Key Takeaways

5 Legal Rules Every Foundation Should Know for the 2018 Elections

Whether a seasoned advocate or at a foundation determined to step into the civic engagement realm for the first time, start the new year with a refresher on the breadth of activities foundations can legally engage in and fund while remaining nonpartisan leading up to the 2018 election. Foundations have a great deal of flexibility in election-year grantmaking but it is important to know what is legal, effective and doable within your institution. Let’s be sure we are using all of the tools in our toolbox to be what the field needs and as impactful as possible.

Access the recording here (Only available to FCCP members)

Funders will learn about:

  • What the term “nonpartisan” really means
  • The broad range of advocacy private foundations and public foundations can engage in and fund their grantees to do
  • Steps to ensure any individual partisan political activity isn’t attributed to your nonpartisan organization
  • Best practices for foundations funding grantees to engage in advocacy during an election-year

Moderated by:

Kristen Harris-Talley, Progress Alliance of Washington [bio]


Jann Jackson, Senior Associate of Policy Reform and Advocacy, The Annie E. Casey Foundation [bio]

Shyaam Subramanian, Alliance for Justice [bio]

Key Takeaways:

  • There are a variety of activities foundations can both engage in and fund during an election-year.
  • In Washington State, Progress Alliance of Washington saw how vital this kind of engagement is for civic participation. Community-based organizations saw a huge amount of success with voter engagement in their communities with authentic “touches,” meaning after doing door-to-door voter registration and finding out what kinds of issues the community cares about, organizations kept in touch up to the election where they then held voter education events like candidate forums.
  • The Annie E. Casey Foundation started with their mission- that all children have economic security, supportive communities and stable families regardless of race, class and country of origin. Achieving this mission and realized it requires civic participation and using collective strength to influence public policy at the federal, state and local level
    • Shifting to prioritize advocacy and funding election-related activity included creating an online resource, the Advocacy Learning Lab, which provides resources for nonprofits engaged in policy advocacy.
    • The Foundation funds Alliance for Justice to ensure their staff and grantees have a strong understanding of the rules related to advocacy.


  • The Rules:
    • During an election year, there is a distinction between partisan activity and issue advocacy. Just because an incumbent is running for re-election doesn’t mean you can’t speak out about their official actions.
    • There are a variety of election-related activities foundations can support during an election year:
      • Issue advocacy
      • Candidate education
      • Voter education – candidate forums, voter guides
      • Voter engagement
      • Criticizing or supporting incumbents
    • A foundation’s nonpartisan status doesn’t mean an individual can’t engage in partisan election-related activity, it is just important to keep it separate from your organization’s activities.
    • Private foundations can support 501(c)(4) organizations with expenditure responsibility grants.

Extra Resources:

Speakers’ Slides

Investing in Change: A Funders’ Guide to Supporting Advocacy (AFJ)

How Foundations Can be Engaged This Election Year