A Note on Lobbying

It is always important to understand whether any activities you are planning could fall under the IRS definition of lobbying. This is especially true if you receive a Voices for Healthy Kids grant to support your efforts, because no Voices for Healthy Kids funds can be used to support lobbying. Generally, any activity or communication that takes a position on specific pending or proposed legislation—for Congress, a state legislature, a city council, or a town meeting—could be considered lobbying in some circumstances. Below are some examples of communications that may be considered lobbying, as well as those that are not.

Lobbying:

  1. “Contact your legislator and ask him/her to support bill number XXXX.”
  2. “Click here to sign the petition to support bill number XXXX.”
  3. A communication to legislators that supports bills not yet introduced: “Iowa should adopt Arkansas’ Shared use Agreement grant program!”

Non-Lobbying:

  1. “Ask your legislators to offer incentives for schools to open their doors for the community to get active!”
  2. “Sign the petition to urge our school board members to vote yes to open the doors to gyms and playgrounds during non-school hours!”
  3. “As a concerned Jacksonville parent, I ask all my neighbors to join me in encouraging school officials to help keep our area’s school doors open when school isn’t in session.”

In the example above, note that the second example in the right-hand column is not lobbying even though it asks school board members to vote a particular way on a specific shared use proposal. School boards are not legislatures, so it is never lobbying under the IRS rules to ask school board members to support or oppose a proposal before their board.

Look for the following icon throughout this toolkit, which identifies areas where lobbying may come into play:

When you engage in activities that may involve lobbying, consult your legal counsel, as well as the Lobbying vs. Non-Lobbying Checklist in the appendix of this toolkit, to help determine whether you need to use lobbying funds. Lobbying efforts must be supported with other funds, and these costs must be tracked separately from non-lobbying efforts. All types of activities, both lobbying and non-lobbying, can help promote healthy lifestyles in your community; however, if your ultimate goal becomes the passage of specific legislation, you will probably need unrestricted funds to conduct some of your work.

This toolkit is written for organizations that are legally able to lobby and have lobbying and non-lobbying funds available. (Public charities are able to conduct a limited amount of lobbying, while private foundations are not. Governmental entities are subject to different rules; check with your legal counsel for details.)

In this toolkit you will find important tips for understanding the distinctions between lobbying and nonlobbying activities, as well as when to use lobbying funds versus non-lobbying funds. We have provided examples to help you understand the distinctions between lobbying and non-lobbying activities so you can plan your activities strategically, without violating restrictions on your non-lobbying funds. Please also be aware that some states have additional rules that may be relevant to your activities, such as registration and other requirements; this guide does not address those state rules.