Posts tagged ‘government’

March 15, 2019

5 Tips You Need to Know to Survive Funding Volatility

It’s no secret that nonprofit organizations face funding challenges. One of the biggest challenges is volatility. Donors give and often do not renew support. Sometimes, that’s the fault of the charity. Other times, it has nothing to do with what a charity does or does not do. For example, funding from government sources, whether contracts or grants, can go up or down depending on political whims and changing priorities.

Recently, I was doing research for an article I was developing for the January issue of Advancing Philanthropy, the magazine published by the Association of Fundraising Professionals. While doing that, I identified five tips that can help all nonprofits better cope with funding volatility despite the fact that the article focuses on poverty-fighting charities.

Let me explain. As I wrote in my article:

Globally, poverty has been on a sharp, steady decline. ‘In 1990, 37 percent of humanity lived in what the World Bank defines as extreme poverty; today that number is 10 percent,’ writes Gregg Easterbrook, author of It’s Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear. Yet, even given that good news, nearly one billion people continue to suffer in extreme poverty around the world.

In the United States, poverty has also been on the decline while individual purchasing power has been on the rise. For example, ‘On the first day of the twentieth century, the typical American household spent 59 percent of funds on food and clothing. By the first day of the twenty-first century, that share had shrunk to 21 percent,’ Easterbrook reports. ‘US poverty has declined 40 percent in the past half-century.’ Still, despite the enormous economic progress, poverty continues to darken the lives of millions of our fellow citizens.”

While charities continue their efforts to combat poverty and its effects, government funding is becoming increasingly unreliable. With the national debt over $22 trillion and climbing, the federal government is contemplating cutbacks. Already, some state governments have been cutting back funding to charities.

Here are five tips that poverty-fighting charities are embracing that all charities would be wise to also adopt:

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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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August 9, 2013

Philanthropy at Gunpoint?

In a recent op-ed piece in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Mark Rosenman writes, “… few people in the nonprofit world seem aware of a new legislative proposal that could add $35-billion a year or more to [charity] programs perhaps including their own organizations.”

Rosenman is referring to a new tax proposal by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) that would impose a financial-transaction tax modeled on one adopted by the European Parliament and soon to be implemented by 11 of its member nations in order to slow flash-trading.

The Harkin-DeFazio plan, called the “Wall Street Speculators Sales Tax,” “has drawn the support of over 40 national nonprofit organizations and labor unions but has not caught the imagination of local and regional charities or the major coalitions that represent nonprofit groups,” according to Rosenman.

While I encourage you to read Rosenman’s op-ed article as well as the comments, many made by me in a tense exchange with Rosenman, I’ll share with you here what’s wrong with Rosenman’s support of the new tax plan:

1. The Wall Street Speculators Sales Tax will NOT benefit the nonprofit sector as it currently stands. Harkin and DeFazio introduced the tax plan to generate revenue to reduce the deficit. Right now, there is no reason to believe that even one cent would flow through to the community benefit sector. Rosenman initially misleads his readers on this critical point and does not provide clarification until the comment section.

2. Even if Congress could be persuaded to give the new revenue to the nonprofit sector, it raises a number of questions. Who would decide which charities should receive the money? On what basis should those decisions be made? Given that so many large charities employ lobbyists, would the new government spending go to those with political influence or those with vital programs that produce desired outcomes?

3. More government funding is not necessarily a solution to our problems. The federal government is already spending an enormous amount on the nonprofit sector. Government spending on nonprofits has grown from $100 billion a year in 1962 to an astounding $3.6 trillion in 2012, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal by James Piereson, a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and President of the William E. Simon Foundation.

If a 36-fold increase in government spending on the charity sector since 1962 has not produced the desired result, will an additional $35 billion do the trick? At what point will government be spending enough on the charity sector?

The charity sector’s enormous appetite for government money (really taxpayer money) has created an interesting dynamic. Piereson points out that many of the charities that receive the most government funding turn around and lobby the government for even more money and for higher taxes! This kind of dynamic is created when nonprofit organizations start being funded like and acting like government agencies rather than charities.

The nonprofit sector’s reliance on government funding is dangerous. It encourages institutional laziness, a loss of independence, a lack of public responsiveness and, perhaps, aligning mission with government objectives rather than constituent needs.

Marvin Olasky observed in his book The Tragedy of American Compassion, greater government involvement in and funding of the social services sector historically has led to a pullback of private support for such organizations.

I’ve served on the boards of social service agencies, most recently for an organization helping children.

Piggy Bank by Images_of_Money via FlickrThe social service agency received virtually all of its funding from the government in the form of grants and contracts. At that time, the agency was meeting just a quarter to a third of the need in the community. But, to its credit, the agency eventually set the goal of meeting the needs of 100 percent of the community. The organization recognized that it would never be able to achieve this goal if it continued to be so dependent on government funding. Therefore, the agency launched a major, sustainable push for private funding.

An interesting thing happened. As private funding grew, the organization’s service capacity also grew. With a strong, compelling case for support, the agency has now raised the necessary resources to meet the needs of everyone in its community! While government funding is still important, the organization has achieved a healthier more sustainable funding balance that allows it to serve far more people and serve them better.

Richard Freedlund, on the greatergoodfundraising blog, states, “The problem is, if your budget is so dependent on government funding and not donors, you really do not fit the definition of a charity.”

4. The proposed tax would affect more than the wealthy. Rosenman stated that the new tax would primarily impact wealthy and institutional investors. However, that’s like a tuna fisherman saying his nets primarily catch tuna, and we should not worry about the dolphins also caught in the nets. The fact is institutional investors represent mom and pop investors and pension funds for working Americans. The majority of people in the US own securities.

Rosenman says the tax really won’t add up to much money for these small investors, so I shouldn’t worry about them. But, I had another idea. I asked my 86-year-old mother what she thought about the new tax idea.

Before I tell you what my mom said, let me just mention that for a huge chunk of her life, she was poor. I’m talking coal-stove heat, no bathroom plumbing poor. Together, she and my dad worked hard to put food on the table and a roof over our heads. As a result of a strong work ethic and a commitment to saving, she now has a modest nest egg, some of which she invests in mutual funds.

Here’s what my mom said about the new investor-tax proposal with Rosenman’s suggested modification for charities:

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