International Development, Community, and Environment


Why Some Politically Active 501(c)(4) Organizations Are More Effective Than Others (SSN Key Findings Brief)

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501(c)(4) social welfare organizations – called c4s for short – are a unique type of nonprofit organization. Unlike donations to 501(c)(3) public charity organizations, contributions to c4s are not tax deductible. With that, c4s can engage in unlimited advocacy and lobbying and can endorse issues, policy positions, and candidates, as long as these activities are consistent with the c4’s social welfare mission. C4 organizations typically possess civic-minded missions, though many do not engage in direct advocacy or lobbying (i.e. senior citizen organizations, community service clubs, and sports groups). C4s have a reputation as organizations that conceal enormous campaign spending and influence politics in ways that are bad for democracy.

Despite their negative reputation, many c4s are doing important work that strengthens democracy by engaging people who are regularly are left out of politics, helping them influence electoral, legislative, and governing decisions. Adding to their importance, many c4s are developing sophisticated organizational models anchored by well-trained, highly experienced professional staff and broad and deep constituent memberships. The research I am conducting with colleagues examines the structures and functions of “high capacity” c4s and suggests ways funders and organizations can enhance the effectiveness of c4s that are working to advance social welfare.

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Scholars Strategy Network

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