Think about the position of a not-for-profit organization in a community considering a ballot issue to raise taxes (school bond issue, public facility levy, local option tax). The organization probably has members on both sides of the issue. Some may just be against tax increases of any kind. Others may benefit directly or indirectly in some way – they may be a construction contractor or perhaps a financial institution providing resources for a project. There are any number of possibilities. What should they do if asked to express an opinion on the subject?
Choosing Sides or Choosing Silence
Choosing sides, and overtly favoring or opposing a ballot is probably not the right direction to go. Someone is sure to be unhappy – and that’s just not a good place to be for an organization dependent on member dues, investments or charitable contributions. Not to mention, certain not-for-profit organizations can’t take sides without jeopardizing status with the Internal Revenue Service.
Remaining silent doesn’t seem constructive either. A community organization such as a local development group should care about tax policy, public budgets and generally the business climate in their respective communities. “No comment” just doesn’t work.
Staying Neutral While Getting Involved
In most cases the right answer is help inform their members and contributors, the community and voters of the factors to consider when making their decision in the voting place. For example, a reasonable stance for any economic develop organization is to support a tax policy that is stable, predictable and comparable to neighboring communities. The conventional wisdom would be that a tax policy that is in the range of “normal” isn’t going to affect business location decisions, and the community will likely have enough resources to provide reasonable levels of service.
Non-profit organizations can also bring their knowledge about an issue to the table and share information about factors that might affect policy choices. Again, using the economic development organization as an example, this might include things like the ratio of commercial to residential property in a community, the comparative density of development, the cultural and social characteristics of the community, or the comparative level of average household incomes. Helping people understand facts and context can simply contribute to more informed decision making. And broadly speaking, shouldn’t everyone work to foster civil community engagement?
Walking the Line
Walking the line between advocacy and opposition can be a tricky path to follow, and keeping information balanced and factual is not easy. Silence is the easy option, but not necessarily the right one. If you find yourself at this trailhead, our team has the background and experience to help you navigate safely.