Candidate questionnaires are a valuable tool to foster discussion among candidates, public officials, and voters about the issues that affect your organization. There are a few basic rules to follow to ensure that your organization does not run afoul of IRS restrictions and election regulations prohibiting nonprofits from engaging in partisan political activities:
1. Questionnaires must be sent to all candidates running for any particular office. Follow up to make sure that your questionnaire was received by all candidates.
2. Questions must be phrased as neutrally as possible. They cannot be framed in a way that biases the answers toward a particular position that is favored by your organization or by a particular candidate or political party. The National Mental Health Association advocates using open-ended questions to ensure that the questionnaire is not viewed as an attempt to sway voters for or against any of the candidates.
3. All responses received must be included in their entirety in any print or online report about the questionnaire. You cannot edit, summarize, or analyze the responses.
4. Any publication or listing of questionnaire responses must include the names of all candidates to whom the questionnaire was sent, even if no response was received.
Many national and state nonprofit organizations have developed candidate questionnaires that can be used or adapted for local use. As you inquire about candidates' views on your particular mission, don't forget to include questions on the broader climate for philanthropy and nonprofit initiative.
Please share your own organization's activities or any resources, online or otherwise, that would help other nonprofits encourage voter participation and raise the visibility of issues important to them during this election season—email: publicpolicy@IndependentSector.org.
Last Updated: June 6, 2007