Frequently Asked Questions

What is advocacy?
What is the difference between advocacy and lobbying?
Is advocacy legal for my organization?
Where can I learn more about advocacy?
What if I still have a question?

Advocacy resources

What is advocacy?

Advocacy is the act of speaking out on behalf of the things you care about. Examples of advocacy:

  • Urging lawmakers, foundations, or corporations to invest more money in the arts
  • Standing up for artistic expression and speech
  • Fighting for arts education at your school
  • Encouraging other sectors, such as health or transportation advocates, to incorporate the arts into their efforts to create more livable and vibrant communities

What is the difference between advocacy and lobbying?

Lobbying is one form of advocacy. When you state your position on a specific law or policy to a legislator or other government official, you are lobbying. If you urge your stakeholders to do so, that is also lobbying.

Is advocacy legal for my organization?

Advocacy -- as long as it is nonpartisan -- is legal for 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations. It is permissible for your organization to:

  • Create an advocacy agenda and take stances on legislation and public policies
  • Educate the public, legislators, and even candidates for office about the issues you care about
  • Engage in a limited amount of lobbying -- up to 20 percent of the first $500,000 of your annual expenditures if your organization files a 501(h) election (PDF) with the IRS
  • Register voters and run "get out the vote" activities

There are restrictions to advocacy when it comes to elections. Your 501(c)(3) cannot:

  • Endorse or oppose a candidate for office
  • Make contributions to a candidate
  • Rate a candidate who is most favorable to you
  • Allow a candidate to use your facilities or resources unless you make them available to all candidates and charge the fair market value

Where can I learn more about advocacy?

Forefront is an Illinois-based organization that promotes philanthropy and a strong nonprofit sector in the state. Visit Forefront for more information on what's in-bounds and out-of-bounds when it comes to advocacy.

The Alliance for Justice provides information, resources, and technical assistance to encourage nonprofits and their funding partners to exercise their right to actively participate in the democratic process.

Nonprofit VOTE works with nonprofits to help the people they serve participate in the political process and vote. Their resources help nonprofits integrate voter engagement into their ongoing activities and services. 

The National Assembly of State Arts Agencies unites, represents, and serves state and regional arts agencies across the country. Visit NASAA for tools to help you make your case and mobilize support.

What if I still have a question?

Check out our other resources, including talking points, research, and how-to guides.

You can also contact Jonathan VanderBrug, Policy and Research Director, at vanderbrug@artsalliance.org or 312.855.3105 x12.

Or you can post your question below, and Arts Alliance Illinois will submit an answer.