Posts tagged ‘Congress’

November 8, 2018

Did the Midterm Elections Help or Hurt Your Nonprofit?

I’m a news junkie. So, I was up very late on election night, actually very early the next morning. Now that I’ve caught up on some sleep, I’ve been thinking about what the midterm election means to charities. In this post, I’ll layout some of my nonpartisan thinking. Just be warned, I’m also going to share some statistics and a bit of history as we consider what the election means for the nonprofit sector.

The midterm elections this week resulted in the Democratic Party regaining control of the US House of Representatives. Let’s put that into a bit of historical perspective. Despite successfully securing a majority in the House, the Democratic Party’s much-hoped-for Blue Wave did not materialize. As I write this post, the Democrats are expected to gain a 27 to 34 seat advantage over Republicans in the House. However, Republicans not only hung on to control of the Senate, they actually enhanced their position by three to five seats.

To put the Federal election results into some context, let’s look at the 2010 midterm elections during President Barack Obama’s second year in office. Going into the 2010 election, Obama’s approval rating was six points higher than Trump’s was prior to the 2018 election. Nevertheless, Democrats lost 63 House seats and lost six Senate seats.

“[The 2018 midterm elections are] only the third time in the past 100 years that the party holding the White House has gained seats in the Senate in a midterm election while losing seats in the House,” according to MarketWatch. “The President’s party has won seats in both the House and Senate just twice in the past century in a midterm election.”

This all means that both Democrats and Republicans can declare success this week. But, what about the nonprofit sector?

While it’s too early to know with any certainty, there are some things we learned on election night and other things we can learn from history:

1. Impact on the Election. In the lead up to the vote, nonprofit organizations flexed their muscle along with their corresponding Political Action Committees. On a variety of issues, the nonprofit sector demonstrated that it could have a profound impact on public policy. Regardless of where you stand on the issues, here are just a few examples to illustrate the point:

In Massachusetts, the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Campaign, MassEquality, Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts, The Yes on 3 Campaign, and other organizations joined forces and scored a massive victory on election night when voters, by a two-to-one margin, reaffirmed the rights of transgender people.

In North Carolina, voters approved a measure directing the legislature to amend the state constitution to guarantee the right of citizens to hunt and fish. This was a victory for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and the National Rifle Association.

In Florida, the Humane Society of the United States and PETA persuaded voters to change the state constitution to ban greyhound racing.

Nonprofit organizations have political power. When nonprofit organizations join forces, they can have a dramatic effect on public policy.

2. Good News for the Stock Market. Historically, Americans prefer divided government, so it’s not surprising that Democrats were able to regain control of the House. Like the populace, the stock market also prefers divided government.

“Here’s what Investor’s Business Daily found, looking at S&P 500 returns during each two-year election cycle, from election day to election day. The best outcome, an average 18.7% two-year return, came when Congress was divided. Unified control of Congress by the same party as the president yielded an average 17.3% two-year gain. When control of Congress was unified under the opposition party, gains averaged 15.7%.”

If the stock market goes up, many donors will own appreciated stocks that they can donate to charities. Foundations will see their stock holdings grow and, therefore, have more money to grant to nonprofits. That would be good news for investors and charities.

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January 5, 2018

How Bad is the New Tax Code for Your Charity?

If you’ve been reading the mainstream press, or even some of the industry media, you might believe that the future is all doom and gloom for charitable giving thanks to the Tax Cut and Jobs Act. But, how bad will things really be for you and your nonprofit organization?

As a former newspaper editor, I know that the media lives by the axiom: If it bleeds, it leads. In other words, negativity attracts readers and viewers, which in turn attracts advertising dollars. So, it’s no surprise that the media have put the new tax code in the most negative light when it comes to charitable giving.

Fortunately, reality is something quite a bit different. Let me explain, using figures from 2016 (the most current numbers available).

Overall, charitable giving totaled $390.05 billion. US Gross Domestic Product totaled $18.6 trillion. Therefore, total philanthropy in 2016 equaled 2.1 percent of GDP.

As a result of the new tax code, charitable giving could decline by approximately $21 billion, according to Patrick Rooney, PhD, Executive Associate Dean for Academic Programs and Professor of Economics and Philanthropic Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University.

However, is that number accurate? Unfortunately, we have no way of truly knowing as Rooney himself states.

For example, the estimated philanthropic decline of $21 billion does not take into account the impact of a likely increase in Gross Domestic Product.

Because philanthropy closely correlates to GDP at the rate of approximately two percent, we can expect a rise in GDP to result in a rise in giving.

So, how much will GDP rise? Again, no one knows for certain. The estimates vary greatly from 0.08 to 0.35 percentage points. The Tax Foundation provided the latter estimate. Applying that percentage to the 2016 GDP, we would see GDP increase by $651 billion. If two percent of that increase goes to charitable giving, that would be approximately $13 billion. So, Rooney’s prediction of a $21 billion decline in philanthropy could be mitigated partially by GDP growth resulting in just an $8 billion drop in giving. However, even that number could be further offset by growth in foundation giving resulting from robust growth in the stock market.

Simply put, the new tax code could increase GDP and stock values leading to more charitable giving that could, at least partially, offset any potential decline in giving resulting from the new tax policy.

For the sake of discussion, however, let’s assume a $21 billion drop in giving, as Rooney outlined. That would take philanthropy as a percentage of GDP from 2.1 percent to 1.9 percent, using 2016 numbers. This is still within the 40+ year historical range.

The bottom line is that the new tax law could result in a decline in charitable giving. However, we don’t know for certain if that will be the case and, if it is, how much the dip will be. Even if there is a dip, giving will still remain at historically typical levels, around two percent of GDP. Furthermore, there is the possibility that the pundits are mistaken and that charitable giving will actually increase. Time will tell.

While the new tax code may change how and when people donate, history teaches us that changes in the tax code have only a short-term impact on the amount of giving though the methods and timing may vary. For example, the Reagan tax cuts resulted in greater year-end giving in 1986 before giving normalized thereafter. Furthermore, while a dip of billions of dollars is a big number, the reality is that it is not massive in the context of overall philanthropy.

Here are some of the relevant items you need to know from the 500+ page Tax Cut and Jobs Act signed into law on December 22, 2017 by President Donald Trump:

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February 3, 2017

Urgent: Join #Fundraising Colleagues for Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill

President Trump’s tax plan would reduce charitable giving by 4.5 to 9 percent, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. Analysis from the American Enterprise Institute estimates that Trump’s current tax proposal could eliminate more than $17 billion in annual giving.

It’s time to join the fight against any efforts to reduce charitable-giving incentives. As the US Congress drafts tax-reform legislation and negotiates with the Trump Administration, The Charitable Giving Coalition, Chaired by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, is hosting an advocacy day on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on Feb. 16, 2017.

capitol-hill-by-elliott-p-via-flickrTo participate, you must email Ali Davidson (adavidson[at]urbanswirski.com) to register by the end of business on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017. When you register, provide your name, organization, state, and Congressional district. There is no charge to participate, but you will be responsible for your own travel and lodging expenses.

The “100 Years of Giving Fly-In” advocacy event is a great chance to meet with policymakers and their staff to advocate for maintaining the full value of the charitable deduction, as well as its possible expansion.

Over the years, I’ve participated in a number of advocacy events with AFP. They are fun and interesting. Moreover, it’s exciting to help make an important difference for the entire nonprofit sector. But, to make a difference, our sector needs to show up. You need to show up.

The Charitable Giving Coalition says:

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July 7, 2016

Should You Worry about Election-Year Tax Plans?

As Americans, we should be generally concerned with who our next President will be. The outcome has both personal and professional implications for you, even if you’re one of my international readers.

Presidential Seal by Jason Seliskar via FlickrWho will be best for the future of the nation and the world? Who will voters elect?:

Whether you’re a nonprofit manager, fundraising professional, and/or donor, you should also be concerned about which of the candidates will be best for the charity sector. Government policies, particularly tax policies, can have a significant impact on charitable giving.

If new government policies lead to greater economic growth, nonprofit organizations will likely benefit. Giving USA has shown that charitable giving consistently correlates to roughly two percent of Gross Domestic Product. So, if the nation experiences more robust economic growth, we can expect more robust philanthropic growth. The converse is also true.

If new government policies lead to greater personal income, nonprofit organizations will likely benefit as Giving USA has revealed that giving also consistently correlates to approximately two percent of personal income.

So, which Presidential candidate is best? Well, that’s a simple question with a complex answer. Evaluating the potential impact of each plan will never generate a consensus among economists. Furthermore, it’s doubtful that any of the plans will be adopted as presented. Congress will still have its say. And Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has introduced his own tax proposal.

While I will not tell you which candidate will be best for the country and the nonprofit sector — I don’t happen to own a crystal ball — I will provide you with a few key, relevant highlights of each plan. I hope you’ll then take the time to learn a bit more about each candidate and his/her proposals so that you can make an informed choice this November and be prepared when change arrives.

I also encourage you to visit the seemingly non-partisan website I Side With to take a quiz that will match your answers with the positions the candidates have taken on a variety of issues. At the conclusion of the quiz, you’ll be told how your positions align with those of each of the candidates. The results might surprise you. If you’re one of my international readers, I still encourage you to take the quiz to see how our presidential candidates align with your values so you’ll know who to root for.

Now, let’s take a brief look at some of the highlights from the various tax proposals:

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May 18, 2016

New Donor Advised Fund Legislation Introduced in Congress

Late last year, the Federal Government made the IRA Charitable Rollover permanent. Now, just months later, Congress is considering a bill that would expand the IRA Rollover provision. If passed, the measure would allow donors to contribute IRA dollars to a Donor Advised Fund in addition to 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations.

Arc of Washington by Eric B Walker via FlickrIn the US Senate, Sen. John Thune (R-SD) introduced S-2750, Charities Helping Americans Regularly Throughout the Year Act. In the US House of Representatives, Rep. George Holding (R-NC) introduced a companion bill: HR-4907, The Grow Philanthropy Act of 2016.

(Just as an aside, I have to ask: Who came up with these bill names? I’m not sure if they suffered from too much creativity or not enough. In any case…)

The Senate bill has been assigned to the Finance Committee while the House bill has been sent to the Ways and Means Committee. At this point, it’s unclear whether either bill will receive a floor vote. And, if a vote is held, it’s uncertain whether the measure would pass. You can track the progress of the bills at GovTrack.us.

Even if the bills do not pass this year, it’s doubtful the matter will be dropped. Remember, it took many years before the existing IRA Charitable Rollover became permanent. So, unless the new measure passes this year, I think we can expect the matter to come up again.

Some fundraising professionals believe that DAFs are good for the nonprofit sector because they encourage more giving. Others believe that DAFs are harmful because they divert funds away from operating nonprofit organizations. Still others believe that it doesn’t matter what we think about DAFs because they’re here to stay.

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December 21, 2015

Breaking News: Charitable Giving Incentives Made Permanent!

The US Congress has approved and President Barack Obama has signed the so-called Tax Extenders package that not only includes a number of charitable giving incentives, such as the IRA Charitable Rollover, it has made those incentives permanent.

An article in Forbes, prior to passage of the legislation, nicely outlines the measure’s major provisions including the key charitable giving incentives:

  • deduction allowed for charitable contribution of real property for conservation purposes,
  • taxpayers over age 70 1/2 may make donations directly from an IRA and will not be taxed on the amounts (up to $100,000),
  • a shareholder in an S corporation will be required to reduce his basis in the S corporation’s stock under Section 1366 only for his share of the basis of property contributed by the S corporation; not the fair market value.

This is a tremendous moment for the nonprofit sector. Not only have these important giving incentives been renewed, they have been made permanent!

We all owe thanks to the staff and volunteers of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, particularly General Counsel Jason Lee. AFP has taken the lead in fighting to get these giving incentives and making them permanent.

Santorum and MJR

Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) and Michael J. Rosen on Capitol Hill.

For more than a decade, I’ve worked with my AFP colleagues, first as a member of the US Government Relations Committee, then founding Board Member of the AFP Political Action Committee, and then as Board Chairman of the AFP PAC.

Our efforts date back to assisting with the drafting of the CARE Act with then-Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA). The bill was co-sponsored by then-Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT). Despite the bipartisan effort, the CARE Act failed to pass. However, certain charitable giving incentives that were part of the CARE Act were adopted, on a year-to-year basis, including the IRA Charitable Rollover. It took a decade but, finally, the incentives are now permanent!

I’m proud to have been able to play a significant role on this issue. I’ve enjoyed working with other passionate volunteers and staff.

We also need to take this opportunity to thank The Charitable Giving Coalition and its member organizations along with every individual who has worked for this legislation.

Let’s take a much deserved victory lap! Let’s do an end-zone dance! Let’s toast this achievement! Then, let’s get back to work. There’s much to be done to promote the giving incentives.

To help you promote the IRA Charitable Rollover, The Council on Foundations has put together an excellent free, downloadable toolkit that includes:

  • Talking points, a fact sheet, and web content;
  • An event presentation;
  • Tools that explain which available options might best serve donors;
  • Donor and professional advisor advertisements.

You can download the Council’s “Charitable IRA Worksheet” for donors by clicking here. You can find the full toolkit by clicking here.

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September 1, 2015

A Charity Scandal with a Surprising Twist

Yet another charity scandal has made headlines. What makes this ongoing situation startling is that the charities involved are the victims while government is the offender.

“Nearly $10 million in charitable donations by California taxpayers sat unspent in government accounts at the end of last year, The Associated Press has found, and the Senate Governance and Finance Committee chairman said Thursday that he wants a review of state accounts and will hold a hearing to find out why the money hasn’t been spent.”

Since 2005, California has collected $35 million for 29 funds. The state’s taxpayers donated the money when filing their tax returns. The money was supposed to go to a variety of charitable organizations ranging from cancer research to wildlife protection.

“’This is just embarrassing. It’s unacceptable. People expect their money to be spent for these important purposes and these delays, you know, they’re not explainable to me,’ said Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys. ‘So I just learned about it, but I’m going to jump on it,’” according to the AP report.

Sadly, California is not alone in mishandling taxpayer donations to charity. For example, “New York’s top financial officer found donations languishing in its tax checkoff funds,” according to the AP.

While well intentioned, the government’s efforts to help charities have not always been efficiently or properly managed. I’m reminded of a famous quote from a former California Governor, President Ronald Reagan:

In 1986, Reagan famously said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’”

While Democratic administrations in both California and New York have mishandled money meant for charities, Democrats do not have a monopoly on making life difficult for nonprofit organizations.

While it initially looked like the Republican controlled US Congress might quickly enact certain charitable giving incentives including the IRA Charitable Rollover, the body failed to act before the summer recess. With a full legislative calendar awaiting the return of lawmakers, it’s unclear if or when the matter of charitable giving incentives will be addressed. This means that even if Congress passes measures that would benefit charities, nonprofit organizations will once again have very little time to promote those opportunities to donors prior to the end of the year.

While government can and should take steps to help the nonprofit sector, charities should not wait expectantly for assistance. Furthermore, even when assistance is promised, charities should not expect such assistance to be delivered in a timely or efficient manner.

As Doug White, Director for the Master of Science in Fundraising Management program at Columbia University, told the AP, “They are not in the business of charity. The government has its own issues.”

Another way in which government hurts the nonprofit sector is through burdensome, costly regulation that does little or nothing to protect the public interest. Such regulations divert donor funds away from the fulfillment of charitable missions.

While government action and in-action has a direct cost for nonprofits, the problem could be much greater. For example, in California, donors may now distrust the government to such a degree that they will no longer bother to designate funds for charities. Time will tell.

So, what can you do?:

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July 23, 2015

IRA Rollover Poised to Make a Comeback

I have some good news.

The US Congress has begun the process to revive the Charitable IRA Rollover which expired at the end of 2014. Now, it’s time for you to take action.

On Tuesday, July 21, 2015, the Senate Finance Committee approved a number of tax extender provisions including the IRA Rollover. While the Committee considered making the IRA Rollover provision permanent, it ultimately settled on a two-year extension.

US CapitolFinance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said, “This markup [of the bill] will give the Committee a timely opportunity to act on extending a number of expired provisions in the tax code that help families, individuals and small businesses. This is the first time in 20 years where a new Congress has started with extenders legislation having already expired, and given that these provisions are meant to be incentives, we need to advance a package as soon as possible.”

Ranking Committee Member Ron Wyden (D-OR) said, “The tax code should work for, not against, Americans. We need to extend these tax provisions now in order to provide greater certainty and predictability for middle class families and businesses alike. However, as we look beyond next week, it’s critical we all recognize and take action to end this stop and go approach to tax policy through extenders.”

The House of Representatives has yet to take action though Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, remains interested in legislation that would make the IRA Rollover permanent. However, ultimately, the House might bring its thinking into alignment with the Senate Finance Committee. The House is expected to take up the issue as early as September.

When Democrats controlled the Congress, the IRA Rollover extensions were done a year at a time and often very late in the year. This made it challenging for both donors and nonprofit organizations to plan and to take full advantage of the provision.

With Republicans in full control of Congress, the House and Senate are considering the IRA Rollover provision earlier in the year and are considering a longer extension term. These are both good things for donors and charities.

It remains to be seen when final action will be taken and what that action will look like. It’s also unclear whether the Obama Administration will support the measure.

The Charitable Giving Coalition has long advocated for the IRA Rollover and other provisions that provide incentives for charitable giving. In addition to encouraging Congress to take action, the Coalition has sent the following letter to all Presidential candidates:

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February 13, 2015

Special Report: House of Representatives Approves IRA Rollover…Again

[Publisher’s Note: “Special Reports” are posted from time-to-time as a benefit for subscribers and frequent visitors to this blog. “Special Reports” are usually not widely promoted. To be notified of all new posts, including “Special Reports,” please take a moment to subscribe in the right-hand column.]

 

The US House of Representatives has passed a bill to renew and make permanent the IRA Rollover, a measure long-supported by the nonprofit sector. Congress approved the bill by a vote of 279-137. Of note, 39 Democrats joined with the Republican majority to ensure passage by a wide margin. The bill now moves to the Senate.

Like a similar measure passed last year, H.R. 644 — Fighting Hunger Incentive Act of 2015 includes the following components:

  • The IRA Rollover provision,
  • Extension and expansion of the charitable deduction for contributions of food inventory,
  • Enhanced deduction for gifts of qualified conservation easements,
  • Modification of the excise tax on the investment income of private foundations.

Unfortunately, President Barack Obama has once again vowed to veto the bill if it reaches his desk in its present form. The House would need 290 votes to override a veto.

Making Sausages 4 by Erich Ferdinand via FlickrThe White House opposition to the bill might be because the bill does not contain any provision that would pay for the tax breaks it would provide. The Congressional Budget Office has concluded that the bill would add to the Federal deficit.

Last year, the Democrat-controlled Senate failed to take any action on the comprehensive charitable giving incentive measure passed by the House. Now that Republicans control the Senate, there is a greater expectation of action this year. However, it remains to be seen if the bill can be modified to garner presidential support.

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January 9, 2015

Are You Ready for the Coming Storm?

A storm is coming. It will affect the entire US economy. It will likely affect the global economy.

The nonprofit sector will not escape the impact. You need to prepare now.

Koyasan Umbrellas 3 by Andrea Williams via FlickrAs 2014 began to wind down, the US National Debt surpassed the $18 trillion mark! That’s over $154,000 of Federal government debt per taxpayer or more than $56,000 per citizen. During the six years of the Obama Administration, the US National Debt increased by nearly $7 trillion, representing 67 percent growth. And it’s still growing.

As if that’s not bad enough, the US Unfunded Liabilities total more than $92.5 trillion dollars, or more than $789,000 per taxpayer! It, too, continues to grow.

President Barack Obama, former-President George W. Bush, and the US Congress are all responsible for the rapid growth in the US National Debt since 2009 as well as the growth in the Unfunded Liabilities. So, I’m not going to engage in specific finger pointing, policy debates, or politics.

Instead, I want to focus on what this means for the charity sector looking forward.

The rapid growth of national debt is not sustainable. We should no longer ignore it. Here are some of the reasons why:

• While our enormous national debt is not significantly affecting the nonprofit sector at the moment, the day is coming when it will. Prudent organizations will prepare for the storm before it hits.

• At some point, failure to address the massive debt issue will lead to a downgrade in America’s credit rating. Think it can’t happen? It already has. In 2011, Standard and Poor’s cut the US credit rating to AA+ because the government “fell short” of taming the nation’s debt. In 2012, Egan-Jones cut America’s credit rating to AA for the same reason. While these downgrades have had a mostly symbolic effect, they foreshadow what is likely to happen unless the government brings the national debt under control.

• Eventually, future credit rating downgrades will make it more expensive for the government to borrow money. Interest rates will rise. That will take more money out of the economy.

• In addition to becoming increasingly costly to borrow, lending sources will be harder to find. Some of those lenders might also use the lender-debtor relationship to force US policy changes. We’ve already seen this with the China relationship. By the way, China, no longer the US, is the world’s largest economy in “real” terms of goods and services produced.

• To deal with the debt, the federal government has four possible courses of action (or some combination of these): 1) pay more to borrow more which will add to the debt and take more money out of the economy, 2) print more money which would be inflationary, 3) cut spending which would likely mean less money for the social safety net and nonprofit organizations, and 4) raise taxes which will reduce individual disposable income. So, even if the government does address the debt situation, it could have a short-term negative impact on the nonprofit sector before it has a positive effect.

• A massive, growing national debt will make it more difficult for the US economy to experience strong growth in Gross Domestic Product. Philanthropy correlates closely with GDP; it’s been about two percent of GDP for decades. If the economy doesn’t grow rapidly, philanthropy is not likely to do so. If the economy truly falters, we might even see a drop in year-to-year philanthropy as we did during the Great Recession.

We’re already beginning to see some of the effects I’ve described above. If nothing is done to tame the national debt, these effects will be magnified and could eventually become catastrophic.

There are some things that nonprofits can do to prepare:

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