vote 2018

Nonprofits and Voter Engagement – Yes You Should!

November is quickly approaching.  Local, state, and federal election campaigns are revving up. Nonprofits’ members, supporters, and clients are about to be bombarded with political ads seeking their vote. This presents a perfect opportunity for a nonprofit organization to assist and educate potential voters, and there are good reasons to do so.

But nonprofits must also be aware of the limitations on how they may carry out these activities. While 501(c)(3) organizations are not allowed to engage in “political activity”, they are allowed to educate their members and the general public. They are also allowed to focus on populations that don’t typically vote in order to increase participation in the electoral process.

The Restrictions

Public charities (a type of 501(c)(3) organization) enjoy numerous perks under the federal tax code. They are eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions and their income from those donations and program revenue isn’t taxable. Congress, in exchange for those benefits, places certain restrictions on public charities. For one, public charities are not allowed to engage in candidate election advocacy, in other words, they are not allowed to advocate or oppose candidates for political office. Public charities also cannot engage in a “substantial” amount of legislative advocacy (i.e. lobbying). The penalties for violating these restrictions are severe, up to and including the revocation of an organization’s tax-exempt status.

What Public Charities Can Do

Every public charity is affected by the outcome of the democratic process. Many serve vulnerable and disadvantaged individuals who are disproportionately impacted by the outcome of elections but historically have not voted at the same rate as other demographics. For many public charities, increasing their constituents’ participation in the democratic process may fall squarely within their exempt purpose. These organizations SHOULD try to increase their constituents’ engagement with the democratic process but must make sure they don’t do so in a way that favors or appears to favor a particular candidate or party.

Here are some examples of activities that public charities can engage in, along with some important considerations:

Candidate Fora

Public charities can host a forum in which candidates are invited to answer questions relevant to the charity and the general public. The forum should cover a wide range of topics. All major candidates should be invited and offered equal time. Many public charities will bring in an independent moderator to build an additional firewall against accusations that any questions demonstrate partisanship by the nonprofit. Local media personalities and journalists often make excellent moderators, as they are already attuned to salient topics.

If your organization hosts a candidate forum, make sure the questions asked of the candidates inform the audience about a broad range of topics. You should also start and end the forum by reminding the audience that your organization does not endorse or oppose any candidate or party.

Note that while you should invite all candidates if any candidate declines to attend, it doesn’t mean the forum can’t move forward. You might consider alternatives for candidates whose schedules conflict, such as written statements, or holding another forum at a later date, if practical.

Consider what format will best achieve your goal of educating the audience about important issues. For legal and practical reasons, a candidate forum should not devolve into a partisan argument or an ad hominem fight. Take steps that will prevent this – impose time limits, screen audience questions, and limit access to the microphone.

Finally, set some guidelines to deter unwanted politicking. Don’t invite political parties or PACs. Remind the candidates that the forum is not a campaign stop – and that they are not to ask for donations. Avoid stump speeches. A forum is an opportunity to educate the public – so do your best to keep it that way.

Voter Guides

As is true for a candidate forum, public charities should use a voter guide to ask questions of all candidates and make sure they touch on a range of topics. While you cannot edit a candidate’s response, you can place conditions, such as word limits, on their response. If a candidate submits a response in excess or the word limit or in violation of another guideline, ask them to revise their response or simply omit any information beyond the word limit or in violation of the guidelines.

Educating Candidates

If a candidate expresses an interest in the work your nonprofit does, you can follow up by providing literature or meeting with the candidate to introduce him or her to your programs. A guiding principle, however, is that the communication must remain strictly nonpartisan. If you send literature to one candidate, be sure to send the same to the other candidate(s) in the race. You may also invite candidates to visit your facilities, to demonstrate your importance to the community you serve. Again, be sure that the same invitation is given to all candidates.

Voter Registration Drives

A voter registration drive must be nonpartisan. Informational materials provided should be politically neutral. Never ask potential voters who they plan to vote for, and certainly don’t limit registration in a partisan way. Choose the location for your drives by focusing on areas where you expect to find populations who historically don’t vote or aren’t registered – not based on any political criteria. If you’re registering voters at an event run by another group, double check with the organizers which other groups might be attending. Consider reaching out to state or local election officials to help you identify neighborhoods or areas with low voter registration. You are allowed to focus on the areas or people you already serve.

The Mechanics of Voting

For new voters, teaching about the mechanics of voting is also allowed. Ask your local election officials whether they can bring in a sample voting machine so new voters can familiarize themselves with it. Show them a sample ballot, and if there are ballot initiatives, share them with your constituents and help them understand what is often very long, confusing language. Again, as with all of the voter education activities discussed here, make sure your explanations don’t stray into political commentary – try to stay objective!

Get-Out-The-Vote

If the people your organization serves face barriers to getting to the polls, such as physical disabilities or lack of transportation, your organization can arrange assistance to support their participation. Make sure to use nonpartisan criteria determine who to assist, and focus on areas or individuals who are actually in need of assistance.

Political engagement in the United States is on the rise. Nonprofits can and should be part of the conversation by ensuring voters are well informed and prepared to vote in November.

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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.”

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”.

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.”

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”.

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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Culture & Values

Vision

We view our clients as partners that share our commitment to bring about change in the world. Our goal is to provide them the peace of mind of knowing that they are in compliance with their legal obligations and to further empower them to achieve positive social impact and financial success.

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