on who is most favorable to NAMI’s issues or publicize which candidates share NAMI’s views.
    • Example: You want to create a voting record on mental health issues. There are some narrow circumstances when you may publish a voting record, but before an election is not advisable for a nonprofit.
  • Do not host a candidate forum or event unless candidates of both parties or the majority of candidates for an office are able to attend.
    • Example: You invite all candidates for your state representative seat, but only one can make it. You should either reschedule for a time that the majority of or all candidates for the office can be present or cancel the event. If there is only one candidate running for a seat, you may invite him or her to an event.
  • Do not ask candidates detailed questions that have a “right or wrong”  answer that would signal alignment or nonalignment with NAMI’s positions. Ask open-ended questions only.

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