June 27, 2009
Laid-off editors and reporters from Puerto Rico newspaper start a new one as nonprofit employee cooperative
A group of reporters, editors, and other union members in Puerto Rico have started a newspaper organized as a nonprofit employee cooperative. They started this paper, called the Daily Sun, after their former employer the San Juan Daily Star closed last summer after almost 50 years. Reports the Miami Herald: "With its break-even economic model and a mission no greater than to employ people, its managers say Puerto Rico's newest media venture may have discovered a business strategy to keep newspaper journalism alive: no profits."
New TE/GE Commissioner Ingram Speaks on Nonprofit Governance
Sarah Hall Ingram, the new commissioner of the IRS TE/GE (Tax-exempt and Government Entities) division of the IRS, spoke on June 23 at Georgetown's Continuing Legal Education program about the IRS role in nonprofit governance. In the speech, Ingram identified four general principles that she believes are essential to good nonprofit governance:
A foundational principle is that the organization should clearly understand and publicly express its mission. This helps assure that the organization provides a public benefit and does not drift away from a charitable purpose. It helps an organization avoid practices that are inconsistent with tax-exempt status.
Equally important is the principle that the organization’s board should be engaged, informed and independent. The board should have real responsibility and authority. It must, for example, be able to implement, in the life of the organization, the rules against inurement and self-dealing.
Another set of key good governance principles are those relating to the proper use and safeguarding of assets. These principles are supported by policies and practices that address executive compensation, that protect against conflicts of interest, and that support independent financial reviews.
Transparency is another key principle. I believe that board decisions should be reflected in minutes, that records supporting decisions should be retained for reasonable periods, that whistleblowers should be protected, and that each year’s Form 990 should be complete, accurate and prepared in good faith.
Ingram insisted that the IRS would not create a "one size fits all" definition of governance, but strongly reaffirmed the IRS's role in governance issues: "Another principle I will follow isthat the IRS has a clear, unambiguous role to play in governance." While I have some doubts about the extent to which the IRS should be active in governance matters, it is hard to argue with Ingram's view that certain core exemption issues (executive pay, other private inurement, political activity, etc.) do involve governance processes. It will be interesting to see how the IRS's role in governance evolves under Ingram's leadership.
June 26, 2009
ACLU Report: War on Terror Undercuts Liberty of Muslim Donors
Yesterday, we blogged about French President Sarkozy's pledge to outlaw the burqa. This post prompted two of our readers to send me a report recently issued by the ACLU which concludes that the United States' fight against terrorism has dealt a harsh blow to Muslim charities and interfered with their donors’ religious freedom. Although we blogged about this report just ten days ago, I shall submit another post about this interesting development.
According to the ACLU report, the government's actions have "created a climate of fear that chills American Muslims’ free and full exercise of their religion through charitable giving, or Zakat, one of the 'five pillars' of Islam and a religious obligation for all observant Muslims."
The report is based on interviews with more than 100 Muslim community leaders as well as experts on antiterrorism laws and regulations. Although it does not estimate the total decline in donations to Muslim groups, it says a total of nine Islamic charities have closed as a result of government action against them since the Sept. 11 attacks.
A recent New York Times story quoted Maja Freij, chief financial officer at the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, a large Arab-American social services group based in Dearborn, Michigan, as saying, "It’s absolute madness how this policy has been put together and practiced. It makes you guilty by association, offers no due process and lacks checks and balances.”
Meanwhile, Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates, told The Times, “American Muslims with U.S. passports are returning from abroad and being asked about their charitable donations by customs and immigration agents.”
Pastor to Flock: Bring Guns to Church
Today's New York Times reports that Ken Pagano, pastor of the New Bethel Church in Louisville, Kentucky, has invited members of his congregation to wear or carry their firearms into the sanctuary tomorrow night to "celebrate our rights as Americans." The event will form part of Bring-Your-Gun-to-Church Day, which will include a $1 raffle of a handgun, firearms safety lessons and a picnic.
Pastor Pagano has for some time been a passionate advocate of gun rights. Two weeks ago, he preached a sermon entitled "God, Guns, Gospel and Geometry." The Times also reports him as saying, "God and guns were part of the foundation of this country." He also opined that "Not every Christian denomination is pacifist.”
In Pastor Pagano's church in Louisville, a large wooden cross hangs over the altar; two American flags jut out of side walls.
Commenting on Pastor Pagano's invitation to his flock, Pam Gersh, a Louisville public relations consultant who helped organize a rally in that city to coincide with the Million Mom March against guns in Washington, said, "This pastor is obviously crossing a line here and saying ‘I can even take my guns to church, and there is nothing you can do about it.’ ”
Pastor Pagano disagrees:
When someone from within the church tells me that being a Christian and having firearms are contradictions, that they’re incompatible with the Gospel — baloney. As soon as you start saying that it’s not something that Christians do, well, guns are just the foil. The issue now is the Gospel. So in a sense, it does become a crusade. Now the Gospel is at stake.
June 25, 2009
Sarkozy Would Outlaw the Burqa
Earlier this week, the New York Times reported that in an address to the French parliament on Monday, French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, gave a withering critique of burqas as an unacceptable symbol of "enslavement." According to Mr. Sarkozy, there is no room in the French republic for burqas, garments some Muslim women wear to cover their bodies and faces.
Said Mr. Sarkozy:
The issue of the burqa is not a religious issue. It is a question of freedom and of women’s dignity, The burqa is not a religious sign. It is a sign of the subjugation, of the submission, of women.
To enthusiastic applause, Mr. Sarkozy stated: “I want to say solemnly that it will not be welcome on our territory.”
I note that France has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe. Current estimates are that there are approximately five million Muslims living in France. Yet, traditional Islamic garments have been a divisive issue in that country for several years. In 2004, for example, France passed legislation prohibiting the wearing of head scarves and conspicuous religious symbols at public schools.
Meanwhile, Mr. Sarkozy appears to have spoken from both sides of his mouth. On the one hand, he stated that in France, "the Muslim religion must be respected like other religions." Yet, he also stated that "the burqa is not welcome in France. We cannot accept in our country women imprisoned behind bars, cut off from social life, deprived of identity.”
He also gave his support to a cross-party initiative by about 60 legislators who proposed that a parliamentary commission study the burqa and methods to combat its spread.
It would seem that Mr. Sarkozy is likening the wearing of the burqa to "women being imprisoned behind bars, cut off from social life, [and] deprived of identity." Yet, in my work as a member of the Board of Experts of the International Religious Liberty Association, I have come across many Islamic women in many countries who willingly and gladly wear their burqas. Sure, the burqa is something some western minds do not understand; but why should the government of France -- or any government, for that matter -- outlaw its use? What next will President Sarkozy do -- call for Roman Catholic nuns to stop wearing their habits or for ministers of religion like myself to stop wearing our clerical collars or clerical robes in public?
NCRP Report: Foundations Hit by Madoff scheme Lacked Adequate Board Size and Diversity
A new report released by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) reveals that the majority of the foundations hit hardest by Bernard Madoff's ponzi scheme lacked two things in common: (1) adequate board size, and (2) board diversity.
The report's key findings indicate that:
The NCRP recommends that foundations have at least five board members and that these board members have a diverse background. The committee also encourages foundations to have a conflict-of-interest policy and a code of conduct, and to make public demographic information about the board. VEJ
The NCRP recommends that foundations have at least five board members and that these board members have a diverse background. The committee also encourages foundations to have a conflict-of-interest policy and a code of conduct, and to make public demographic information about the board.
Analysis: Y.M.C.A., Salvation Army and United Way Have Most Valuable Brands in Nonprofit Field
An analysis by the marketing firm Cone LLC and Intangible Business, a British brand-valuation company, has concluded that the Y.M.C.A. has the most valuable brand in the nonprofit field, followed by the Salvation Army and the United Way of America.
The analysis used financial data, projected growth in revenues and a survey of 1,000 Americans to determine the top 100 most valuable nonprofit brand names among organizations providing social, environmental and animal-related services.
According to the New York Times, nonprofits have for some time now been making efforts to value their brand names. However, "the new analysis appears to be the first that applies the same method of measuring that value across many different nonprofits."
The Times continues:
The analysis spotted some interesting things. Environmental groups are the darlings of donors right now and their revenues are among the fastest growing in the sector — but their brand names scored lower values in the Cone research.
“They have spent a lot of time raising awareness of the issues through things like calls to action — put a brick in your toilet, turn out the lights — but not for their brands,” [said Alison DaSilva, executive vice president of Cone].
Conversely, she said, the Make-A-Wish Foundation enjoys widespread recognition, but its revenues do not reflect that. “They can capitalize on the brand recognition to increase revenues,” Ms. DaSilva said.
Rounding up the Top Ten are American Red Cross, Goodwill Industries International, Catholic Charities, Habitat for Humanity International, American Cancer Society, The Arc of the United States, and Boys & Girls Clubs of America.