Movement Organizations

Social movements are collective efforts, some organized, some impromptu, with a goal to bring about some change important to movement participants. Well-known movements that have resulted in beneficial changes include those for civil rights, women’s rights, children’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, worker rights, immigrant rights, environmental rights, animal rights, democracy, and peace. But, as we’ve witnessed, each of those movements can be further divided into more specific efforts that often conflict with each other. And that can diminish the impact of the broader movement.

Movement organizations allow for more formal structures and coordination of change efforts. Organizations can raise and expend resources, employ staff, enter into contracts, build more sustainable infrastructures, enforce codes of conduct, gain better access to elected officials, and provide liability protection to their leaders and agents. These attributes allow movement efforts to coalesce and become more strategic.

But movement organizations are just parts of the movements with which they are associated. And they come with their own challenges. Organizations can become internally focused, reliant on autocratic structures, beholden to wealthy donors and funders, and burdened by bureaucratic complexities. Some movement organizations can change the course of a movement through negotiations, compromises, and bridge-building. That may or may not be more effective in achieving the movement’s goals consistent with its values, but regardless of the ultimate impact, it can build distrust and resentment that is largely unavoidable and must be carefully managed.

Movement organizations are typically nonprofits. In the United States, such organizations are often nonprofit tax-exempt organizations, including 501(c)(3) charitable organization, 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations, 501(c)(5) labor organizations, and 501(c)(6) business leagues. Each of these tax-exempt organizations is subject to different requirements and consequently engage in different activities from the others. But they share advocacy as a permissible activity to further their tax-exempt purposes. And, other than churches and other houses of worship, they generally provide for some level of (1) transparency through information returns and other public filings and (2) accountability to federal and state regulators.

501(c)(3) Movement Organizations

Public charities, which include churches, are most commonly associated with movement organizations. Many colleges and universities are also public charities. While they may not be movement organizations, these educational institutions may be high-profile centers of movements. And how they manage particular movements on their campuses may determine whether they are viewed as supporters or opponents of such movement even if they desire to appear neutral.

Public charities may engage in all kinds of advocacy efforts without limitation if they are in furtherance of their charitable missions and otherwise consistent with applicable laws. See Nonprofit Advocacy is More than Lobbying. However, there are limitations on a public charity’s lobbying activities and a strict prohibition against political campaign intervention. Generally, the vast majority of public charities can lobby subject to generous limits and more forgiving rules if they make the 501(h) election, which can be done very simply by filing Form 5768 with the IRS. See Measuring Lobbying Activity: Expenditure Test (IRS). Supporting or opposing a candidate for public office is absolutely prohibited and can result in revocation of a public charity’s 501(c)(3) status, even if this law (known as the Johnson Amendment) appears to be lightly enforced. Public charities may still engage in common election-year activities like voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives if done in a nonpartisan manner.

Private foundations may also engage in all kinds of advocacy activities but, unlike public charities, they cannot engage in lobbying. They may, however, support public charities that lobby through unrestricted grants or restricted project grants that are not earmarked for lobbying. They are also subject to the prohibition on political campaign intervention. See Private Foundations May Advocate (Bolder Advocacy, Alliance for Justice).

501(c)(4) Movement Organizations

Social welfare organizations may sometimes be the best choice of form for a movement organization. Like a 501(c)(3) organization, a social welfare organization has a mission focused on the public benefit. But the social welfare organization can engage in lobbying in furtherance of its mission without limitation and also in political campaign intervention activities so long as they do not represent its primary activity. This means that these organizations can endorse candidate for public office and even provide resources to support or oppose such candidates.

Contributions to social welfare organizations are not deductible as charitable contributions. But this may have less importance if organizations and taxpayers understand that only about 10-13 percent of taxpayers receive the benefit of a charitable contribution deduction because the great majority of taxpayers take the standard deduction. Private foundations may make grants to social welfare organizations but such grants may require expenditure responsibility, a set of rules that most private foundations choose to avoid. Accordingly, social welfare organizations may not be ideal recipients of private foundation grant funding.

What are the names of 10 specific social movement organizations best known for major changes to our laws?

  1. American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU): Known for its work in defending civil liberties and individual rights through litigation and advocacy.
  2. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP): Played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement, advocating for racial equality and desegregation.
  3. Planned Parenthood: Aims to provide reproductive health care services and advocate for reproductive rights, including access to abortion.
  4. Human Rights Campaign (HRC): America’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group, working towards equality for LGBTQ individuals, including legal recognition and protections.
  5. National Organization for Women (NOW): Aims to advance women’s rights and equality through litigation, advocacy, and grassroots mobilization.
  6. Sierra Club: Known for its environmental advocacy, including efforts to promote conservation, combat climate change, and protect natural spaces through legal means.
  7. Greenpeace: An international environmental organization known for its direct action campaigns and legal advocacy to address environmental issues and promote sustainability.
  8. National Rifle Association (NRA): Known for its advocacy of gun rights, the NRA has had a significant impact on shaping gun laws in the United States through lobbying and legal challenges.
  9. ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now): Historically focused on issues such as affordable housing, voting rights, and fair wages, ACORN has been involved in legal battles to advance social and economic justice.
  10. American Association of Retired Persons (AARP): Advocates for the rights and well-being of older Americans, including through legal advocacy on issues such as healthcare, Social Security, and age discrimination.

– ChatGPT

What are the names of 10 specific nonprofit organizations active in social movements that have arisen in the past 10 years?

  1. Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation: Founded in 2013, this organization focuses on combating anti-Black racism and advocating for systemic change.
  2. Sunrise Movement: Established in 2017, this youth-led movement aims to address climate change through advocacy, political action, and community organizing.
  3. Me Too Movement: While not technically a nonprofit organization, the Me Too Movement emerged in 2006 but gained significant momentum in the past decade. It focuses on addressing and combating sexual harassment and assault.
  4. March for Our Lives: Founded in 2018 by survivors of the Parkland school shooting, this movement advocates for stricter gun control laws in the United States.
  5. Fridays for Future: Initiated by Greta Thunberg in 2018, this global movement consists of school students who strike every Friday to demand action on climate change.
  6. The Bail Project: Established in 2018, this organization provides bail assistance to individuals who cannot afford it, with a focus on combating mass incarceration.
  7. United We Dream: Founded in 2008 but gained prominence in the past decade, this organization advocates for the rights of undocumented immigrants in the United States.
  8. The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI): Founded in 1989, EJI gained significant attention in the past decade for its work on criminal justice reform, racial justice, and challenging mass incarceration.
  9. #MeTooSTEM: This organization, established in 2018, focuses specifically on addressing sexual harassment and gender discrimination within the field of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
  10. While founded in 2008, has been a key player in the climate movement in the past decade, advocating for divestment from fossil fuels and promoting renewable energy solutions.

– ChatGPT

Random Thoughts

Expressions made by participants in a movement will often include statements that are unrelated and damaging to the goals of the majority participating or to the values embodied by the statements of movement leaders. Opponents of a movement may include politicians and judges who use such unrelated and damaging expressions to criticize or attack the movement. Irresponsible media editors and publishers may also focus on such expressions to increase their own visibility and sales. Misleading the public for purposes of achieving a desired outcome runs contrary to what many of us see as community norms and ethics.