Massachusetts Food System Collaborative
Massachusetts Food System Collaborative

Advocacy for nonprofit organizations

For many food system organizations, working toward systemic change means working to change policies, laws, and regulations that affect the work of food system businesses and institutions, and the lives of the people they serve. Nonprofit organizations are allowed to participate in both advocacy and lobbying activities, with some restrictions. There is significant confusion about the difference between advocacy and lobbying and what is allowed under the laws regulating nonprofits; as a result, some nonprofits unnecessarily limit their advocacy work. We encourage you to learn about the laws and regulations around advocacy and lobbying. It’s not as complicated, or as restrictive, as you might fear.

Before engaging in direct advocacy or lobbying, the MA Food System Collaborative encourages organizations to be familiar with the federal and state regulations around limitations on nonprofit activities, as well as Massachusetts’ rules regarding registering as a lobbyist. We also recommend being aware of your funders’ restrictions on these activities, as some have rules about using designated funds for advocacy. The following links provide a starting point for your research into these issues.

Massachusetts lobbying laws

IRS: Lobbying rules for charities and nonprofits

Independent Sector: Lobbying Guidelines for Public Charities

National Council of Nonprofits: Everyday Advocacy

Foundation Center: Can nonprofits engage in advocacy or lobbying efforts?  

Alliance for Justice: Influencing Legislation

This resource is offered for educational purposes and does not constitute legal advice.

Massachusetts Food System Collaborative