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Explained: Priority Legislation Lists

June 17, 2024

Nonprofit organizations that have a 501(c)(4) designation have different rules and freedoms than their more commonly known counterpart, the 501(c)(3). An organization with the (c)(4) classification is considered a “social welfare organization,” which can engage in lobbying and advocacy efforts that promote social welfare (e.g., they can gather petition signatures to convince lawmakers to pass legislation, or they can visit legislators directly to share their issues). A social welfare organization can participate in political legislative campaigns and elections. 

One of the most important freedoms of a 501(c)(4) is the ability to keep people informed of the bills that are moving through legislatures and help identify which ones are the most important to their members.

For example, an environmental justice organization may have a priority legislation list of bills making their way through the legislature that would make a huge impact on climate. While a women’s rights organization may promote a list of legislation related to pay equity and reproductive rights. 

Priority legislation lists help organizations focus their advocacy and lobbying efforts on passing bills aligning with their issue areas and mission. A priority legislation list, also known as a policy agenda, helps an organization identify the bills it wants to support and put its limited resources towards. By concentrating on impactful legislation that aligns with its mission, organizations can strategically focus their campaign efforts, coordinate activities with other organizations and coalitions, and better advocate for policy outcomes. 

Additionally, by focusing on specific legislative issue areas and priorities, organizations can build alliances with organizations that have similar missions and issue areas. This allows organizations to share resources, build capacity, and amplify their advocacy efforts. In other words, priority legislation lists are a powerful tool!

Want to know which organizations you support are 501(c)(4)s and have priority legislation lists?

Social welfare organizations can be found at all levels of government, from counties to federal, and can range from political ideology to specific issue areas. You can check their “about” page online to see their classification and find their issues, or look them up in the IRS’s organization search tool. Visit The Dream Alliance’s 2023 California Legislative Priorities to see an example of a past policy agenda.  

While the priority of having priority legislation is to help pass impactful legislation – it also highlights an organization’s values and helps communicate to its members, donors, and voters the issue areas it is dedicated to advocating for.