Legislative action has long played an important role in the movement to end gender-based violence, often as a critical component of the grassroots activism of survivors, advocates, and other people committed to mobilizing to end gender-based violence (ICADV 2009). In order to have widespread impact and improve the laws, policies and systems that affect victims of gender-based violence, engaging in advocacy with legislators and policymakers at the local, state, and national level is essential.
Legislators and policy makers rely on hearing from constituents and community members about ways that laws can be improved to better address domestic and sexual violence. Through legislative advocacy and “lobbying,” domestic and sexual violence organizations can work to “improve policies that are responsive to the needs and realities of survivors as well as their children and families” by connecting legislators to the needs and lived experiences of survivors in their communities (National Latin@ Network). Lobbying is recognized as “a key way that nonprofits can advance their mission, amplify the voices of their supporters, educate policymakers, and protect their values" (Bolder Advocacy). As Nayantara Mehta writes, “Getting involved in the legislative process and having a say in policy discussions is not just an appropriate role for nonprofits; it is vital. If nonprofits are not speaking on behalf of their often-vulnerable communities, chances are nobody else is either.” (Mehta 2009).
Nonetheless, domestic and sexual violence organizations may hesitate to participate in legislative advocacy due to concerns about or limited understanding of the restrictions on 501(c)(3) nonprofits’ lobbying activities. While some activities, such as endorsing or opposing particular candidates for public office, are strictly prohibited, Congress specifically created rules that permit nonprofit organizations to engage in lobbying, as long as it does not constitute a “substantial part” of the organization’s activities. Additionally, nonprofits can also participate in other advocacy focused on influencing public policy, described in more detail below.
This collection is designed to provide assistance to nonprofit organizations interested in participating in legislative advocacy. Resources include materials describing the specific federal regulations limiting lobbying activities of 501(c)(3) nonprofits; details on the ways in which these organizations can participate in lobbying activities; specific information on legislative advocacy for domestic and sexual violence organizations; and useful advocacy tools and tips.
Please note that this collection is intended to provide general information on these topics and does not constitute legal advice.