Posts tagged ‘Independent Sector’

January 11, 2019

Was the Trump Foundation the Only Funder on Santa’s Naughty List?

As you struggled to raise more money at the close of 2018 while carving out holiday time with loved ones, you might have missed an important news story.

On Dec. 18, news reports announced that the New York Attorney General’s Office and the Trump Foundation had reached an agreement to dissolve the Foundation. Under the terms of the deal, the NY Attorney General will distribute the Foundation’s remaining assets to charities.

Donald Trump

However, the closing of the Trump Foundation does not end the matter. Barbara Underwood, the NY Attorney General, says the state still seeks $2.8 million in restitution, plus additional penalties.

Furthermore, the Attorney General is asking the court to bar Donald Trump from serving with nonprofit organizations in New York for 10 years. The state’s lawsuit also calls for a one-year ban for three of Trump’s children — Don Jr., Ivanka, and Eric — all of whom were Trump Foundation board members.

The State of New York “lawsuit says that Trump’s charitable organization, which he founded in 1987, engaged in ‘persistently illegal conduct’ and that Trump basically used the Foundation as a slush fund to promote his business and political campaign,” according to a report in Vox.

This news item is inherently important. It involves a charitable foundation with significant assets that appears to have acted far less than charitably. It also involves the President of the United States. However, the significance of this story does not end there.

If the NY Attorney General is correct about the alleged misdeeds of the Trump Foundation, dissolution of the Foundation and a temporary prohibition of Trump family members from serving with NY charities for a limited time seem like an insignificant punishment. Unless serious penalties are levied against Donald Trump and his family members who were involved, the Trumps alleged criminal behavior will go unpunished. Furthermore, they will remain free to create and/or serve with nonprofit organizations outside of the State of New York. Other than a bit of bad press, the Trumps will pay little for their behavior.

The problem does not end there. Failure to hold the Trumps personally liable not only fails to punish the Trump family, it sends a signal to anyone interested in using a charitable foundation for personal benefit. That signal is that there is little downside for misbehavior. In other words, there will be little to no deterrent effect unless severe penalties are imposed by the court, assuming the allegations are proven true.

The other thing we need to understand about the Trump Foundation story is that it is not an isolated situation. A decade into my fundraising career, the nonprofit sector was rocked by the scandal surrounding the Foundation for New Era Philanthropy. Operating from 1989 to 1995, the Foundation raised over $500 million in an elaborate Ponzi Scheme that defrauded well known charities and experienced philanthropists out of millions.

That wasn’t the first funder scandal, and it certainly wasn’t the last. Let’s face it. The Trump Foundation is not the only funder on Santa’s naughty list.

As another report in Vox observed, “There are some 86,000 foundations in the United States, with total assets of around $890 billion. And the vast majority of them never face this kind of scrutiny.”

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January 19, 2018

Charitable Giving Threatened by Drop In Volunteerism

On Monday, the USA celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a national day of service. From April 15 to 21, the nation will mark National Volunteer Week. Clearly, Americans value volunteerism.

Unfortunately, the volunteerism rate has been steadily declining for years. This trend has disturbing implications for philanthropy.

In 2003, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 28.8 percent of Americans volunteered. By 2015, that rate had steadily fallen to 24.9 percent. This is a huge problem for the nonprofit sector for a number of reasons:

Volunteers Provide a Valuable Resource. Volunteers do a great deal of work that might not be done otherwise. 62.6 million Americans volunteered 7.8 billion hours. Independent Sector reports that a volunteer hour is worth $24.14, over $180 billion of total estimated value. Sadly, with volunteerism on the decline, charities are forced to provide fewer services or incur greater labor costs.

Volunteers Serve as Ambassadors. In addition to being a valuable labor resource, volunteers are also fantastic ambassadors for an organization. The typical volunteer serves only one or two organizations, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. When volunteers share their experiences, they also talk with friends, family, and professional colleagues about your organization and its mission. This could lead to additional volunteer and philanthropic support. With a drop in volunteerism, there are now fewer ambassadors for charities, which will inevitably lead to less future support.

Volunteers are More Likely to Donate. Volunteers are twice as likely as non-volunteers to make a charitable contribution, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service. Even planned giving is affected by volunteerism. As I’ve reported previously, researcher Russell James, JD, PhD, CFP states in his book, American Charitable Bequest Demographics (1992-2012):

Among those with [estate] planning documents, those who both volunteer and give ($500+) are dramatically more likely to plan a charitable estate gift than those who only volunteer or only give ($500+). Those who only volunteer, plan charitable estate gifts at approximately the same rate as those who only give.”

Those who only volunteer or only donate ($500+) are more than twice as likely to make a legacy gift than those who do neither. [For a free electronic copy of James’ book, subscribe to this blog site in the right-hand column. You’ll receive an email confirmation of your subscription that will contain a link to the book.]

With a decline in volunteerism, we can expect fewer people to make current and planned gifts. This is already happening according to an analysis by The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

There are many likely reasons for the decline in volunteerism including:

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July 6, 2013

WARNING: Do Not Stick Your Head in the Sand!

I’ve warned the nonprofit sector.

Over the years, I’ve warned the nonprofit sector many times.

Most recently, I provided a warning last month in my post “Special Report: America’s 50 Worst Charities Named”:

As a profession, we must do more to self-regulate. If we do not, we can expect others to fill the vacuum. The [“50 Worst Charities”] investigative report is one example of how those outside the nonprofit arena are filling that vacuum. It’s only a matter of time before government regulators become even more engaged.”

Well, sticking one’s head in the sand did not work. Declaring that most community benefit organizations efficiently do good did not work. Instead, just as Head in Sand by tropical.pete via FlickrI predicted, government has stepped into the void. Due to the nonprofit sector’s failure to self-regulate or to lead the way with government officials, politicians are taking action to further regulate charities.

Oregon has become the first state in the nation to “eliminate state and local tax subsidies for charities that spend more than 70 percent of donations on management and fundraising, rather than programs and services, over a three-year period,” according to a report in The Statesman Journal. This might be a model law that other states soon consider.

Recently, the good leaders at GuideStar, Charity Navigator, and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance penned a Letter to the Donors of America. In the open letter, the authors stated:

We write to correct a misconception about what matters when deciding which charity to support.

The percent of charity expenses that go to administrative and fundraising costs—commonly referred to as ‘overhead’—is a poor measure of a charity’s performance.”

Reading the opening paragraphs of the letter, one might be led to believe that overhead costs should not factor into our giving decisions. However, the authors are quick to point out:

That is not to say that overhead has no role in ensuring charity accountability. At the extremes the overhead ratio can offer insight: it can be a valid data point for rooting out fraud and poor financial management.”

In Oregon, state legislators were clearly motivated to act by the behavior of charities at the extreme.

The Statesman Journal reports:

The Oregon Department of Justice has already identified the top 20 ‘worst of the worst.’

They include charities such as Michigan-based Law Enforcement Education Program, which spent just 2.7 percent of its funds on programs over the past three years; California-based Shiloh International Ministries, which spent 3.2 percent on programs; and Florida-based American Medical Research Organization, which spent just 4.2 percent on programs.”

As a result of the Oregon law, donors to the disqualified charities will no longer be able to take a state tax deduction for their contributions. Also, the disqualified charities will no longer be exempt from property taxes.

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