Six months of the Trump presidency have been a godsend to the left: environmental organizations, civil rights groups, and above all Planned Parenthood, are choking on contributions. His and his administration's threats to shutter NPR, NEA and other liberal darlings, though quite worrisome, are of slightly less moment. NPR nationally does not rely on federal money for most of its revenue; local stations are strong fundraisers. NEA is but a pimple on the great backside of government. The real fright is that cutting or eliminating it will have a terrible effect in small or mid size communities with less fundraising capacity or opportunity.
An upside, though, is that many state legislators at local, state and federal levels will fight for those funds. They are very well attuned to the effect of bad news on incumbency. Cutting and slashing are great - in someone else's district.
Meanwhile, we now live in an alternative universe: Robin Dooh steals from the poor and gives to the rich. Repealing Obamacare and giving a tax cut to the super wealthy has -- for now -- been sent down the Ganges. But as always in Republication administrations, whether one calls it the Laffer curve voodoo economics, or the supply side market at work -- coupled with a refusal to ever learn from what came before -- punishing the poor for being poor is a blood sport. The difference this time is that Trump's fixation on erasing Obama from the collective memory puts his overt racism, his birtherism obsession, his anti-Muslim travel ban and his hatred of the poor (losers) in one steaming cauldron of know-nothing hate.
Yet, the fight over health care reform has overshadowed a larger crisis: federal, and by devolution, state and local support of human services is tanking. There is no way the whole of private philanthropy, even if it were totally directed to relief of the abject poor -- which it is not and never has been -- can take up the slack.
In 2016, Giving USA Foundation reports charitable contributions totaled $395 billion. A bit over 12% went to human services. Typically, social service budgets are 80 to 90% government funded; the rest is endowment income for the lucky few, maybe a bit of earned income for others - and philanthropy. Most social service agencies are small, lack powerful boards and the attending cachet that attracts money. Plus, as pass throughs for government money, many have not been incentivized to raise private dollars; many don't know how. In 2015, 45 million Americans, 14.5%, lived below the poverty line. That percentage, according to the US Census Bureau (whose funding is being cut), is not going down.
Recently, Amazon's Jeff Bezos asked how he should direct his philanthropy to maximum effect. Scores of well intended multibillionaires have pledged to give at least half their fortunes to philanthropy; younger, hipper donors have ideas (some strikingly original, others not so much) for structural change in how to give, to whom to give, and how to measure results.
However, in my opinion we cannot simply give our way out of the profound imbalance in American society, exacerbated by the Trumpeters. The industry trade associations lack the convening power this situation demands and they (we) are a pretty cautious bunch, afraid to stand up, fearful of offending or antagonizing anyone, suffering in whispers. To the extent that there is a leadership cadre out there: the Pledgers, the next several levels down of high impact donors, the large foundations, community leaders, etc. we need to get together and sound the tocsin. The message is simple: our federal government needs to be back in the game. Philanthropy is a partner not a solution.
The good news is that our democracy is not fragile. It is resilient. I believe the extraordinary genius of checks and balances will prevail.
Wednesday, September 14, 2016
If my present prognostications hold 2016 will be a banner year for philanthropy in at least four ways:
1. The $375 billion contributed in 2015 will be surpassed.
2. Foundation philanthropy, a modest percentage of all giving, is nonetheless an important trend-setter. Many large, medium and small foundations are now beginning to see that there is is no such thing as "no overhead." Nonprofits incur annual, routine operating expenses for labor (the greatest cost); occupancy; materials, and often, debt service. The idea that only supporting "program" (read labor and materials) is somehow more efficient and effective than general operating support is gaining traction. Finally.
3. My view: Neither major party candidate is going to disturb the charitable contribution deduction, throat clearing noises in Congress to the contrary.
4. Donor advised funds will continue to grow apace. Depending on your perspective this may or may not be a good thing. The good thing is that it has brought many new high net worth people into philanthropy (not necessarily altruistically. But still.) This The not-so-good result is that much of that money sits, tax-free and tax-deductible to the donor, undistributed to charities.
This election is a dreadful distraction from our country's real problems, for example, the relentless intractability of poverty in the world's wealthiest nation. Fueled by network and cable TV whose interests in creating tension and protracting the agony so they can sell us more stuff is not pretty.
Despite that, the generosity and optimistic spirit of the American people continues to amaze and inspire me and keeps me at this work. What I have learned from my fellow Americans is that the world can indeed be a better place.
Tuesday, June 14, 2016
Giving USA Foundation today (June 14, 2016) reported that in calendar 2015 $373.25 billion was contributed to charity in the US. Gifts from living individuals, and bequests, remain the single largest category of combined support at 80% -- consistent with decades of past reporting. Bequest giving is likely underreported because many estates are too small to be taxed and therefore don’t show in the IRS data on which Giving USA depends.
Religious giving continues to lead the way as the largest recipient of charity at 32%. But over time religious giving has been declining. Data aside what the numbers tell us is first that US philanthropy is historically robust; even in hard times (2008-9), philanthropy dips less than other sectors of the economy. Second, Americans may or may not be more generous than others; that is not quantifiable. But for sure US taxpayers subsidize giving through the charitable deduction. In most economies, people get more back from their governments in services, support of health, education, welfare, the arts and so on in exchange for the higher taxes they pay. Accordingly, in this nations, there is less incentive to make charitable donations. In recent years, in many key economies, this has changed as governments have been pulling back on traditional support.
Though there is no reliable giving data yet for 2016 this year, our market sense is that this will be a strong year for charitable giving. May it come to pass.
Monday, March 14, 2016
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Monday, January 11, 2016
Much ink has been spilled in reality and metaphorically on the matter of Mark Zuckerberg's and Priscilla Chan's $45 billion decision to invest $45 billion in an LLC that will be used to start innovative enterprises and make charitable gifts. What remains to be seen, of course, is what that giving will mean to charities -- and when. I'm neither holding my breath not will I be much surprised if a trickle and then a stream of giving starts pretty soon -- augmenting the gifts the couple already makes.
I am far more interested in two other things Mr. Zuckerberg has done. First he took paternity leave on the birth of their daughter. That sends a message to US business relatively few of whom actually encourage or countenance such leave-taking. I have no idea how widespread the practice is at Facebook but the idea matters. It seems more real than Marissa Mayer, Yahoo's CEO, building a nursery next to her office. Who else at Yahoo could do that?
The second thing is Mr. Zuckerberg's vision of a wider web as reported in today's Financial Times (January 11, 2016). Partnering with smart phone operators in 37 developing countries free internet access will be made available; a simplified Facebook app will provide access to either, news and health; and there will be an option to upgrade for a fee. This is an example I suppose of potentially doing well bodying good. The cynics will focus on that; others of us will see a great ides: simple, workable and reaching out to the 4 billion people who now have no internet access.
Thursday, March 12, 2015
On March 11, Prof Linda Sugin of Fordham University wrote a provocative op-ed in The New York Times, "Your Name on a Building and a Tax Break Too, Re--thinking Taxes and David Geffen's Gift for Avery Fisher Hall." The thrust of her piece is that a donor’s name on a building should be treated as a major return benefit to that donor and therefore the gift's deductibility should be reduced by the "value" conferred, in this instance $15 million, the amount the Philharmonic paid the Fisher family to surrender the name.
As a career nonprofit fundraiser, I salute Professor Sugin's attempt to encourage even more philanthropy and tax justice, and I reject her well-intended proposal to do that through changes to the charitable tax code. She theorizes that future philanthropists would give more if current ones were incentivized to forego or foreshorten a naming opportunity in appreciation for their gift - or in exchange for it, as Sugin has it.
For most nonprofits, creative presentation of untaxed "intangible" benefits for bigger gifts--with recognition being the most powerful--represent success or failure. In practice, many institutions are already encouraging short-term naming opportunities, for just the reasons Sugin gives. Would they be helped with new laws? Be careful what you wish for. First, limits on naming terms won't work with some (desperately needed) prospects, and second, why stop there? Once the IRS is allowed to start valuing intangibles, look out. That is my main point. Clear and just as it may seem, there is no little fix and it won't stay put. As federal codes and then each state attempt to place a taxable value on a wide range of ever-creative intangible recognition benefits, all representing different circumstances, the process risks introducing serious confusions and complexities, and, I'd predict, vigorously renewed attempts to eliminate the charitable deduction altogether. Confusion and complexity depress giving in a charitable heartbeat.
-- Marilyn Bancel
Friday, January 9, 2015
MARILYN BANCEL has rejoined The Oram Group as partner and director of our San Francisco-based West Coast office, following two and a half years as in-house development director at CuriOdyssey Museum, a former Oram client.
She has long been active with the Association of Fundraising Professionals Golden Gate Chapter, for which she has served as board member and officer and as chair of various programs and events, serving in 2000 and 2009 as co-chair of National Philanthropy Day. Marilyn is a recipient of the chapter’s Hank Rosso Outstanding Fundraising Executive Award (2002). In addition to consulting, Marilyn has been Adjunct Professor at the University of San Francisco where she has taught Capital Campaigns and Major Gifts in the College of Professional Studies, Institute of Nonprofit Management. She is author of the long-popular workbook, Preparing Your Capital Campaign (Jossey Bass/Wiley 2000).
Marilyn’s current client focus includes all facets of the work needed to position an organization to conduct major gift fund-raising and campaigns — feasibility and planning studies, organizational analysis, board development, prospect engagement, and strategic or institutional planning. In addition to CuriOdyssey other clients have included San Francisco Girls Chorus, World Arts West, Boys and Girls Clubs of San Francisco, California Academy of Sciences, Glide Foundation, Headlands Center for the Arts, Human Rights Campaign, Peninsula Interfaith Action, National Foster Youth Action Network, Bar Association of San Francisco, Raphael House, Synergy School, Spirit Rock Meditation Center, University of California Press Foundation, Population Action International, United Religions Initiative, and many others.
Prior to joining Oram, Marilyn worked for fifteen years as an institutional fund-raiser—as director of development for The Exploratorium, a museum of science, art and technology - and an Oram client served by Oram partner Hank Goldstein. She was also director of development for The Oakland Symphony; and as founder and executive director of East Bay Performance, Inc., publisher of the bi-weekly journal Bay Arts Review. Before entering the non-profit field, she lived for three years in Turkey where she operated an 80-person cottage craft and clothing export business.