ALP: How can a private foundation support a charity that lobbies?

November 2005

Many private foundations associate advocacy with lobbying. As a result, these foundations overlook a valuable and legal tool to promote their charitable objectives.  A “foundation” means a Section 501(c)(3) organization that is a private foundation. A “public charity” or “charity” means a Section 501(c)(3) organization that is not a private foundation.

Foundations may not lobby.  But foundations can be advocates.  And foundations can support charities that lobby – so long as foundation funds are not earmarked for lobbying.  By following IRS rules, foundations can safely play a role in formulating public policy – they can be advocates.

An effective advocacy tool available to a private foundation is grant making to public charities that lobby. There are two IRS safe harbors for foundation grants to charities that lobby. The safe harbors apply even if the charity uses grant funds to lobby, so long as there is no earmarking.