Podcasts for Non-Profit Organizations on Lobbying
Learn vocabulary terms you may need to know when lobbying, and even the basics of what this website can do! You may want to listen to this podcast if you want to learn more about lobbying.
Welcome to Module 1: Helpful Definitions.
This presentation is part of the Non-Profit’s Guide to Lobbying the New York State Legislature and Executive Branch. In this module, we will define and explain nonprofit organizations, advocacy, direct and grassroots lobbying, and common terminology used when groups want to engage in lobbying in New York State. This is the first of 5 modules. This module is for informational purposes only. You should not rely on it as a substitute for, nor does it constitute, legal advice by a competent legal professional.
This podcast, the other podcasts in this series, and the other materials available on this website are designed to provide general information about the laws and rules that affect organizations and individuals engaged in what is considered lobbying under New York law. What these materials help to explain is what sorts of obligations are imposed on non-profit organizations that engage in lobbying in New York State, with a focus on the reporting requirements that are imposed on those who do engage in such lobbying.
As we discuss later in this podcast, this information does not relate to the separate and different obligations under federal law that impact a non-profit organization’s ability to engage in lobbying. This material is designed to help you understand what lobbying is under New York law and when the law requires groups engaged in such lobbying to submit reports to New York state officials about such lobbying.
Please consult an attorney to understand your organization’s specific obligations. This information is not designed to provide tailored, individualized advice or guidance to any specific individual organization.
Ok, let’s start with some basic definitions.
The nonprofit sector is also known as the not-for-profit sector, civil society, the voluntary sector, the third sector, the independent sector, and the nongovernmental sector. This sector is characterized by three features:
First, nonprofits do not coerce participation. They draw on a large reservoir of goodwill and demand nothing from the community.
Second, nonprofits operate without distributing profits to stakeholders (this is also known as the non-distribution constraint). While corporations are able to distribute earnings to shareholders, nonprofit organizations cannot make such distributions. Rather, nonprofits must use all of the proceeds and income they receive for the advancement of the organization’s stated charitable purpose or mission.
This constraint provides reassurance that the nonprofit’s mission takes precedence over the financial benefits that might accrue to anyone involved with the organization. Now, that is not to say that non-profits cannot pay their employees. Of course they can, but the salaries their employees earn must be directed towards serving the public, and not simply to benefit those employees or other individuals with ties to the organization.
This nondistribution constraint also builds legitimacy and public confidence in a nonprofit. It provides assurance that the funds obtained by the organization are used for a public, NOT private, purpose.
Lastly, nonprofits exist without simple and clear lines of ownership and accountability. Nonprofit organizations must serve many masters, none of which is ultimately able to exert complete control over the organization. Donors, clients, board members, employees, and local communities all have stakes, claims, and interests in the nonprofit organization, yet none of these parties can be clearly identified as the key ownership group.
While there should generally be clear lines of communication and decision making authority within an organization, non-profits are accountable to many, including the federal and state governments, that oversee the operation of non-profits; and the community those non-profits serve.
The largest category of tax-exempt organizations is the §501(c) organization, named for a section of the Internal Revenue Code. Most non-profits fall under sub-section 501(c)(3). If you truly operate a non-profit, this is the section that is most likely applicable to your organization. If you have any questions about what type of organization you are operating or want to operate, consult with an attorney to understand your organization type, or, if you are starting an organization, what type of organization you should form.
The remainder of these podcasts will be focused on this specific type of nonprofit organization: the 501(c)(3). The IRS explains that section 501(c) grants exemption to 28 different kinds of organizations. But for our purposes, a “charities vs. everything else” distinction is very useful.
In general, only charities exempt under section 501(c)(3) are eligible to receive additional major tax benefits. At some level, tax exemption for charities is tied to a concept that they are improving general public welfare.
Now, let’s turn to some other definitions.
Advocacy helps your nonprofit achieve its charitable mission. It includes making your voice heard regarding that mission, in ways like: Contacting your local elected officials; inviting these elected officials to meetings, informational sessions, and other events, and; creating a social media or email campaign to promote your mission. Advocacy is more about education and promotion than trying to change the law.
Through advocacy efforts you can bring light to real community needs and highlight particular social issues that have previously been ignored by policymakers, thus raising awareness, and lower barriers to increase access to important services. For our purposes, it is important to distinguish advocacy from lobbying, which I will turn to next.
So now you must be wondering, what is lobbying? Lobbying is an attempt to influence government decision making. Here, I will focus on how that term is defined under New York Law. The IRS has a somewhat different definition for lobbying, and you should check with your attorney to assess whether you are engaging in activity that could jeopardize your status as a 501(c)(3) status under federal law if you engage in activity that 501(c)(3) organizations may not engage in.
You can also consult the companion website to this website, which describes the restrictions surrounding non-profit lobbying under federal law.
Under New York Law, an organization will be regarded as attempting to influence government decision making if it engages in an activity intended to support, oppose, modify, delay, expedite, or otherwise affect a 1-c(c) Lobbying Activity. These activities include: Passage or defeat of State or Local Legislation or Resolutions, adoption, issuance, rescission or modification of State or Local Executive Orders, or State or Local Rules or Regulations, rate making proceedings by a State Agency or municipality, procurement determinations determined or influenced by: (a) public officials or an entity working in conjunction with a public official; or, (b) an officer, employee, or entity working in conjunction with the unified court system in relation to government contracts, approval, disapproval, implementation or administration of tribal-state compacts, memoranda of understanding, or any other tribal-state agreements, or attempts to influence public officials.
Once you’ve got that basic understanding of lobbying generally, here’s some additional definitions you will need to know as you work through these podcasts and the rest of the material on this website.
DIRECT LOBBYING DEFINITION
Another important term under New York law is what is known as direct lobbying. Direct lobbying is defined as direct contact with a Public Official to attempt to influence an 1-1(c) lobbying activity or (ii) direct or preliminary contact with a Public Official to enable or facilitate an attempt to influence one of these activities.
When does direct lobbying occur?
Direct Lobbying occurs when an Organization has Direct Contact with a Public Official in an attempt to influence any 1-c(c) activity. This includes having Direct or Preliminary contact with a Public Official to facilitate an attempt to influence, such as scheduling a meeting with or making an introduction to a Public official, or having Direct Contact with any member of the Public Officials' staff.
You can engage in direct lobbying even if the person who you are attempting to influence supports your cause.
GRASSROOTS LOBBYING DEFINITION
Grassroots lobbying: defined as attempts to influence legislation by attempting to affect the opinion of the public with respect to the legislation and encouraging the audience to take action with respect to the legislation.
When does grassroots lobbying occur? Grassroots lobbying occurs when an organization encourages others to influence legislation by urging those outside the organization to engage in lobbying.
In order for an activity to count as grassroots lobbying, it must reference or otherwise implicate a 1-c(c) activity. For more information on what a 1-c(c) activity is again, reference the other materials on this website.
Unlike direct lobbying, grassroots lobbying also requires the activity to include a “call to action,” in which the organization urges members of the public to deliver a message to a Public Official in support of the Organization.
Just to recap, to engage in grassroots lobbying activity must reference or otherwise implicate an 1-c(c) activity, take a clear position on a government action, and include a call to action. all three elements must be met in order to go from merely educating the public to actively engaging in grassroots lobbying.
COMMON JARGON IN NYS LOBBYING
Now that we know what lobbying is, and the two main forms of lobbying, it’s important to know jargon used by lobbyists in New York State. Every industry has certain terms they use to refer to critical processes. These terms are known as jargon. In lobbying in New York State, particularly in the capital, common jargon includes:
Legislative Office Building (LOB): where the senator’s and legislator’s offices are located.
The second floor: which refers to the governor’s office.
The well: which is the space in the Legislative Office Building where groups often hold events, typically called lobby days. It is where speakers and participants congregate in such events.
Concourse: this joins the New York State Capitol building and Legislative Office Building.
Million-dollar staircase: this is the term used to refer to the grand staircase located off the assembly chamber.
CONCLUSION OF MODULE 1
We have now reached the conclusion of Module 1: Helpful Definitions. To find out why non-profits should lobby, visit Module 2.
Listen to the basics of why non-profit organizations may need to lobby, and learn about the benefits of connecting with your local government.
Welcome to Module 2: Why might a nonprofit lobby?
This presentation is part of the Non-Profit’s Guide to Lobbying the New York State Legislature and Executive Branch. This module will explain the reasons why nonprofits might consider engaging in lobbying, and is Module 2 of 5. This module is for informational purposes only. You should not rely on it as a substitute for, nor does it constitute, legal advice by a competent legal professional.
Many nonprofits have learned that lobbying can be essential to the success of the organization in carrying out its mission. Many think of nonprofits and lobbying as oil and water (in that they don’t mix) …and if they do, it is through a legal loophole. But this is not correct -- even 501(c)(3)s, the most restricted type of tax-exempt charitable organization, may lobby under certain circumstances.
In fact, some groups find that lobbying is VITAL to their ability to carry out their nonprofit mission. Many successful nonprofits not only provide services but also engage in advocacy efforts as well, which can sometimes include lobbying. Nonprofits in underserved communities may serve as a critical voice of the community in policy discussions and the legislative process, ensuring that policies and laws reflect the needs of the community.
While there are certain restrictions on lobbying under federal law, and any nonprofit should always consult with an attorney prior to engaging in any lobbying activity, this podcast will explore when a group might consider engaging in such lobbying.
In fact, given the number of pressing issues facing non-profits and the people they serve, it is more important than ever that non-profits consider whether they will become involved in the public policy debate and engage in lobbying provided the restrictions that govern their operation under the law will allow it.
This podcast will not discuss those restrictions, but, instead, will explore some of the issues a group might want to consider when deciding whether to engage in lobbying (provided it speaks to its attorney before actually doing such lobbying!).
WHAT ARE SOME THINGS LOBBYING CAN ACHIEVE?
Besides furthering the mission of an organization, lobbying can help a nonprofit survive and thrive. It can bring favorable media attention to an organization, which can lead to higher visibility and increased awareness of the organization’s mission.
Nonprofit lobbying also helps a community solve problems. By increasing the visibility of a nonprofit organization, it can attract a large number of individuals from the community to learn about and support the organization’s cause.
What is more, nonprofit lobbying helps give the community a nonprofit serves a strong voice. For members of the community, standing alone while taking a position contrary to powerful people with political clout and financial resources can be daunting. Nonprofits allow individuals to come together to give their voices more weight and counteract some of the clout opponents of the group’s mission may possess.
All of this shows how important lobbying is – both to the community you are serving and to achieving your mission.
WHERE TO START
So, should you decide that you want to engage in lobbying, and your lawyer says it’s okay to do so, where can you start?
First, Start Small. You don’t need to immediately hire a lobbyist or drive to the state capital. Find a small coalition, or create your own small organization. Work towards your goal one step at a time.
Next, Organize. It’s important to have a reliable group of passionate members to address clear, identified issues. Once you have done so, and you start to engage in lobbying, make sure you are tracking all of your lobbying activities.
Lastly, Join Forces. Find other groups who have similar missions to you and join them to pursue your common goal. You will likely achieve more together.
CONCLUSION OF MODULE 2
We have now reached the conclusion of Module 2: Why Might a Nonprofit Lobby. To learn about reporting requirements should you decide to engage in lobbying, check out Module 3 of this podcast series.
Can I Lobby?
Learn if your non-profit organizations can learn lobby in NYS, and what activities needs to be reported.
Welcome to Module 3: Can Non-Profits Lobby in NYS
This presentation is part of the Non-Profit’s Guide to Lobbying the New York State Legislature and Executive Branch. In this module, we will cover whether nonprofits may lobby in NYS and what activity must be reported. This is module 3 of 5. This podcast is for informational purposes only. You should not rely on it as a substitute for, nor does it constitute, legal advice by a competent legal professional.
CAN NONPROFITS LOBBY IN NYS? WHAT NEEDS TO BE REPORTED?
This presentation will serve as a Non-Profit’s Guide to Lobbying the New York State Legislature and Executive Branch. This module will cover whether non-profit groups and organizations can lobby in NYS, and how to comply with state laws and regulations if a non-profit decides to engage in lobbying in activity, and is Module 3 of 5. This module is for informational purposes only. You should not rely on it as a substitute for, nor does it constitute, legal advice by a competent legal professional.
WHAT ACTIVITY COUNTS AS LOBBYING IN NYS
First and foremost; what is considered lobbying in NYS?
Under the NYS Lobbying Act, lobbying is defined as an attempt to influence government decision making. An organization attempts to influence government decision making if it engages in an activity intended to support, oppose, modify, delay, expedite, or otherwise affect a 1-c(c) Activity. These activities include:
- Passage or defeat of State or Local Legislation or Resolutions
- Adoption, issuance, rescission or modification of State or Local Executive Orders, or State or Local Rules or Regulations,
- Rate making proceedings by a State Agency or municipality, procurement determinations determined or influenced by: (a) public officials or an entity working in conjunction with a public official; or, (b) an officer, employee, or entity working in conjunction with the unified court system in relation to government contracts
- Approval, disapproval, implementation or administration of tribal-state compacts, memoranda of understanding, or any other tribal-state agreements, or
- Attempts to influence public officials.
This is a much broader definition of lobbying than the IRS defines lobbying as. As a result, non-profits should be aware that some of their advocacy activity may need to be reported to NYS even if it does not need to be reported to the IRS.
WHAT RESTRICTIONS DO NON-PROFITS LOBBYING IN NYS FACE?
NYS lobbying laws do not limit how much lobbying an organization, person, or entity may engage in. There is no set number of hours or a designated number of visits to the capitol or legislative offices that a non-profit group must be aware of as a non-profit. Instead, NYS requires the disclosure of lobbying activity if a $5,000 expenditure threshold has been met, and in some limited circumstances even where spending is below $5,000.
WHAT LOBBYING ACTIVITY NEEDS TO BE REPORTED IN NYS?
In addition to the definition of lobbying discussed earlier in this module , any work the organization does to prepare for public lobbying communications should be reported. This includes planning and strategy sessions and coordination meetings. It also includes work drafting legislation that does not yet exist, if the organization then pushes for that legislation to be enacted.
For example, holding a meeting to decide which policies to focus on for the upcoming year would likely not be lobbying until specific policies were identified, and the decision is made to pursue such a policy change by engaging with the legislature.
Please note that a tool to help document and track your organization’s lobbying activities is provided on another page of this website.
CONCLUSION OF MODULE 3
We have now reached the conclusion of Module 3, covering whether nonprofits may lobby and applicable reporting requirements. To learn about how nonprofits can lobby in New York State, visit Module 4.
How Can I Lobby?
Learn how non-profit organizations can lobby in NYS. There are different definitions as well as methods that may benefit your organization!
Welcome to Module 4: How can Nonprofits Lobby in NYS?
This presentation is part of the Non-Profit’s Guide to Lobbying the New York State Legislature and Executive Branch. In this module, we will cover some important issues related to the ability of nonprofits to lobby in NYS, and is module 4 of 5. This podcast is for informational purposes only. It also only covers New York law and does not cover federal law, which also addresses some of these issues. Please consult an attorney for specific guidance on any questions related to your organization’s own planned or ongoing lobbying activities. You should not rely on it as a substitute for, nor does it constitute, legal advice by a competent legal professional.
HOW CAN NON-PROFITS LOBBY IN NEW YORK STATE
As stated in module one, there are two main types of lobbying: grassroots and direct. As a quick recap, direct lobbying involves direct contact with a Public Official or a member of their staff in an attempt to influence what is known as a 1(c)(c) activity, whereas grassroots lobbying is an attempt to influence the public, and encouraging the public to take action, with respect to a specific 1(c)(c) activity.
Direct lobbying is the more traditional method for lobbying, while grassroots lobbying might be considered are more modern method for lobbying. Each one is an effective way to lobby, but choosing a method is critical in a non-profit's success for lobbying to achieve their goals.
If a non-profit wants to influence legislation to fit its specific purpose, its leaders and members should consider a direct lobbying strategy. It is important to target the legislator or legislators who represent the district in which the organization operates, or where the organization has its headquarters.
Once the proper legislator is identified, arrange a meeting or similar opportunity to engage directly with that individual or a member of his or her staff. During this meeting, discuss the specific piece of legislation that the organization would like to change and convey the organization’s position – whether it be in support or opposition.
A recent example of successful direct lobbying in New York is that carried out by Planned Parenthood of New York. During the summer of 2019, Planned Parenthood decided to turn down about $60 million in federal funding after the federal government placed what Planned Parenthood considered unreasonable expectations on recipients of federal family planning resources.
Planned Parenthood engaged directly with New York State’s Governor and its local state elected officials, working tirelessly to secure additional funding through the state budget process, thereby avoiding any negative consequences for their refusal of Federal funds. This is a prime example of direct lobbying.
If a non-profit wants to influence the public to act and use the public as a vehicle for change, it should use grassroots lobbying to do so. The public is the key element in grassroots lobbying and the public must be engaged to act either explicitly or implicitly by what is known as a “call to action”: for example, a request that members of the public contact a legislator in their district.
One method to engage the public is through the use of social media, such as Facebook and Instagram, to inform the public of the non-profit's purpose and to urge members of the public to contact their local elected officials and influence them to support or oppose a piece of pending legislation. Successful grassroots lobbyists know their target—that is, the local elected official--well and are well-versed in how to engage the public to further their goals.
We look again to the work of Planned Parenthood of New York for another example of a successful attempt at grassroots lobbying. In 2018, supporters of Planned Parenthood paid a visit to Albany to lobby Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other elected officials to advocate for women’s rights. While some direct lobbying was initiated by Planned Parenthood, its leaders and organizers also brought with them more than 1,000 sexual and reproductive health advocates from around New York State in support of keeping what has come to be known as the Women’s Agenda in the state budget and funding the state’s family planning initiatives.
By encouraging the public to come from all around the state to engage elected officials in the group’s lobbying efforts, Planned Parenthood was able to show legislators that their efforts helping women are supported by many people and organizations. These efforts ultimately led them to influence legislator’s thinking when drafting new bills concerning women’s reproductive health.
In Module 3 we noted that NYS does not restrict the amount of lobbying in which an organization can participate. However, there is an important caveat that we’ll explain here. Under federal law, non-profits cannot dedicate the majority of their activities to lobbying, as opposed to the stated charitable mission of their 501(c)(3), or they will risk losing their 501(c)(3) status. Please note that a tool to help document and track your organization’s lobbying activities in terms of federal requirements is provided on another page of this website.
In conclusion, an organization may lobby through direct lobbying or grassroots lobbying, but there are restrictions imposed on such lobbying under federal law. Please consult an attorney familiar with these restrictions prior to engaging in any lobbying, even that which might be permissible under New York State law.
CONCLUSION OF MODULE 4
We have now reached the conclusion of Module 4: How Can Nonprofits Lobby in NYS. To learn about effective lobbying strategies, visit Module 5.
Learn strategies on how to lobby as a non-profit organization in NYS.
Welcome to Module 1: Helpful Definitions.
This presentation is part of the Non-Profit’s Guide to Lobbying the New York State Legislature and Executive Branch. In this module, we will explain strategies for effectively lobbying the New York State Legislature and Executive Branch. This is the fifth and final module. This podcast is for informational purposes only. You should not rely on it as a substitute for, nor does it constitute, legal advice by a competent legal professional.
STRATEGIES FOR EFFECTIVE LOBBYING
The first component of any effective lobbying strategy is: BE CLEAR ABOUT WHAT IT IS YOU ARE ASKING OF GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS.
The idea of distinguishing between different types of lobbying, like traditional vs. grassroots, and putting clear instructions about how to lobby on a media platform is helpful. For example, explicitly instruct your constituents to “Do X and contact Senator Y”. It’s important to be clear in your mission because the general public does not understand the subtle nuances of political lobbying – it’s all lobbying to them.
But according to NYS legislators, there is a fundamental difference. Making sure your organization’s goals in engaging in lobbying are clear and that those you are lobbying understand what it is you are trying to achieve. And this leads to the second strategy.
Second, HAVE A SPECIFIC ASK. Public officials don’t want to try and figure out what it is that you want them to do. Having a specific ask—that is, the thing you are “asking” the government official to do—is one of the most effective campaign strategies. Additionally, have a justification or rationale for this ask with talking points that a layperson is capable of expressing, with no lofty concepts that are difficult to explain or understand.
Third, RESPECT THE ROLES OF LEGISLATORS AND OTHER GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS. Legislators want to get reelected – approach legislators as a constituent. Other government officials want to serve the public. For legislators in particular, having a hometown touch with their constituents is important. Make sure you thank them, personally, even just for meeting with them.
With elected officials, it’s also good to thank them publicly on social media. Send out a tweet praising the legislator or other elected official for his or her help and the concern he or she expressed about your issue.
Lastly, UNDERSTAND THE POLITICAL LANDSCAPE. There is a list of slang terms that are used in the realm of New York State lobbying – familiarize yourself with them, so you’re not asking where to find “THE WELL.” Review Module 1: Definitions to learn more about these terms. Similarly, if you are seeking financial support for your organization when you are engaging in lobbying, try to familiarize yourself with potential funding and grant resources, and the restrictions that accompany them.
CONCLUSION OF MODULE 5
We have now reached the conclusion of Module 5: Effective Lobbying Strategies in New York State. Thank you for listening.