A project of the Afterschool Alliance

Celebrating in an Election Year

Lights On Afterschool provides an excellent opportunity for political candidates to speak to constituents about their commitment to afterschool. The presence of candidates can raise the profile of your event and increase media attention.

Don't miss this opportunity because you're worried about remaining non-partisan or appearing to endorse a particular candidate. You can host a candidate for office and still remain nonpartisan!

Lights On Afterschool is a great way to introduce candidates and elected officials to the world of afterschool. Elected officials can always speak in their official capacity. If you invite elected officials to speak in support of your issue in their role as public officials, ask them not to discuss the campaign or mention the election.

Other candidates also want to be visible in the community, and Lights On Afterschool is all about building and demonstrating community support for afterschool programs. However, when a person speaks as a candidate—and not in their official capacity as a public officeholder—your organization must exercise more caution. You may invite candidates to speak at your Lights On Afterschool event, but only if you follow these rules:

  • The organization invites all candidates for a particular elective office;
  • All invitations are sent at the same time, and all non-responding candidates receive the same follow-up requests from the organization;
  • Any mention of candidates in publicity materials either A) provides all candidates with equal billing, or B) simply states that candidates will appear, without naming the candidates;
  • All candidates address the audience in the same portion of the speaking program (i.e., not giving one candidate a prominent spot, while the other is relegated to the end of the program);
  • Introductions of candidates are neutral and roughly equal (within what’s possible, given the candidates’ differing biographies);
  • All candidates are provided the same amount of time to speak;
  • Candidates either are free to speak on any topic they choose, or are asked to address the same general topic (i.e., asking them to discuss their views on afterschool care, but not asking them to agree or disagree with any particular platform or position of the organization); and
  • If any candidate is not able to make it to the event, or declines the invitation, an official of the organization should note that invitations were sent to all candidates, and that certain candidates were unable to attend.

All aspects of these requirements should be carefully documented by the host organization.

To summarize, when working with candidates use equal access and reach out to every candidate for that particular office with equal intention and no sign of organizational support for any one candidate over any other. But don’t fear: it’s easier than it may sound.

Visit our Campaign for Afterschool Toolkit for helpful guidelines to stay nonpartisan as well as resources to make the case that afterschool is a winning issue.

Sample Invitation Letter to Candidates for Office from 501(c)3 Programs

Dear [NAME]: 

On [DATE], our afterschool program will be participating in the national Lights On Afterschool celebration. We will be one of more than 7,500 sites across the nation that will help send the message that afterschool is key to children's success, and that we must keep the lights on and the doors open after school. Local parents, media, employers, artists, neighbors, school officials and others have been invited to help us rally support for safe, stimulating afterschool programs. 

We would like you to be part of our local celebration scheduled: 

Date:
Time:
Place:
Address: 

Our program is going to include a half hour ceremony, during which we would be honored to have you speak. 

Because [ORGANIZATION NAME] is a tax-exempt organization under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, we cannot support or oppose any candidate for public office and our Lights On Afterschool event must be a strictly non-partisan manner. All public officials and candidates for office who are invited to participate at the event are asked not to use it as a campaign opportunity in any manner, including distributing campaign literature, soliciting votes, recruiting campaign volunteers or collecting campaign contributions. These rules apply to staff and supporters as well. 

The benefits of quality afterschool programs are clear. They support working families by ensuring that children are safe and productive when the school day ends. Quality afterschool programs make our communities stronger by involving students, parents, business leaders and volunteers. They give children the opportunity to discover hidden talents as they grow academically and socially. 

I hope you will join us to celebrate Lights On Afterschool on [DATE]. I will call you next week to confirm your availability. We hope that you will help us keep the lights on after school so that we can inspire all our children to reach for a brighter future. 


Sincerely, 
[YOUR NAME, TITLE]