KatzAbosch Helps Not-For-Profit Organizations in Maryland

soc-med-ethicsFor many not-for-profits it happens every election season…in the bitter end, amongst all the attack advertisements, debates, and campaign appearances the question arises:

How do I support the candidate who will do the most for my organization?  And how can I influence others to also support this candidate?

Voilà!  Why don’t I put a link to that candidate’s campaign website on my organization’s Facebook page?  And I will tweet it as well!  This is great!

#NOTALLOWED

Ok…well I could post and tweet something generic then, like:  “support the candidate in the upcoming election”, right?

#DEFINATELYNOT

Fine…I can post and tweet a link to the newspaper op-ed column where the candidate was endorsed, that should be fine, right?

#NOPE

Hmmm…can I post and tweet something as simple as “Check out the candidate on the debate this evening”?

#NO

Ok…this seems tough…so I won’t say anything about a certain candidate on Facebook or Twitter…can I have the candidate post something on my organization’s Facebook page?  Or tweet something to all the organization’s “followers”?

#DENIED

Why can’t I do any of these?

Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organizations, including churches and other religious organizations, social services charities, and even schools, are prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in political campaigns in support of, or in opposition to, a candidate for public office (including federal, state and local elections).  This “participation” can be in the form of financial support or simply public statements (including social media posts) of support made on behalf of the organization in favor or opposition to a certain candidate.

What are the consequences?

If the IRS finds that a not-for-profit organization has improperly “participated” in an election, the organization may potentially be subject to an excise tax or in a worst-case scenario, the loss of its tax-exempt status.

So what do I do?

A Facebook post or tweet related to a political race by itself does not necessarily constitute political “participation”.  All facts and circumstances must be considered, such as the organization’s context for the post or tweet, whether all candidates are represented, the expressed purpose behind the post or tweet, and how closely the post or tweet links the organization and the candidate for public office.  Furthermore, because linked content may change over time, the organization should monitor linked context promoted through social media and adjust links accordingly if they begin to suggest the organization is “participating” in political campaign activities, or is somehow tied to a certain candidate for office.

Social media is a very effective communications tool for nonprofits, and nonprofits can, and often do,  take positions on public policy issues through Facebook and Twitter.  Not-for-profit organizations must carefully do so without tying their position to a specific candidate, regardless of the candidate’s stance.  Organizations need to focus the use of their Facebook page or Twitter account on spreading the word about the organization’s mission, special events, or additional educational information that the organization feels is important to the public.  With proper oversight of the process, not-for-profit organizations should be able to avoid running afoul of the IRS.

KatzAbosch would welcome the opportunity to speak with your organization regarding any specific questions you may have on this topic, or other not-for-profit issues.

Redmond 2009Timothy A. Redmond, CPA
Manager
KatzAbosch
tredmond@katzabosch.com
410-307-6494

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