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2012 promises to be an action packed year with presidential elections and the accompanying debate, competition, advertising, and promises. Politics will definitely be in the air. And they may find their way to the doorstep of a non-profit you are involved with. That could be good news – an elected official who believes in your cause, who wants to help attract attention and funding to your organization. Or is it?

Politicians and nonprofits can be an explosive mix. We offer a few questions to help you proactively consider how your organization wants to be involved in campaigns this coming year.  What are your motives as a board member or executive in aligning your organization with an elected official, or one in the running? Will you do so quietly or publicly? If quietly, then why not publicly? Do you want something in return, or do you believe in the candidate’s platform regardless of whether her election could enhance your organization?

And what about the motives of an incumbent or candidate? Is he making promises in return for your endorsement? Will he support your institution if you do not endorse him? And what if she loses? Is there a potential downside? Could your being on the “wrong side” impact future funding or community standing?

What does it mean to be politically astute? Will you offer all candidates an opportunity to know your organization, its activities, goals and vision? Will you campaign for select individuals? Make endorsements? What is the difference between making your case to a candidate and making an endorsement?

How will your organization be viewed by donors and funders if your board decides to align itself with one candidate over another? If your institution engages people of all political backgrounds, how will an endorsement impact those who support a different candidate?

There is a difference between the mayor, or governor serving in an honorary position for your institution or campaign. In these instances you are engaging the office of the mayor, for example, not the individual. Be careful to understand the difference. You should call on your elected officials to make your case in the state capital or Washington DC. But, the fact that an elected official helps advance your organization should not make you beholden to the individual. It is their responsibility as an elected official to represent their constituency and to secure funds or advocate for policies that will benefit the people they represent.

Make a conscious decision about whether or not you want your organization to be viewed as politically aligned, or apolitical. Take some time to think about what actions you are willing to take in the coming year, and to look carefully at how those actions may impact your institution and the people you serve or advocate for.

© Copyright Saad & Shaw.  Mel and Pearl Shaw are the owners of Saad & Shaw. They help non-profit organizations and institutions with fundraising strategy. They are the authors of How to Solicit a Gift: Turning Prospects into Donors. Visit them at or call (901) 522-8727

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