Earlier this month I wrote a YALSA Blog post about the difference between lobbying and advocacy. Since publishing that post I’ve been thinking more about the topic. (Actually, in the interest of full disclosure, I’m in the process of finishing a book for YALSA and Neal-Schuman on the topic of teen library services advocacy.) As I’ve done more research on the topic of advocacy and lobbying, and thought more generally about advocacy, I’ve realized there is more to say. Here goes:
- While those working in libraries might not be able perform extensive lobbying for a particular piece of legislation or policy that’s under discussion by government officials, it is OK to ask members of the community to contact policy makers about a particular issue. Parents and other community members can have a big impact if they speak up for the library and speak out about the value of the library to teens in the community. Asking others to speak up and out is a perfect way to advocate for library teen services.
- It’s actually OK for those working in non-profits to do some amount of lobbying – as long as it’s not in support of a political candidate or political party. The amount of lobbying that’s legal to take on is defined by the 501(c)(3)’s budget. A recent article in the Public Counsel newsletter states,
“The amount of lobbying activity in which a 501(c)(3) organization can engage must be less than a ‘substantial part’ of the charity’s overall activity in order to maintain its tax exempt status. There is no fixed percentage of an organization’s expenditures above which lobbying activities will be considered a ‘substantial part’ of the overall activities; the IRS and courts will take into account a variety of factors, such as whether the lobbying is a continual or only occasional activity.”
A straight-forward no-lobbying policy might not be the way to go. Maybe you can lobby. You just need to think and talk about how much you can do in relation to the budget of your institution.
The Center for Association Leadership (ASAE) has a very useful resource Limitations on Lobbying Activities: Guidelines for 501(c)(3) Organizations that can help you to understand what you can and can’t do as someone who works in a library or for a library focused non-profit. Check it out so you know for sure what you are able to take on and what you need to leave to someone that doesn’t work for your organization.