Friends and Advocacy

Friends and Advocacy

Friends of the Library groups play varying roles in support of their libraries. Some manage an annual, semi-annual or ongoing book sale to raise money for the group or for the library. Others offer programs featuring prominent authors, speakers or musicians. Some sponsor “Let’s Talk About It” discussions or local book clubs. Others host receptions at library events. Some carry out major fundraising campaigns. Others may simply be social in nature. Many do some or all of the above!

Whatever roles your Friends group takes on, there’s no question that the organization as a whole and its member individually can be powerful advocates when it comes to lobbying state and local elected officials. (Yes, Friends can lobby, even if they are 501(c)3 nonprofits – see Lobbying, Non-Profits and Tax Exemption, below.) In fact, along with trustees, Friends are usually your most powerful advocates. It’s often a lot easier for community library supporters to get traction with elected officials than it is for a library director or library staff.

Here are some ways that Friends can help:

  1. Contribute to NCPLDA for advocacy; this help pay for our lobbyist – our eyes and ears in Raleigh.

  2. Host a reception or library tour for your elected officials to educate them about state and local library issues. An excellent idea is to have a reception for newly-elected officials before they take office, or invite them for a library tour one-on one.

  3. Talk individually with elected officials about the library. Why is the library important to you? Why is a current issue affecting the library important to you? How will it affect the community you represent?

  4. Sign up to receive email advocacy alerts and respond promptly to them.

  5. Show your support by getting a big group together to support the library at key meetings and events, such as local budget meetings or Library Legislative Day in Raleigh. When offered the chance at public meetings, speak up for the library!

  6. Send birthday cards to elected officials, and “congratulations” cards when warranted (on winning an election, for instance).

  7. Make sure your group belongs to Friends of NorthCarolina Public Libraries (FONCPL), and send representatives to FONCPL regional and state meetings. These are excellent forums for exchanging ideas and often focus heavily on advocacy.

  8. "Like” I Love NC Public Libraries on Facebook.

Lobbying, Non-Profits and Tax Exemption

Questions about the legality of lobbying by non-profit Friends of the Library groups often arise, but it’s a myth that non-profits cannot lobby. Presuming that your Friends group has received tax exempt status under section 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue Code, it can act to influence legislation so long as lobbying does not constitute a “substantial part” of its overall activities (http://www.irs.gov/Charities-&-Non-Profits/Measuring-Lobbying:-Substantial-Part-Test). “Substantial part” is not defined; if the IRS concludes that an organization has engaged in excessive lobbying, it can be subject to fines and/or loss of tax exempt status among other penalties.

There is a way, however, that organizations can establish an objective test for lobbying that protects them from sanctions if they stay within certain parameters. This is to elect 501(h) status (http://www.irs.gov/Charities-&-Non-Profits/Measuring-Lobbying-Activity:-Expenditure-Test). In doing so, the organization knows that it cannot spend more than a fixed amount/percentage of its overall expenditures. For example, groups with annual expenditures of $500,000 or less can spend no more than 20 percent of their exempt-purpose expenditures on lobbying (most Friends groups fall into this category). To elect, a group must file Form 5768 (http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f5768.pdf) in the year it anticipates lobbying; the election remains in effect for subsequent years until the group revokes it.