Ballot Measure Advocacy 101

Empty Minnesota Capitol chamber with empty seats, the American and Minnesota state flags, and statues of prominent former Minnesota legislators.

501(c)3 nonprofits can ask voters to support or oppose ballot measure questions. 

  • There are no legal limits on the types of activities nonprofits may do to support or oppose ballot measure questions.  
  • The IRS caps nonprofit spending on ballot measure activity (classified as a direct lobbying expense for reporting purposes), yet significant activity is allowed within those limits.
  • Nonprofits can and should maximize their opportunity to have an impact.

Six Ways to Make an Impact

  1. Adopt an organizational position in support or in opposition to a ballot measure question. 
  2. Educate your staff, board, donors, volunteers and program participants. 
  3. Connect to a ballot measure campaign—ask them what would be most helpful to advance the position your support
  4. Ask people to vote for or against a ballot measure question, such as staff, board, donors, volunteers, and program participants
  5. Participate in get-out-the-vote activities such as voter registration, voter reminders, and voter education related to ballot measure questions.
  6. Provide resources, such as space, staff time and email lists to existing ballot measure coalitions and campaigns. 

Transparency and Reporting

Nonprofits are accustomed to providing financial information to the IRS through the annual Form 990 filing.  Organizations engaging in ballot measure activity will also need to report these ‘direct lobbying activities’ on schedule C. 

The IRS asks nonprofits to report ONLY ‘direct lobbying’ expenses, meaning those activities wherein you ask someone to vote for or against a specific ballot measure.

To ensure compliance with the IRS, just keep a list of activities and expenses associated with your ballot measure direct lobbying advocacy activities. 

Additional Reporting for Highly Active Organizations

A small number of nonprofits that spend relatively large amounts of money on ballot measure activities may have some additional reporting requirements. Because money spent influencing voters is an increasingly integral aspect of American elections, campaign finance laws have been created to disclose ballot measure and other campaign spending to the public.

  • If you spend more than $5,000 in one calendar year to defeat or support a statewide ballot measure question, you must register with the Minnesota State Campaign Finance Board and complete necessary reporting documents.
  • If you spend more than $750 in a calendar year to defeat or support local ballot measure questions, you must file a simple one-page report with the Minnesota Secretary of State.