Posts tagged ‘Obama Administration’

October 4, 2013

New Pew Report Sheds Light on Tax Deductions and Philanthropy

[Publisher’s Note: Michael J. Rosen, CFRE will be interviewed by CausePlanet in a free webinar about his award-winning book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing. Learn more and register for the October 17 program by clicking HERE. If you need a speaker or trainer, contact Rosen today.]

A new report issued by the Pew Charitable Trusts provides valuable insights into the effect that tax deductions and credits have on charitable giving. The report comes at a critical time as federal and state governments continue to look for additional sources of revenue including cuts to charitable-giving tax deductions.

The Pew report, written by Elaine S. Povich, looks at the impact of tinkering with tax write-offs for charitable giving in a number of states including Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, and Vermont. The report nicely summarizes the impact of tax policy on philanthropy:

Tax incentives for charitable giving directly affect donations, particularly from high-income donors, according to Jon Bakija, an economics professor at Williams College. ‘Tax incentives for charitable donations in the US succeed in causing donations to increase, probably by about as much or more than they cost in terms of reduced tax revenue,’ he wrote in a paper published recently by the journal Social Research.”

Bakija went on to write:

This strengthens the case for the tax subsidies for donations.”

In an illuminating case study, the Pew report looks at what happened in Hawaii when the state government imposed a cap on the charitable giving tax deduction. According to Mallory Fujitani,Money Grab by Steve Wampler Photography via Flickr of the Hawaii Department of Taxation, the state expected the move to generate about $12 million to the state treasury. Unfortunately, the move cost charities $50 million to $60 million in lost donations, according to Tim Delaney, President and CEO of the National Council of Nonprofits.

In other words, Hawaii found that for every new dollar of tax revenue it generated from the cap on the charitable giving deduction, charities lost five dollars!

David L. Thompson, Vice President of Public Policy at the National Council of Nonprofits, summarized the experience of the various states that have tinkered with the charitable giving deduction:

What we learned in the states is that the charitable deduction is not just a nice thing for taxpayers, it’s vital to the communities. All politicians from across the political spectrum have come to the same conclusion that we are hurting our communities by discouraging giving to charities.”

Given the crystal clear Pew report, the experiences of various states, and the findings of academic research studies, a number of important questions come to mind:

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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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