105 posts categorized "Public Affairs"

How Philanthropy Can Catalyze Private Investment in Opportunity Zones

March 13, 2019

Oppzones_792x800The U.S. Department of the Treasury expects Opportunity Zones to unlock well over $100 billion in private investment in low-wealth communities across the United States. The tax incentive, which became law as part of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, seeks to encourage patient capital investments in more than eighty-seven hundred designated census tracts across the country by permitting investors to reinvest capital gains in designated census tracts in exchange for tax benefits.

Opportunity Zones represent the first time federal tax policy has sought to tap unrealized capital gains to advance economic and community development. Proponents believe the incentive will help transform low-wealth communities, while skeptics have doubts that funds will flow to the people and places most in need — and, even if they do, that the ensuing transformation will have a positive impact on longtime residents and small businesses.

Against this backdrop, philanthropy should step up and help shape the Opportunity Zone landscape so that benefits of the legislation also accrue to longtime residents and businesses.

Here are six ways philanthropy can help:

1. Shape the rules of the game. Philanthropy can influence IRS guidelines for Opportunity Zones — and, if necessary, follow-on legislation — to ensure that the incentive is implemented in a manner that reflects the interests of communities and the intent of the program. For some foundations, this may include support for developing and tracking metrics, stakeholder interviews to uncover opportunities and issues, and/or deep-dive case studies of specific transactions. The data from these activities can then be used to generate valuable tweaks to the design of the program. As always, data-driven insights will be critical to making the case for modifying, fine-tuning, or extending the incentive.

2. Level the playing field. Foundations are well suited to ensure that communities are poised to attract investor interest and have a seat at the table as Opportunity Zone transactions are negotiated. Organizations such as Accelerator for America are already working with cities across the country to create investment prospectuses, while others such as the Governance Project are working with municipal leadership to develop business cases and strategies for priority projects in communities such as Louisville and San Jose. There is far more that can and should be done, however, and the unique features of rural Opportunity Zones must also be accounted for so that those communities are not left behind.

3. Incentivize investor behavior. Capital is likely to follow the path of least resistance. This does not imply that social returns cannot be integrated effectively into Opportunity Zone transactions. Rather, it is incumbent on philanthropy to help create an environment where community benefits, standardized impact reporting, and related activities become "no-brainers" for investors. The Opportunity Zones Reporting Framework, a voluntary guideline recently introduced by the U.S. Impact Investing Alliance and the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation at Georgetown University, is an important initiative aimed at defining best practices for investors and fund managers looking to deploy capital in Opportunity Zones.

In addition to support for emerging norms and guidelines, we see a few additional ways to create incentives for investors to focus on social returns. Philanthropy can partner with impact-oriented investors to demonstrate what is possible in real-world transactions. A few carefully selected and constructed demonstration deals could begin to unlock practices across similar asset classes in different places. Philanthropy could also support a high-profile annual award for the highest-impact transactions, as well as the equivalent of a "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" for Opportunity Zone transactions and funds.

4. Create investable opportunities. Now that the Opportunity Zone incentive exists, the challenge is to develop a robust pipeline of transactions that meet both the needs of communities and the return expectations of investors. To that end, philanthropy can help by identify projects for investment and provide the upfront investment needed to take an idea to the project proposal stage. Once a deal has been conceptualized, philanthropy can play a role in reducing risk exposure for investors so that deals with the greatest potential to drive positive change proceed.

In addition, because Opportunity Zones are a new tool, template agreements and other documentation needed to enable transactions do not yet exist. Philanthropy can help there by investing in efforts to establish a collection of model agreements that could be shared across locations and projects. Such an investment would reduce transaction costs and help establish norms and expectations with respect to social impact.

5. Build wealth for local residents. It's inevitable that new investment dollars will change Opportunity Zone neighborhoods. As such, it's important to minimize displacement risks and create upside for residents, including small business owners, by better meeting their current needs and creating mechanisms for wealth creation throughout the process, including at exit. This could include clauses that commit project sponsors to hiring from within the community, financial upside for local organizations, and/or clauses for business owners to buy back their equity at a pre-agreed price. To do this effectively, philanthropy should engage with investors and local leaders to seed and share demonstration transactions that show the way.

6. Accelerate progress via coordination and knowledge sharing. Ultimately, the strength of the Opportunity Zone program is that it is inherently local. While each of the designated census tracts is unique, there are common challenges and patterns across designated zones. Philanthropy can help accelerate results and improve the allocation of scarce resources by supporting coordination and communication within and across markets. These activities might include seeding "open-source" solutions, sharing learnings across stakeholder groups, and promoting coordination among leading actors across the country. While informal coordination and information sharing happens today, thoughtful investments by philanthropy could truly super-charge impact.

It seems as though Opportunity Zones have captivated all of us working to build more equitable communities and a more inclusive economy for all Americans. Though the debate about the incentive's long-term impact will continue, the reality is that Opportunity Zones are here to stay. Whether you are an optimist or skeptic, now is the time for philanthropy to step up and demonstrate how this new source of private capital can shape the evolving market landscape and positively impact communities in need of a boost.

Headshot_rhett_tammy_janeRhett Buttle is founder of Public Private Strategies (PPS) and a former Obama administration official. Tammy Halevy is a senior advisor with PPS and an expert in innovative community development finance with a focus on small business. Jane Campbell is a senior advisor with PPS and the former mayor of Cleveland. The PPS team is advising philanthropies on how to best engage with Opportunity Zones.

Caring for the City’s Caregivers

January 08, 2019

Housing_affordabilityThat wise woman Rosalyn Carter once said, "There are only four kinds of people in the world. Those who have been caregivers. Those who are currently caregivers. Those who will be caregivers, and those who will need a caregiver." We all have a stake, one way or another, in caregiving and in what happens to the individuals who provide that valuable service. And here in New York City, caregivers, quite simply, deserve better care from all of us.

A City in Need of Assistance

New York City turns to its not-for-profit human services sector for essential caregiving for people without homes, parents, or job prospects and, of course, for caregiving services that enable older New Yorkers to age in their communities, living independently with the assistance they need to stay connected to friends and meaningful activity. According to the city's Department for the Aging (DFTA), there are approximately 1.64 million older adults currently residing in the city's five boroughs. As these individuals age, their need for a range of services will grow, and the role that not-for-profits like JASA play in providing those services will become ever more critical.

The continued health of not-for-profit human service organizations relies heavily on employees who interact directly with their clients. Navigating the complexities of the legal, social services, and healthcare systems, not to mention simple life activities, can be challenging at times for any senior, but for those struggling with health, housing, and other issues, it can be overwhelming. There is a real need for the work my organization does, and that need continues to grow.

At the heart of our work are the relationships we build. The key to providing quality services hinges on being able to recruit and retain individuals who genuinely care and are able to establish a connection to the client that fosters trust. Finding skilled individuals is the first challenge. It is not uncommon in 2019 to hear not-for-profit employers say there are more jobs out there than qualified applicants to fill them.

The second, and perhaps even more critical challenge, is retaining good people once you've brought them into your agency. This is particularly true when speaking about social workers, case workers, home health aides — anyone advocating for, providing a necessary service to, or offering older adults assistance in navigating the many challenges they typically face as residents of a large city with a complex and often confusing network of services.

Client trust is key to what we do, and as they say, it is something that must be earned. A revolving door of individuals who continually need to re-familiarize themselves with a client's unique situation tends to breed hostility and distrust. Those feelings, in turn, make it harder for a caregiver to fully learn and understand the challenges that a client faces, and to identify solutions that will benefit her. There's also an added burden on staff when colleagues leave and there are fewer individuals to share the workload — a too-common occurrence that tends to increase stress and reduce an agency's ability to provide quality services, which may prompt still more staff turnover.

Building a Network of Support for Caregivers

There are many dimensions to engaging and retaining good employees. Meaningful work may be the biggest draw — because, to be candid, no one ever went into social work for the money. But there are other incentives, including:

  • having a supervisor who respects you and listens to what you have to say
  • getting recognition for your contributions
  • feeling part of the organization and knowing that it appreciates what you do and what you care about
  • mentoring and professional development

And, of course, compensation that is fair. This is always a challenge. As a not-for-profit agency, we stretch every dollar we take in to provide the critical services New York City's seniors need. Having to rely on government contracts makes it especially difficult. State and city requirements for program staffing and salaries, as well as indirect program costs, stress our bottom line. The burden of ever-increasing accountability adds to the financial challenges we face.

The city's commitment to an increased minimum wage is a good start in terms of bolstering hiring and fostering retention, in that it helps individuals on the lowest end of the pay scale. But there are knock-on effect to a higher minimum wage. Individuals who are supervising minimum-wage employees who are earning more money as of January 1 may find themselves at the same pay level as the people they supervise. Don’t they deserve a pay raise? Where does an agency, hamstrung by inflexible state and city contracts, find the dollars to create a fair pay scale for all its employees?

New York City not-for-profit agencies quite simply find themselves between a rock and a hard place. Advocating for increased wages for hourly workers makes good sense and is the right thing to do. Higher salaries tend to result in a more skilled, committed workforce and better employee retention rates, and ultimately result in a better service model. But if government isn't adequately compensating agencies that provide services, those agencies inevitably will seek out philanthropic dollars to make up the shortfall — and that, as we know, is not something that can be counted on as a consistent, steady source of income.

Here in New York, in addition to inadequate government contracts, employers also face the issue of a higher-than-average cost of living. The reality is that many workers in New York City simply cannot get by doing the work they are trained to do.

A recent report from the New York City comptroller Scott M. Stringer asserts that New York City is suffering from an affordable housing crisis, with individuals at the low end of the pay scale being forced to devote up to 74 percent of their income on housing. We certainly see it affecting the city’s older adult population, with our affordable housing units for seniors having, in some cases, a ten-year waiting list.

And we hear it from our employees as well.

Mayor Bill de Blasio is working to create more affordable housing units in the city, an effort that is to be applauded. Affordable housing is critical to attracting employees to the social services. But the sad reality is that the mayor’s actions to date are not enough. Employees earning minimum wage cannot afford New York's "affordable" housing. And if workers cannot afford to live here, where will agencies find the employees they need to meet the demand for and provide ever-more-critical services?

In his report, Stringer lays out several steps the city could take to help align affordable housing to the need, including working more closely with nonprofit developers to create affordable housing units on city-owned property. But that is only part of the solution. Common sense tells us that a more comprehensive, coordinated government effort is needed if we are to move the needle on this issue. The city and state desperately need federal dollars to address the city’s housing crisis — a crisis that grows more serious by the month for not-for-profits that provide vital community services.

At the end of the day, attracting and retaining workers who provide care to elderly and other vulnerable populations is not just the responsibility of the not-for-profit agencies who employ them; it also the responsibility of government — city, state, and federal — and the officials we elect to represent us.

Headshot_Kathryn_HaslangerKathryn Haslanger was appointed chief executive officer of JASA, a nonprofit agency serving older adults, in November 2012. The organization's services, which include affordable housing, adult protective services, elder abuse prevention and intervention, legal services, health promotion, mental health, home care, and home-delivered meals, are designed to keep seniors — of all races, religions, and economic backgrounds — living safely in their own homes, in familiar surroundings, with independence, dignity, and joy.

Building the Power of Immigrants and Youth of Color

January 02, 2019

BP+LCF+Siren+Rally059852Services, Immigrant Rights & Education Network (SIREN) - Bay Area has spent the last several years building the political power of immigrant and youth voters with the aim of shifting the political landscape in the region and across the state. In 2018, we doubled down on our commitment to building this political muscle by registering more than fifteen thousand new immigrant and youth voters, contacting a hundred and sixty thousand already-registered voters, and mobilizing more than two hundred volunteers. In the 2018 midterm elections, our efforts helped generate one of the highest turnouts in state history for a midterm and resulted in the passage of critical local and state ballot measures, as well as the defeat of House members opposed to immigrant rights. 

One of SIREN's youth leaders, Miguel, participated in phone banking and door-to-door canvassing of Spanish-speaking voters. Although Miguel and his family cannot vote because of their immigration status, the day after the election he told us: "The community was my voice at the polls yesterday. Immigrants and youth came out and demonstrated our power in Northern California and the Central Valley. Through our voting power, we are passing policies in our state and region that are impacting our families, and we will carry our momentum into 2019 to fight for immigrant rights and protections for immigrant youth."

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Don’t Wait Until 2020 to Invest in Youth Leaders

December 13, 2018

Youth_engagementFor anyone interested in increasing youth civic engagement, the midterm elections are a cause for celebration. In the election,
31 percent of youth (ages 18-29) voted — according to at least one source, the highest level of participation among youth in the past quarter-century.

Traditionally, support for youth civic engagement declines at the end of an election cycle and resumes as the next cycle starts to heat up — along with thought pieces about why young people don’t vote. To break this pattern, I offer a suggestion: increase investment in youth organizing groups now; don't wait until 2020.

The country is in the middle of a massive demographic shift, with young people of color the fastest-growing segment of the population. The key to developing a robust and inclusive democracy that reflects this shift is to support the active civic participation and leadership of this group. And the best way to do that is not to wait until the start of the next election cycle to pour millions of dollars into advertising to reach young voters.

Instead, we should support organizations led by young people of color that are engaged in year-round organizing around both voter engagement campaigns and efforts to address issues in their local communities. Issue campaigns focused on quality schools, immigrants' rights, ending mass incarceration, and preserving reproductive rights are what motivate young people to become engaged in the world around them and, by extension, the electoral process.

Take the Power U Center for Social Change and Dream Defenders, youth organizing groups in Florida that have been organizing to end mass incarceration and the school-to-prison-pipeline. In the lead up to the midterms, both groups worked tirelessly in support of a ballot measure to restore voting eligibility to formerly convicted persons, and as a result 1.4 million people in Florida have had their voting rights restored. If those ex-offenders are organized effectively, most of them will vote — and in ways, hopefully, that strengthen their communities.

From where I sit, there are three reasons to double down on investments in youth organizing groups:

Youth organizers are good at engaging voters of all ages. Some youth organizing groups have focused on engaging young voters; others are organizing whole communities. Power California, a statewide alliance of more than twenty-five organizations, works to harness the power of young voters of color and their families. Between September and November, the organization and its partners worked in forty counties to get young Californians to head to the polls and make their voices heard on issues that affect them. Through phone calls, texting, and targeted social media, the organization talked to more than a hundred and fifteen thousand young voters and registered and pre-registered more than twenty-five thousand young people of color. Other organizations such as Poder in Action in Phoenix, Arizona, engaged young people in their communities because these young people are knowledgeable and passionate about the issues in play and serve as highly effective messengers. Our takeaway: investing in youth leaders generates results, now and for decades to come.

Engaging the pre-electorate now increases civic participation in the future. Many of the young people organizing and canvassing with grantees of the Funders' Collaborative for Youth Organizing were ineligible to vote because they hadn't turned 18. But while they weren't old enough to cast a ballot, many of them were active in knocking on doors and making calls to encourage others to vote. Today's 16- and 17-year-olds will be voting in 2020, and we should be supporting organizations working to engage them. These organizations are a vital resource for developing the next generation of civic leaders.

Youth organizers play a vital role in connecting issues and voting. Over the last several years, we've seen the emergence of a number of organizations that are organizing young people of color around issues in their communities and helping them engage electorally as part of a broader goal of creating a just and equitable society. These groups are developing the next generation of young leaders, organizing campaigns aimed at improving quality of life in their communities, and encouraging people, young and old, to get out and vote. Recent research shows that this kind of organizing is one of the best ways to support the academic growth, social and emotional development, and civic engagement of young people, and these groups are our best hope for actively engaging young people today, as well as developing a pipeline of leaders equipped to solve future challenges.

Unfortunately, funding for this work has been sporadic, often showing up — in insufficient amounts — just before elections and then disappearing as soon as the last vote has been counted. To build a just and inclusive society, we must make a significant, long-term investment in the leadership of young people of color willing to organize around issues and engage voters, both young and old.

The 2018 election cycle has come to an end. Our investment in youth organizing shouldn't. It is time to get serious about supporting the next generation of leaders.

By 2020, it'll be too late.

Headshot_Eric BraxtonEric Braxton is executive director of the Funders' Collaborative on Youth Organizing, a collective of social justice funders and youth organizing practitioners that works to advance youth organizing as a strategy for youth development and social change.

Labor Trafficking — an Immigration Issue

December 12, 2018

Hotel_cleaningConversations about immigration typically center around undocumented immigration, family sponsorship, and refugees. Very little attention is paid to the link between immigration and human trafficking — and that's unfortunate, because it is an urgent problem across the United States. 

While sex trafficking is the most familiar form of human trafficking, labor trafficking is another form of exploitation enabled by glaring defects in our immigration system. A 2004 report from the U.S. State Department estimated that upwards of 17,500 people are trafficked into the country every year, while a more recent report from Polaris, an anti-human-trafficking organization, identified six temporary visas most commonly associated with labor trafficking. These visas tie individuals to their employers or agency sponsors, making it nearly impossible for workers to break free from employers, even when working in conditions that are exploitative or abusive. 

At Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Los Angeles (Advancing Justice-LA), we work with survivors of labor trafficking who are brought to the U.S. and forced to become modern-day slaves by fraudulent employers. As a member of the California United Fund, a coalition of eight immigrants rights organizations dedicated to improving the lives of immigrants in the state and beyond, we are working to help victims of labor trafficking live dignified, independent lives in the U.S. 

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Philanthropy's Under-Investment in Holding High Finance Accountable: A Gamble We Can’t Afford

October 17, 2018

Monopoly_top_hatTen years ago, President George W. Bush signed into law the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, authorizing $700 billion in federal funding to buy troubled assets from banks deemed to be in danger of failing as a result of the subprime foreclosure crisis.

A lot has changed since then, but one thing has remained the same: progressive philanthropy continues to under-prioritize efforts to hold the financial industry accountable.

It's a choice that risks undermining the headway progressive foundations are making on issues of inequality and wealth building. Placing big bets on policies designed to lift up low- and moderate-income communities while failing to address the accountability of financial institutions is a gamble we cannot afford to take — not least because it puts at risk the very people we are trying to serve.

American households lost $16 trillion in wealth in the years after the 2007-08 financial crisis. And while some experts estimate that Americans have regained $14.6 trillion, or 91 percent, of those losses in the decade since, the collapse affected different segments of society unequally, with the gains just as unequally distributed. In other words, both the crash and the recovery increased inequality in America.

The impact on African Americans was especially profound. Nearly 8 percent of African-American homeowners lost their homes to foreclosure in the years after the crisis, compared with only 4.5 percent of white homeowners, and between 2007 and 2010 African Americans saw their retirement accounts lose 35 percent of their value. Indeed, according to the National Association of Realtors, African Americans lost fully half their wealth as a result of the financial crisis.

It's not just the likelihood of future financial crises that should give philanthropic leaders pause; it's also the fact that an under-regulated and unaccountable financial industry will continue to target communities of color and low-income communities with sketchy products and put vulnerable households at risk.

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Philanthropy Delivers an Outcome — and Its Name Is Brett Kavanaugh

October 07, 2018

Kavanaugh_swearing_inWhen the U.S. Senate voted 50-48 on Saturday to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, it was a significant victory for the Federalist Society, and for the foundations that support the organization. It also represented something — an outcome and real impact — that philanthropists of all persuasions crave, and it was achieved through, that’s right, general support grants.

Widely credited for writing the playbook that has guided the Trump administration's judicial nominations strategy, the Federalist Society, by any measure, has been wildly successful. Since Donald Trump's inauguration in January 2017, the U.S. Senate has approved two of his picks for the Supreme Court and some fifty lower court judges. With an additional hundred and fifty appellate and district court seats to be filled, the administration, with the help of the Federalist Society, is on track to have put in place nearly a quarter of all active judges by the end of 2019.

The organization describes itself as a

group of conservatives and libertarians interested in the current state of the legal order. [The Society] is founded on the principles that the state exists to preserve freedom, that the separation of governmental powers is central to our Constitution, and that it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be….This entails reordering priorities within the legal system to place a premium on individual liberty, traditional values, and the rule of law. In working to achieve these goals, the Society has created a conservative and libertarian intellectual network that extends to all levels of the legal community....

As a 501(c)(3) organization, the society receives tax-deductible donations from individuals, but foundations contribute roughly one-quarter of its annual funding. Since 2006, 127 foundations have made $39 million in grants to the organization, 53 percent of which has come from five foundations: the Lynde and Harry Bradley, Templeton, Mercer Family, and Sarah Scaife foundations, in addition to the Searle Freedom Trust. Nearly half of those grants have provided general operating support to the organization, giving it the freedom to use those resources to further its goals without donor-imposed restrictions.

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Weekend Link Roundup (September 22-23, 2018)

September 23, 2018

Grassley_feinsteinA weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Communications/Marketing

"Anyone with a desire to manipulate opinions...knows that our digital dependencies make it easier than ever to do so through supposedly trustworthy institutions," writes Lucy Bernholz on her Philanthropy 2173 blog. What does that mean for nonprofits? "If your communications strategy still assumes that 'hey, they'll trust us — we're a nonprofit' or 'hey, this is what the data say,' " then it's time for your organization to "reconsider both what you say, how you say it, how you protect what you say, and your expectations and responses to how what you say gets heard and gets used."

Democracy/Public Affairs

In a new post on its website, the Community Foundation Boulder County looks at the work of Common Cause to ensure an accurate, representative census count in 2020.

On the Glasspockets blog, Janet Camarena, director of transparency initiatives at Foundation Center, chats with Jennifer Humke, senior program officer for journalism and media at the John D. and Catherine T.  MacArthur Foundation, about how foundation support for participatory media can strengthen American democracy.

Disaster Relief

Roughly 70 percent of the money and resources donated after a disaster like Herricane Florence goes to immediate response efforts, but recovery from such a disaster requires long-term investment. (Just as the folks in Puerto Rico.) Is there a better way to do disaster relief? asks Eillie Anzilotti in Fast Company. And while you're at it, check out our Hurricane Florence dashboard, which is tracking the private institutional response to the storm.

International Affairs/Development

The latest edition of the Commitment to Development Index, which ranks twenty-seven of the world's richest countries by how well their policies help improve lives in the developing world, has Sweden edging out Denmark (which led the index last year) as the top performer. The Center for Global Development has the details

In his latest, Nonprofit Chronicles blogger Marc Gunther piggybacks on ongoing assessments of a Catholic Relief Services direct-cash-transfer program in Rwanda to remind people that scale does not always equal impact.

In advance of this year's meeting of the UN General Assembly, the Rockefeller Foundation is asking folks to weigh in on what they think is the most solvable of the Sustainable Development Goals. 

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Weekend Link Roundup (September 8-9, 2018)

September 09, 2018

6-500x500A weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Economy

It's coming — whether we like it or not. Automation is likely to force a third of American workers  to switch occupational categories by 2030, write James Manyika, Manisha Shetty Gulati, and Emma Dorn in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, with the largest disruption occurring among middle-income workers without a college degree. "[U]nhampered by quarterly earnings calls or the voting cycle," philanthropy can — and will need — to step up. Mantika, Gulati, and Dorn suggest four areas where it can do so.

Education

In The New York Times Magazine, Sarah Mosle reports at length about the many challenges public school administrators face in "finding effective teachers, retaining them and helping those who need to get better."

In a photo essay in the same issue of the magazine, Brian Ulrich looks at the kinds of second jobs that teachers across the country are taking to make ends meet.

Why are many teachers forced to work second jobs? Could it be their wages are lower than ever? Sarah Holder reports for CityLab.

Global Health

On the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Impatient Optimists blog, Steven Buchsbaum, deputy director of discovery and translational sciences in the foundation's Global Health Program, reflects on the launch, nearly fifteen years ago, and subsequent progress of the foundation's Grand Challenges initiative. 

Nonprofits

With summer a fading memory, Beth Kanter has a timely reminder about the causes and costs of lost productivity in nonprofit workplaces.

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Congress Introduces Bill to Revolutionize Philanthropy

August 27, 2018

When Americans picture a "philanthropist," they typically imagine a very wealthy individual — someone who gives billions of dollars away or establishes their own foundation.

Unfortunately, our tax code reinforces this stereotype by providing only the wealthiest Americans with tax benefits for giving back. Only taxpayers who itemize their deductions — those typically in the highest tax brackets — can lower their income taxes by giving to charity. Currently, about 30 percent of taxpayers fall into this category, but with the recent tax reform this number could drop to as low as 5 percent.

That would leave 95 percent of Americans who are denied the opportunity to lower their taxes by giving to charity. A bipartisan group of U.S. representatives has set out to prevent that.

FGA_image_0

On July 26, 2018, Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-MN) introduced a bill along with five co-sponsors that would help redefine the way America gives back by empowering a new class of Everyday Philanthropist.

The Everyday Philanthropist Act (H.R. 6616) seeks to empower working Americans to give back through a Flexible Giving Account (FGA). An FGA is a pre-tax payroll deduction for employee giving. Non-itemizers and itemizers alike would be able to set up an FGA through their employer, set aside a portion of their paycheck pre-tax to be donated to the charity of their choice, and immediately see their taxable income reduced. The employer would benefit as well from a reduction in its payroll taxes.

By empowering millions more Americans to give back, the legislation would dramatically increase charitable giving in the U.S. But the Everyday Philanthropist Act offers more than that.

The legislation represents a chance to initiate a major shift in the way America gives back. The FGA would encourage a culture of shared responsibility in the workplace, one in which employers assume a more impactful role in empowering their employees and the workplace is transformed into a community where employees at every income level feel inspired to give and engage.

With an FGA, tax-deductible giving would no longer be a privilege reserved for a select few. Instead, it would be an opportunity, attainable by all working Americans, to come together and create a positive impact in the communities they care about.

As a champion of the Everyday Philanthropist Act, The Greater Give will continue to work with members of Congress to encourage them to join Representative Paulsen in supporting this legislation and the millions of charities, businesses, and Americans who would benefit from it. The legislation has already garnered public support from many in the charitable sector, including Community Health Charities, America's Charities, and the Wisconsin Philanthropy Network.

To learn more about the Everyday Philanthropist Act and what you can do to support it, visit thegreatergive.org or follow The Greater Give on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Headshot_dan_rashke2_for_philantopicDan Rashke is the Founder of The Greater Give, a 501(c)(6) formed to increase charitable giving by cultivating a movement of shared responsibility between employers and their employees. Rashke also is the CEO of TASC, a third-party benefits administrator based in Madison, Wisconsin.

On 'Fake' Victories and the Need to Act

August 02, 2018

American-Poverty-768x512While no one would argue that Donald Trump is a student of history, he and other Republicans seem to have taken a lesson from a former "dean" of the Senate, George Aiken (R-VT), who was alleged to have said of U.S. involvement in Vietnam that we should simply "declare victory and get out." How else to explain the things Trump and Republican politicians are doing to "address" poverty in America?

Most of us have learned that the president, members of his administration, and his congressional allies are adept at creating "alternative facts" through exaggeration, misrepresentation, and plain old dissembling. After a one-day summit meeting in June with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un generated nothing in the way of detailed policy agreements, Trump declared that the North Korean nuclear threat had been eliminated. (Real-world developments subsequently invalidated the president’s assertions.) Similarly, at an extraordinary press conference following an unprecedented private meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, the president dismissed the consensus view of American intelligence agencies that Russia was actively working to undermine our electoral and democratic processes and declared that no such threat exists. And now the president is focusing his magical-thinking act on the home front.

In July, the Trump administration declared "victory" in the War on Poverty — the unofficial name for a series of federal initiatives introduced in the 1960s by the Johnson administration to help people move out of poverty and provide assistance to those in need — and declared that poverty in the United States was no longer a problem the federal government need worry about. The administration's declaration was stunning on two counts: Republicans have a long history of opposing the War on Poverty, and poverty remains a huge problem in America.

Established measures of poverty show that in 2016 about 12.7 percent of Americans — roughly 43 million people — lived in poverty. And a recent United Nations study found that 18.5 million Americans are facing "extreme impoverishment." In fact, close to 2 percent of the population – more than 5 million of us — live on no more than $4 a day, including government assistance. Even more alarming, more than a few moderate-income Americans are included in a Federal Reserve study which found that 40 percent of us would not be able to cover an unexpected $400 expense without having to sell something or borrow the money.

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Every Person Counts: Why Philanthropy Must Help Save the Census

July 31, 2018

2020_censusIn philanthropic circles, when we talk about protecting democratic institutions and values we often focus on expanding voting rights, improving representation, and connecting impoverished communities with the resources they need. However, all these issues — and many others — are tied to another fundamental pillar of American democracy: the decennial census.

Every decade since 1790, the government has counted the American population, as mandated by the Constitution. While it took the Fourteenth Amendment to ensure that all people were counted equally, the census has nonetheless performed an essential role in maintaining and improving our democracy. Today, our country uses census data to apportion congressional representation; to draw federal, state, and local legislative districts; and to enforce civil rights laws. Businesses use census data to decide where to open, offer jobs, and provide goods and services. The census helps cities and states identify locations for large infrastructure projects like schools, senior centers, public transportation, hospitals, and police services. It determines how roughly $700 billion in federal funds in 2015 were distributed and allocated to programs such as Medicaid, Head Start, and Section 8 housing.

If the 2020 census yields inaccurate data, programs like these — and the people who depend on them — will be in serious jeopardy. Projects may be deprived of crucial funding and entire communities denied fair representation in government. In other words, the consequences of a poorly conducted census will ripple through the public and private sectors, and through civil society, for at least the next ten years.

Unfortunately, there are mounting challenges to achieving a fair, accurate, and complete census in 2020.

The Census Bureau notes that certain populations — people of color, young children, and rural households among them — have been undercounted historically. On top of that, Census Bureau researchin 2017 revealed that the current political climate could further discourage census participation. According to the bureau's own Center for Survey Management, concerns about data sharing and privacy are growing, "particularly among immigrants or those who live with immigrants," which in turn could have a "disproportionate impact on hard-to-count populations."

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Philanthropy in the War Zone

July 12, 2018

Broken-glassMost of the things philanthropists care about — civility, moderation, partnership, consensus — are fast disappearing. Our country, and much of the world, seem to be moving to a kind of scorched-earth politics in which division along ethnic, racial, religious, gender and identity lines is the currency of power. As ideologies become more rigid, people increasingly are balkanized into spatially segregated communities and social media echo chambers. In this kind of undeclared war, being right and winning are all that matter, with seemingly no aisle to cross and no common ground.

How should foundations navigate the world of 2018 and beyond? How can they? To be sure, foundations have something valuable to contribute — flexible resources free from market, electoral, and fundraising pressures. But will they use them to fight, transcend, or simply ignore the conflict that surrounds them?

Fight to Win…

As long as they do not run afoul of IRS restrictions on explicitly partisan political activity and lobbying to influence specific legislation, foundations and their grantee partners may and often do engage in politics (with a small "p"). One way to track foundations’ political engagement is to look not at the "what" of their grantmaking but the "how." At Foundation Center, we refer to these as "support strategies," which include cross-cutting approaches such as advocacy, coalition building, accountability, grassroots organizing, litigation, and systems reform. Collectively, these approaches have accounted for $27.5 billion in funding around the world since 2006. While that is less than 6 percent of total grantmaking over the same period, it is a significant amount and, in recent years, has grown. When we have more complete data for 2017 and 2018, I’m sure it will show the trend is accelerating.

“As befits a sector that prides itself on its diversity of perspectives, foundations have different views of what the solutions should be....”

Foundations are also striving to make American democracy itself work better. Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy (a web portal developed by Foundation Center) shows that since 2011 more than 5,600 foundations have made some $4.2 billion in grants for work related to campaigns, elections and voting, government effectiveness and transparency, and civic participation. As befits a sector that prides itself on its diversity of perspectives, these foundations have different views of what the solutions should be. Consider, for example, a grant from the Grogan Family Foundation to Judicial Watch "to fight corruption and voter fraud" and a grant made by the Joyce Foundation to the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Education Fund for "…developing and promoting a reform agenda that includes redistricting, judicial independence and voting rights." Both foundations and their grantees are working to improve the electoral process, but they have diagnosed the problem differently and are supporting quite different remedies.

Implicit to the theories of change that guide this kind of work is the idea that approaches developed by grantees eventually will be reflected in party platforms and government policy. But there are plenty of indications that growing numbers of Americans view the political establishment, government institutions, and parties themselves as part of the problem rather than the solution. Increasingly, we find ourselves mired in a culture war in which the rules of engagement seem to reward portraying "the other" as an enemy to be vanquished, rather than as a potential partner in the search for a common future. In such a war, foundations increasingly will need to ask themselves and their grantees how far they are willing to go to "win." Should foundations support groups that dehumanize immigrants by derisively describing government policy toward them as “catch and release” (a term whose origins relate to sport fishing)? Should they support groups that demonize their opponents when they casually label them Nazis or fascists?

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Weekend Link Roundup (June 23-24, 2018)

June 24, 2018

USATSI_10905933Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Advocacy

In the face of political change and uncertainty, advocacy organizations "are being called on to do more and do it faster while funders scramble to implement strategies that best support them. Yet current operating realities for advocacy organizations pose distinct hurdles to staying adaptable and nimble." On the Nonprofit Finance Fund blog, Annie Chang and Elise Miller look at three common dynamics in the social advocacy space and explain what they mean for nonprofits and funders.

Demography

In a majority of U.S. states, deaths now outnumber births among white people, "signaling what could be a faster-than-expected transition to a future in which whites are no longer a majority of the American population." Sabrina Tavernise reports for the New York Times.

Education

Education Week's Madeline Will reports on a study from the RAND Corporation and the American Institutes for Research (with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), which found that the Gates Foundation’s "multi-million-dollar, multiyear effort aimed at making teachers more effective largely fell short of its goal to increase student achievement — including among low-income and minority students."

Health

"Many of us may be familiar with cultural competency — being respectful and responsive to the health beliefs and practices — and cultural and linguistic needs — of diverse population groups," writes Jennifer McGee-Avila, a third-year doctoral student in an interdisciplinary program offered by the Rutgers School of Nursing and New Jersey Institute of Technology in Urban Systems. "[But to] achieve a deeper understanding of our patients, it is essential for providers to practice 'cultural humility' and acknowledge the unique elements of every individual's identity."

Giving

The secret to happiness is...giving to others? In a guest post on the GuideStar blog, Moshe Hecht, chief innovation officer of crowdfunding program Charidy, explains the science of lasting happiness.

Grantmaking

On our sister GrantCraft blog, the Jim Joseph Foundation's Seth Linden and Jeff Tiell explain why the foundation has begun to invest in "small experiments as a way of learning about the creativity and innovation that is happening in the Jewish world."

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Tax Cuts (and Politics) Have Put the Safety Net at Risk. What Are You Going to Do About It?

May 30, 2018

Fish-safety-netThe demand for human services — everything from food for the hungry to family planning for those who may be struggling to take care of the children they already have — is growing. But if recent proposals floated by President Trump and congressional Republicans become policy, charities will be faced with dramatic increases in both the scale and scope of need, even as they struggle with cuts in funding to meet them.

It is urgent for nonprofits to join forces to persuade Congress to reject ideas that create greater need. Charities have to help re-establish the kind of bipartisan political agreement about safety-net programs that used to be the norm. And foundations must fuel such efforts.

In May, the U.S. House of Representatives failed to pass a Farm Bill with vital anti-hunger provisions after many of its most conservative members withheld their votes. By doing so, Freedom Caucus members hoped to get concessions on spending as well as a future vote on an anti-"Dreamers" immigration bill that the vast majority of their colleagues find too mean-spirited and extreme to consider.

Had the bill passed (as it most likely will in the coming weeks despite united Democratic opposition), it would have required that individuals enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) work at least twenty hours a week. Given the life circumstances of many SNAP participants, including some of the hardest-working people in America, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office calculates that the bill (in its current form) would deny more than a million adults and children much-needed food assistance.

Republicans base their insistence that SNAP recipients be required to work on research by the Foundation for Government Accountability, an obscure policy group headed by a former aide to Maine's ogre-ish governor, Paul LePage. FGA's work has been criticized by both conservative and liberal scholars as having no basis in credible fact, but in our current political climate it seems that many Republican lawmakers favor junk science and "alternative facts" over demonstrable reality (as they have demonstrated with notable intentionality in their opposition to action on climate change).

Desperate to cut government spending in the face of a deficit they ballooned with a $1.5 trillion tax cut, congressional Republicans and the White House are turning on those most in need — as was made clear by Trump budget director Mick Mulvaney, who wrote in a 2017 opinion piece: "Under President Trump's leadership, we're now looking at how we can respect both those who require assistance and the taxpayers who fund that support. For the first time in a long time, we're putting taxpayers first. Taking money from someone without an intention to pay it back is not debt. It is theft. This budget makes it clear that we will reverse this larceny." That's right: the Trump administration thinks government-funded social services for the poor are a form of theft.

The president is determined to continue down the same path in 2018 and has proposed cuts totaling more than $15 billion in previously approved spending, with half of that coming from the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and $100 million coming from Hurricane Sandy relief funds. Congressional Republicans fearful of what they may face in November’s midterm elections have temporarily rebuffed Trump, but the president has said he will propose an additional $10 billion in cuts to safety-net programs in the coming weeks.

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    — Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

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