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Is Your Charity Engaged in Lobbying? Make Sure You Know the Rules!

501(c)(3) tax-exempt public charities play an important role serving the public through their work, which often includes influencing public policy.  For example, a food bank that operates food pantries can also advocate for expanded access to free or reduced school lunches and fresh fruits and vegetables.  Or, a charity that provides educational resources to working parents may want to urge lawmakers to address the rising cost of child care.

Navigating the types of activities that tax-exempt nonprofits are allowed to engage in (and how much) without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status can be tricky.  Many charities engage in types of activities that are important to the organization’s mission, donors, and people they serve.  Two activities that charities may use to influence public policy include “advocacy” and “lobbying.”  While advocacy and lobbying are terms that are sometimes used synonymously, the two are distinct in important ways, most notably because federal tax law limits the amount of lobbying that charities may engage in.

How Does Advocacy Differ from Lobbying?

Advocacy can take many forms that do not constitute lobbying, including: leading, directing, conducting, and publishing research; and disseminating educational information.  Charities may engage in many different types of advocacy, and so long as that activity does not constitute lobbying, 501(c)(3) organizations are generally not limited in the amount of time or money they can spend on advocacy.

Lobbying, on the other hand, is subject to specific, restrictive rules.  Charities may engage in only an insubstantial amount of lobbying, and must take care not to jeopardize their tax-exempt status or run afoul of other lobbying restrictions.  Lobbying is any attempt to influence legislation, which can include acts, bills, resolutions, or ballot initiatives by Congress, state legislatures, local councils, or similar governing bodies.  An organization whose employees contact or urge others to contact members or employees of one of these bodies for the purpose of influencing (by encouraging them to adopt, reject, support, or oppose) legislation, is engaging in lobbying.

State and Local Lobbying Registration, Reporting, and Disclosure Requirements

In addition to following the strict federal tax rules governing the type of lobbying and amount of lobbying an organization can engage in,  charities should also be aware of any state and local requirements to register (including registration of certain employees as lobbyists, or registration of the organization itself, which retains and pays lobbyists) and to report lobbying expenditures and activities on a regular basis.1 Federal and state lobbying rules can be confusing and complicated, and often depend on several factors, including: (1) whether the organization employs an in-house lobbyist or an outside lobbyist; (2) whether any of the organization’s employees are lobbying; (3) the total amount of expenses the organization spends on lobbying activities; and (4) the timing of any contacts or communications made with federal or state officials.

After the organization makes a determination about which federal and state registration requirements apply to its lobbying activities, the organization and its lobbyists must file regular reports (often quarterly or semi-annually) until the registration terminates (the method by which registrations are terminated also varies from state to state), or otherwise expires.

If an organization decides to engage in lobbying activities, it is critical to ensure that executive staff are aware of the applicable requirements for registration, reporting, and disclosure.  Failure to comply can result in fines, censure from the regulatory agency, and possible negative press exposure for the organization.


1 While this article is focused on the lobbying rules as they pertain to 501(c)(3) public charities, it is worth noting that 501(c)(4) organizations, which may engage in unlimited lobbying in furtherance of their tax-exempt missions, are more likely to trigger lobbying registration and disclosure requirements.

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who we work with

Our clients are diverse nonprofit organizations with a broad range of missions, as well as for-profit companies in evolving areas such as social enterprise, corporate philanthropy, joint ventures, technology-driven fundraising, and impact investing.

A.B. Data
AB InBev Foundation
Absolut Company
American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science
American Diabetes Association
American Friends of the Hebrew University
American Parkinson Disease Association
Association of Fundraising Professionals
Avalon Consulting
Baton Rouge Area Foundation
Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation
Bleeding Blue for Good Fund
Bradley Cooper’s One Family Foundation
BrightFocus Foundation
Brooks Brothers
Chadwick Boseman Foundation for the Arts
Changing Our World
Charity Defense Council
Christian Appalachian Project
Doctors of the World/ Medecins du Monde
Doctors Without Borders/ Medecins San Frontieres
Drug Policy Alliance
Duke University
Emory University
Estee Lauder Companies, Inc.
Feed The Children
Food For The Poor
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation
Grameen Foundation USA
Hope for New York
International Campaign for Tibet
International Crisis Group
International Justice Mission
J. Crew Group
Johns Hopkins University
Lautman Maska Neill & Company
Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
LSU Foundation

Marts & Lundy
Meyer Partners, LLC
Milken Institute
NAACP Foundation
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
National Marrow Donor Program
National Park Foundation
Natural Resources Defense Council
North Carolina State University
North Shore Animal League
Operation Smile
PBS Foundation
Pernod Ricard USA
PetSmart Charities
PopSockets
Population Action International
Project ORBIS International
Public Interest Communication
Rails to Trails
Redeemer Presbyterian Church
Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors
Save the Children Federation
Sesame Workshop
Simon Wiesenthal
SOS Children’s Villages – USA
Subaru of America
The Little Market
Touro University
United States Equestrian Team Foundation
United Way Worldwide
University of Connecticut
University of Virginia
Vote.org
Whitney Museum of American Art
World ORT
World Wildlife Fund
YWCA USA

A.B. Data
Absolut Company
American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science
American Diabetes Association
American Friends of the Hebrew University
American Parkinson Disease Association
American Rivers
Association of Fundraising Professionals
Baton Rouge Area Foundation
BrightFocus Foundation
Burger King McLamore Foundation
Cancer Care
Carnegie East House and James Lenox House Association
Center for Car Donations
Changing Our World
Charity Defense Council
Christian Appalachian Project
Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation
Convoy of Hope
Cornell University
Doctors Without Borders/ Medecins San Frontieres
Drug Policy Alliance
Duke University
Emory University
Feed The Children
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation
Grameen Foundation USA
Helen Keller Services
Hope for New York
Human Rights Watch
Humane Society of US
Indiegogo
International Campaign for Tibet
International Crisis Group
International Justice Mission
Japanese American National Museum
Johns Hopkins University
Lane Bryant Charities
Lautman Maska Neill & Company
Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
LSU Foundation
Mattel
Meyer Partners, LLC
Milken Institute
National Breast Cancer Coalition
National Marrow Donor Program
Natural Resources Defense Council
North Carolina State University
North Shore Animal League
Obama Foundation
Operation Smile
PBS Foundation
Pernod Ricard USA
PetSmart Charities
Population Action International
Project ORBIS International
Public Interest Communication
Rails to Trails
Redeemer Presbyterian Church
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors
Sesame Workshop
Simon Wiesenthal
SOS Children’s Villages – USA
Steinhardt Foundation
Subaru of America
United States Equestrian Team Foundation
University of Montana Foundation
University of Nevada, Las Vegas Foundation
Whitney Museum of American Art
World ORT
World Wildlife Fund
YMCA USA
YWCA of New York City
YWCA USA

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news & events

Our attorneys’ recent contributions to the media and nonprofit sector publications.

news & events

Check out our attorneys’ recent contributions to the media and industry publications.

Secure Your Data – Seriously, AFP New York Chapter News
As Jon Dartley, a data privacy and security attorney at Perlman and Perlman says, “It is vital to have the appropriate legal terms in the contract to protect your interests.”  Find out what your liability limit is.  Have it in writing who bears the responsibility and cost of a data breach.  And, have the vendor agree on a specific timeframe within which they need to advise you of a data breach.

Warning: Don’t Cut Legal Corners When Mixing Social And Business Impact,  Forbes
Particularly striking is that (Karen) Wu believes this is the “first multi-state regulatory activity involving cause marketing in almost two decades.”

Going green: Law firms see business benefits of B Corp certification
Allen Bromberger and Karen Wu on why Perlman & Perlman is a certified B Corp.

Is stealing, then giving back, OK?
Cliff Perlman lends his advice on theft within a nonprofit.

Buyer Beware: Negotiating Terms in Technology Agreements
Jon Dartley provides tips on negotiating contracts with technology vendors.

Four Ways Charitable Giving Could Change with a Tax Overhaul
Cliff Perlman remarks on the possible threat of a change to charitable deduction.

How To Deal With Residual Data, Nonprofit Times
Jon Dartley’s advice on addressing “data exhaust”.

Paul Newman’s Foundation Fights Looming 200 Percent Tax, Bloomberg News
Allen Bromberger weighs in our socially responsible businesses.

Secure Your Data – Seriously, AFP New York Chapter News
As Jon Dartley, a data privacy and security attorney at Perlman and Perlman says, “It is vital to have the appropriate legal terms in the contract to protect your interests.”  Find out what your liability limit is.  Have it in writing who bears the responsibility and cost of a data breach.  And, have the vendor agree on a specific timeframe within which they need to advise you of a data breach.

Warning: Don’t Cut Legal Corners When Mixing Social And Business Impact,  Forbes
Particularly striking is that (Karen) Wu believes this is the “first multi-state regulatory activity involving cause marketing in almost two decades.”

Going green: Law firms see business benefits of B Corp certification
Allen Bromberger and Karen Wu on why Perlman & Perlman is a certified B Corp.

Is stealing, then giving back, OK?
Cliff Perlman lends his advice on theft within a nonprofit.

Buyer Beware: Negotiating Terms in Technology Agreements
Jon Dartley provides tips on negotiating contracts with technology vendors.

Four Ways Charitable Giving Could Change with a Tax Overhaul
Cliff Perlman remarks on the possible threat of a change to charitable deduction.

How To Deal With Residual Data, Nonprofit Times
Jon Dartley’s advice on addressing “data exhaust”.

Paul Newman’s Foundation Fights Looming 200 Percent Tax, Bloomberg News
Allen Bromberger weighs in our socially responsible businesses.

perlman & perlman philanthropic sector law firm blue and green logo

click to exit page

perlman & perlman philanthropic sector law firm blue and green logo

click to exit page

silk lanterns

who we work with

Our clients are diverse nonprofit organizations with a broad range of missions, as well as for-profit companies in evolving areas such as social enterprise, corporate philanthropy, joint ventures, technology-driven fundraising, and impact investing.

who we work with

Our clients are diverse nonprofit organizations with a broad range of missions, as well as for-profit companies in evolving areas such as social enterprise, corporate philanthropy, joint ventures, technology-driven fundraising, and impact investing.

A.B. Data
AB InBev Foundation
Absolut Company
American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science
American Diabetes Association
American Friends of the Hebrew University
American Parkinson Disease Association
Association of Fundraising Professionals
Avalon Consulting
Baton Rouge Area Foundation
Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation
Bleeding Blue for Good Fund
Bradley Cooper’s One Family Foundation
BrightFocus Foundation
Brooks Brothers
Chadwick Boseman Foundation for the Arts
Changing Our World
Charity Defense Council
Christian Appalachian Project
Doctors of the World/ Medecins du Monde
Doctors Without Borders/ Medecins San Frontieres
Drug Policy Alliance
Duke University
Emory University
Estee Lauder Companies, Inc.
Feed The Children
Food For The Poor
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation
Grameen Foundation USA
Hope for New York
International Campaign for Tibet
International Crisis Group
International Justice Mission
J. Crew Group
Johns Hopkins University
Lautman Maska Neill & Company
Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
LSU Foundation

Marts & Lundy
Meyer Partners, LLC
Milken Institute
NAACP Foundation
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
National Marrow Donor Program
National Park Foundation
Natural Resources Defense Council
North Carolina State University
North Shore Animal League
Operation Smile
PBS Foundation
Pernod Ricard USA
PetSmart Charities
PopSockets
Population Action International
Project ORBIS International
Public Interest Communication
Rails to Trails
Redeemer Presbyterian Church
Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors
Save the Children Federation
Sesame Workshop
Simon Wiesenthal
SOS Children’s Villages – USA
Subaru of America
The Little Market
Touro University
United States Equestrian Team Foundation
United Way Worldwide
University of Connecticut
University of Virginia
Vote.org
Whitney Museum of American Art
World ORT
World Wildlife Fund
YWCA USA

A.B. Data
Absolut Company
American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science
American Diabetes Association
American Friends of the Hebrew University
American Parkinson Disease Association
American Rivers
Association of Fundraising Professionals
Baton Rouge Area Foundation
BrightFocus Foundation
Burger King McLamore Foundation
Cancer Care
Carnegie East House and James Lenox House Association
Center for Car Donations
Changing Our World
Charity Defense Council
Christian Appalachian Project
Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation
Convoy of Hope
Cornell University
Doctors Without Borders/ Medecins San Frontieres
Drug Policy Alliance
Duke University
Emory University
Feed The Children
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation
Grameen Foundation USA
Helen Keller Services
Hope for New York
Human Rights Watch
Humane Society of US
Indiegogo
International Campaign for Tibet
International Crisis Group
International Justice Mission
Japanese American National Museum
Johns Hopkins University
Lane Bryant Charities
LSU Foundation
Mattel
Meyer Partners, LLC
Milken Institute
National Breast Cancer Coalition
National Marrow Donor Program
Natural Resources Defense Council
North Carolina State University
North Shore Animal League
Obama Foundation
Operation Smile
PBS Foundation
Pernod Ricard USA
PetSmart Charities
Population Action International
Project ORBIS International
Public Interest Communication
Rails to Trails
Redeemer Presbyterian Church
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors
Sesame Workshop
Simon Wiesenthal
SOS Children’s Villages – USA
Steinhardt Foundation
Subaru of America
United States Equestrian Team Foundation
University of Montana Foundation
University of Nevada, Las Vegas Foundation
Whitney Museum of American Art
World ORT
World Wildlife Fund
YMCA USA
YWCA of New York City
YWCA USA
Lautman Maska Neill & Company
Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

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Our Mission

Our mission is to provide the highest quality, integrity-driven legal services to our clients, using a practical, consultative, client-focused approach to identify and respond to problems and challenges.

We strive to maintain a culture characterized by respect, opportunity, diligence, mutual empowerment, entrepreneurship, and fair reward for efforts made on behalf of clients and the firm.

Perlman & Perlman is a Certified B Corporation

Certified B Corporations use the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. B Corps are unlike traditional businesses because they

  • Meet comprehensive and transparent social and environmental performance standards
  • Meet higher legal accountability standards
  • Build business constituency for good business