Guidelines for Health Center Advocacy

Health Center Lobbying: What Is It? And Can I Do It?


Can Health Centers Lobby?
YES, health centers can engage in lobbying activities.  They have a responsibility to give voice to the needs of heir patients and communities.  However, there are limits under the law as to what on-profits, including health centers,  can do.  First, health centers CANNOT USE ANY FEDERAL FUNDS TO LOBBY.  Second, you should keep lobbying expenses below 5% of your organization’s time and effort. And your health center CANNOT support, oppose, or contribute to candidates for elective office (although you personally can as a private citizen).

What Is Lobbying?
There are two types of lobbying, and health centers should use both when appropriate. Direct lobbying means communicating directly with a public official’s office and urging support or opposition to a specific piece of legislation or referendum. Grassroots lobbying means urging others to communicate with a public official. Both are critical to making an impact with elected officiasl.

What Isn’t Lobbying?
If you are not pushing for or against a specific piece of legislation or public initiative, but are merely asking for general support or providing objective information, you are educating, and not lobbying. Answering questions or providing information to an elected official or a staffer who has requested it, does not constitute lobbying.

Where can I find the IRS guidelines on non-profit lobbying?
The IRS has created a page that answers all these questions.

How Can I Impact Governmental Decisions?
The most effective way to deliver your message and build a relationship with an elected official is a face-to-face meeting, preferably at your health center. Written communication to your legislator remains one of the most effective ways to deliver your message. The more personal the communication, the more effective it is. You can now deliver your message by mail, fax or e-mail. Letters and other forms of written personal communications (including emails) remain the most effective communication tools – short of personal visits. Letters from constituents that are well written, and briefly explain the issue and concisely state your position and concerns will be noticed in a congressional office. Remember however, that “snail mail” may take weeks to actually reach a legislator’s office.

Can’t I Just Call?
When time is short, a personal phone call to legislators, their chief of staff or key healthcare aides is an effective way to communicate your views. As with all grassroots advocacy, your call is most likely to receive attention if you have developed a personal relationship with the legislator or staffer. Often, calls are “logged” as for or against a particular issue. Making a well-timed call can tip the balance in your favor especially when combined with calls from many of your colleagues on the same issue.

Find your elected officials here. 

What Else Should I Be Doing?
You, and everyone you know who supports your Health Center, should join NACHC’s Grassroots Advocacy Network.

For more information, see the documents below. If you have questions about advocacy at your health center please contact Amanda Pears Kelly.

03-01-2011 Questions and Answers About Health Center Lobbying and Advocacy 
03-01-2004 Information Bulletin Information Bulletin #8
Legislative And Political Advocacy For Health Centers: Allowable Scope of Public Policy Activities