Rules of Advocacy & Lobbying: Private Foundations

The rules of advocacy and lobbying for private foundations differ somewhat from community and public foundations.

As a private foundation, the law allows the following:

Advocacy

not allowedLobbying

not allowedFunding Lobbying

Advocacy

Yes, private foundations may engage in advocacy activities as described under our Rules of Advocacy. This includes a range of activities that do not involve the expression of a view or an attempt to influence a particular piece of legislation.

Learn more about the ways in which your foundation can engage in advocacy.

Lobbying

Typically, no—private foundations may not engage in lobbying activities. There are a few notable exceptions to this rule, though.

One of these exceptions involves self-defense communications with legislators, their staff, and executive branch officials involved in the policymaking process concerning legislation that would affect your foundation’s existence, powers and duties, tax-exempt status, or right to receive tax-deductible contributions. This exception also allows private foundations to fund lobbying related to such legislation, but does not permit efforts to influence the opinions or actions of the general public on such matters.

Another exception to the prohibition on lobbying is the written request for technical assistance from a legislative committee, subcommittee, or other governmental body. Your foundation is permitted to respond to such a request with broad information on a specified topic or issue, but may not include specific recommendations on legislative issues.

Funding Lobbying

No, private foundations may not fund lobbying activities. However, your foundation is permitted to fund public charities that engage in lobbying activities—as long as no portion of those funds are granted with the specific intent of being used for lobbying.

There are a couple of ways to operate within the boundaries of the law while granting to public charities that engage in lobbying activities. The first is through a general support grant. Your foundation may decide to support a number of public charities that engage in lobbying activities, and as long as there is no written or oral agreement earmarking those funds for lobbying, this is typically permissible.

The second way your foundation may fund lobbying is through a project-specific grant. With this type of grant, private foundations can fund a project that contains a lobbying element, as long as the grant does not exceed the amount of the non-lobbying elements.

For example, let’s say your foundation receives a grant proposal for $50,000 to fund a project with a total budget of $100,000.

Example Budget: Project-Specific Grant
Lobbying Budget for Project: $10,000
Non-lobbying Budget for Project: $90,000

Total Cost of Project:

$100,000

In this example, granting $50,000 is well within the boundaries of the law. In fact, your foundation can fund up to $90,000 for this project—the line is drawn when the grant amount exceeds the budget for non-lobbying expenses. 

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Advocacy & Lobbying
An overview of the laws that govern what private foundations can and can't do regarding involvement in the advocacy space.

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