It’s Okay to Get Active!
Posted On: July 12, 2017
We’ve received a few questions in the last week from markets that want to get more involved in advocacy, but are unsure whether contacting their legislators to discuss policy issues will jeopardize their market’s 501(c)(3) status. There’s no need to worry. Farmers markets with tax-exempt status are often under the misconception that they cannot be active in the political arena. In reality, most federal nonprofits are allowed to participate in lobbying activities, as long as they don’t represent a “substantial” portion of your organization’s work. The IRS defines substantial as constituting more than 20% of a market’s total activities (based on expenditures). So, there’s no need to shy away from lobbying if you’re monitoring how many hours and dollars are spent on the efforts.
Moreover, non-profits can advocate on behalf of a cause or provide educational information to elected officials at any point. For example, if your market received a grant, it is not considered lobbying to let policymakers know about the activities that grant supported or the impacts that the grant-funded work had on your community.
Advocacy vs. Lobbying
Advocacy: Explaining and promoting an idea, cause, or organization. For example, stating, “Farmers markets help keep money in the local economy.”
Lobbying: Supporting a specific position on a piece of federal, state or local legislation. For example, stating, “I encourage you to vote in favor of Senate Bill 23.”