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Engaging in Public Policy for Nonprofits

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Nonprofits and foundations operate within a complicated array of laws, regulations, and opportunities to partner with government. Many times, laws and regulations empower or constrain the actions a nonprofit or foundation can take on behalf of the clients they serve. On the other hand, many nonprofits receive substantial funding from the government to deliver services to individuals and communities. Some nonprofits (such as hospitals) receive a major portion of their budgets through government reimbursement and contracts for services.

Both nonprofits and private foundations can lobby, although the rules are different with respect to these two types of organizations. Lobbying may be conducted with the federal, state, and local governments, and it can be defensive (reacting to laws passed or regulations written by units of government) or proactive (seeking to partner with units of government on programmatic activities) in nature.


Nonprofits often provide the vehicle for citizens to invoke their First Amendment rights of assembly, speech, and the right to petition government.

For these reasons, it is important that nonprofits know the law regarding their various relationships with government. Equally important, nonprofits should advocate for their communities or interest areas by communicating with elected officials, regulators, and representatives to develop and implement public policy that achieves common goals.

There are many resources to help guide nonprofits and foundations that desire to become involved in public policy advocacy. The following are a few examples:


Internal Revenue Service – Charities and Nonprofit Lobbying – Click Here

Provides information on lobbying and lobbying regulations for nonprofit organizations.


Independent Sector – Click Here

Provides a comprehensive overview of regulations for 501(c)(3) organizations and private foundations and a link to the 2nd edition of The Nonprofit Lobbying Guide.


Michigan Nonprofit Association – Advocacy Primer – Click Here

Provides resources on advocacy for nonprofits, as well as a regularly updated Michigan Primer which provides information on legislative action that may be of interest to nonprofits in the state.


Council of Michigan Foundations – Click Here

Provides information for foundations, including resources and updates on important legislative action in the state.