Areas of Focus:
Nonprofit Advocacy Rights

Sara offers practical legal support to nonprofits engaging in advocacy. With her guidance and workshops, your organization can confidently choose the tactics and compliance structures that match your values and capacity.

Sara doesn’t just teach lobbying and election-related laws for nonprofits. She cuts through the legal jargon, uses realistic examples to explain the rules, and helps you figure out, “Okay, now what?” Contact Sara today to schedule a consultation or workshop in English or Spanish.

Matlin Legal offers guidance
and workshops about these topics:

(Scroll down or click on each topic for detailed descriptions.)

Building Blocks for Nonprofit Advocacy Rights

Introduction to 501(c)(3) Advocacy and Lobbying Rights

Your 501(c)(3) public charity has the right to advocate and lobby at every level of government. It’s easier to figure out when to join or lead public policy efforts when you know the rules. Work with Sara to learn:

  • Your organization’s options for engaging in advocacy;
  • The difference between advocacy and lobbying;
  • What does and doesn’t count as lobbying; and
  • How to make the most of your organization’s lobbying power.

IRS Lobbying Compliance for Experienced 501(c)(3) Advocacy Organizations

Are you and your staff already familiar with the advocacy and lobbying basics, but need a refresher? Or maybe you’ve expanded your advocacy, so you need to update your advocacy compliance to better report your work?

Sara’s workshops and consulting can help you and your team:

  • Recognize when you are engaging in lobbying;
  • Distinguish between direct and grassroots lobbying;
  • Accurately keep track of your lobbying; 
  • Make the most of lobbying exceptions; and
  • Create or improve your lobbying tracking and reporting systems.

Nonpartisan Civic Engagement and Accountability Advocacy

You know your organization is supposed to stay nonpartisan, but are you allowed to praise a politician who champions your issues? Can you share a post criticizing the policy decisions of someone running for re-election? 501(c)(3) organizations can’t support or oppose candidates , but you can still engage in bold election and public policy activism, as long as you understand the guidelines. Sara can help you learn or brush up on the federal tax law rules about nonpartisan activities and communication for 501(c)(3)s and other nonpartisan organizations.

And if your organization ever gets into a jam, where someone might have gone a little too far, reach out to Sara to help you troubleshoot, triage, and figure out what to do next.

Sara can help your team decide how to wisely:

  • Advocate for your organization, your community, and your issues in a bold (but nonpartisan) way; 
  • Do a risk assessment when creating and sharing public policy communications, especially on social media; 
  • Hold officials accountable, even when they are (or might be) up for election;
  • Raise public awareness about the candidates and issues at stake; 
  • Engage your community in voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts;

Working Together

Funding for Lasting Change: Grantmakers’ and grantees’ options for investing in advocacy

Grantees have spoken up, and funders are starting to listen: Foundations need to start funding nonprofit advocacy activities. Sara guides foundation staff and trustees (and their 501(c)(3) and (c)(4) grantees) in using bold grant structures that are also legally compliant. Sara supports grantmakers and grantees in learning and using the best practices for:

  • Private and public foundation grants to organizations that lobby;
  • Grant proposals, agreements, and reports that allow for maximum support;
  • Grants that best match the grantee’s advocacy activities: general support grants, specific project (McIntosh) grants, and public grants;
  • Creatively (and lawfully) making the most of restricted grants.

Sara supports both:

  • Foundation staff and trustees learning how to support advocacy organizations with practical (and legally-compliant) grant structures and
  • 501(c)(3) and (c)(4) grantees learning how to wisely request, use, and report on their grant-funded advocacy activities. 

501(c)(3)s and your Advocacy Partners: How to wisely affiliate or collaborate with 501(c)(4)s and unions

Community-led policy change needs strong alliances, and your (c)(3) can—and usually should—collaborate with (c)(4)s and other community partners. Sara can help you figure out:

  • Best practices for (c)(3)s, (c)(4)s, and unions in shared campaigns, including ballot measure, lobbying, and voter engagement campaigns;
  • Practical protocols for your affiliated (c)(3)s and (c)(4)s, including how to track staff time and costs, where to “house” specific advocacy activities, and how to keep your (c)(3)’s nonpartisan activities separate from your (more partisan) (c)(4);
  • Whether your (c)(3) is ready to form an affiliated (c)(4); 
  • Cost-sharing agreements, MOUs, and financial transactions between (c)(3)s and (c)(4)s. 

Beyond the Basics

Okay, Now What? Structure your compliance systems to match your advocacy

Once you’re familiar with the rules, Sara can help you dig in to your operations and protocols and make compliance easier for you and your team. IRS nonprofit advocacy laws have a racist and misogynist history, so it’s understandable that some community led-organizations lose patience or don’t keep up with rigid compliance rules. Sara helps cut through the jargon to assist you in creating, updating, or streamlining your organization’s guidelines and reporting systems.

California Lobbying Disclosure: A badge of honor for public policy influencers

California nonprofits often build up their California public policy muscles without even realizing they might have become “players” at the state level. If your organization is diving in to administrative or legislative advocacy at the California level, Sara can help you learn about California lobbying disclosure rules and figure out if your organization needs to report its activities, so you and your team understand:

  • When an organization should start filing California lobbying disclosure reports;
  • How lobbying disclosure under the FPPC differs from lobbying limits and lobbying disclosure under the IRS; and 
  • Which activities are considered “lobbying,” and which are considered “attempts to influence” under California state law.

California Ballot Measure Advocacy: Finding the sweet spot for your organization’s engagement

Whether you carefully plan your ballot measure campaign, jump in to lend a hand, or scramble to respond to a bad ballot measure, you’ll need to define your organization’s role to comply with the FPPC’s tracking and reporting rules. Sara will help you decide which level of ballot measure activism (and level of FPPC reporting) fits your organization and capacity. She’ll walk you through what you need to know before ramping up your campaign, like:

  • Which activities automatically turn your organization into a California ballot measure committee (it’s easy to unintentionally qualify as a committee by mistake!);
  • Which activities, communications, and resource-sharing you should track and/or report before and during a campaign; and 
  • How to proactively choose your organization’s ballot measure fundraising and investment strategy to avoid unintentionally qualifying as a ballot measure committee.

Get answers to your questions!

Schedule one free consultation with Sara (per organization)