Friday, November 6, 2009
The Ford Foundation has pledged to make grants of $100 million available to improve public education. The new program will target seven cities — Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles, Newark, New York, and Philadelphia, and will focus on four goals: raising the quality of teaching, exploring the idea of how lengthening the school day and year can improve learning, using new ways to measure school and student performance, and examining why states often do not offer adequate financial resources to poor school districts. Luis A. Ubiñas, president of the foundation, said that the new grant-making effort will seek to “shake up the conversations surrounding school reform.”
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Yesterday I blogged about a joint project between The Urban Institute and Social Solutions to launch a web portal with information to help nonprofits improve performance. Today, Root Cause, a nonprofit advisory organization, announced a new book recommending that nonprofits adapt for-profit data-driven performance measures to help judge and improve nonprofits' impact. According to this story in Reuters, the book (entitled Building a Performance Measurement System: Using Data to Accelerate Social Impact) looks at the performance measurement system commonly used by the private sector to increase profitability, and modifies it "for a simplified, step-by-step customized system to help nonprofits improve operations and increase social impact."
A free PDF of the book and more information is available for download from the Root Cause web site.
From the IRS web site:
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
The vision for a nonprofit covering Texas politics, public policy and government started with John Thornton, a general partner of Austin Ventures who wanted to to put money and energy into journalism for the public good. He and his wife seeded the venture with $1 million; another $1.6 million has come in from individual donors and corporations (all identified on the site) plus $1.1 million from foundations. Not that this pace can keep up, but on the last day before launch the Tribune took in $13,000 from 190 founding “members.”
Thornton hired Evan Smith, a renowned journalist, to be editor-in-chief, and both he and the reporters make market-salaries: $315,000 per year for Smith, up to $90,000 for the reporters.
The key aspect of interest to me is that the Texas Tribune is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) charity (or at least that's what they claim on their web site). The academic community has generated no little amount of angst regarding whether news-gathering organizations qualified as a 501(c)(3) - see the prior blog posts here, here and here. Rich Schmalbeck at Duke has been in the forefront of the tax-exemption analysis of these questions, presenting a paper on the topic at the May 2009 Law and Society Conference.
Another interesting feature of the Texas Tribune is that although most of their content will be free, they will charge a hefty fee for some "premium" content. According to the PaidContent article, the organization "already has one premium product—the Texas Weekly, a well-respected state politics newsletter acquired earlier this year; Ross Ramsey, the editor, came with it and is the new site’s managing editor. (Ramsey and Smith are acknowledged as cofounders.) Smith says the weekly newsletter has some 1,200 subscribers at $250 a year." This arrangement raises a host of unrelated business income and commercial activity questions, which Smith apparently is aware of. Quoting Smith, the PaidContent article notes,
The goal is to grow the circulation base for more “earned income.” It’s a delicate dance. “We actually had deep conversations with exempt counsel and said, what are the things that we can do that qualify as related businesses that we can generate earned income from—because our model assumes we’ll be funded almost exclusively through philanthropy the first year and gradually transition to a model by the third year, where we’re two thirds philanthropy and a third earned income.”
According to this story in Reuters, The Urban Institute has teamed up with Social Solutions (a leading provider of human services performance management software) to launch a web portal that will provide nonprofits with information and measurement tools to enhance performance. According to the story,
The portal will feature detailed guides to help agencies identify and use proven and promising practices to serve their clients effectively, and a library of tools to assess whether their lives have improved as intended. Portal content will be developed in conjunction with well-known organizations and consultants.
The first phase of the portal is scheduled to launch in spring 2010, and the partners plan to demonstrate the portal`s proof of concept at Social Solutions upcoming ETOlution 2009 Conference in Baltimore.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
The economy appears to have recovered enough for Senator Chuck Grassley, IA, to resume his critique of the spending habits of colleges and universities. In this press release posted on IowaPolitics.com, Grassley assails the fact that presidents at private colleges and universities saw their pay go up by an average of 6.5%. “The executive suite shouldn’t be insulated from belt-tightening,” Grassley said. “The pressure on students and families gets greater all the time. The fact that these salaries are growing right now is out of sync with the reality for most parents and students who are trying to pay for college in the midst of high unemployment and after savings for education were either wiped out or greatly diminished last year due to the stock market falling.”
Most of the readers of this blog know about the pending property tax litigation involving Provena-Covenant hospital in Urbana, IL (see prior blog post here and the previous blog coverage cited). Now Urbana has a potential new tax controversy on its hands. Carle Foundation, the tax-exempt entity that owns Carle Hospital in Urbana, recently announced plans to acquire the for-profit Carle Clinic (which employs doctors). Carle Foundation actually already owns most of the property occupied by the clinic, but since the property is leased to a for-profit entity, under Illinois law the property is taxable because it is not used exclusively for charitable purposes. But if Carle Foundation acquires the lessor (the Clinic) and merges it with the exempt Carle Hospital, the acquisition could take property that currently produces millions in property taxes for Urbana off the tax rolls. A story in the Champaign-Urbana News Gazette Sunday details the situation, including Carle's promises to continue to make payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs) to Urbana, although the story is careful to note that Carle Foundation hasn't promised how long it would make those payments, and the Foundation seems to be tying their willingness to make PILOTs at least in part to the outcome of the Provena litigation. This is going to be a major issue for the City of Urbana; stay tuned, folks.
Monday, November 2, 2009
This story in the Fort Wayne, IN Journal-Gazette raises some interesting questions regarding tax-exemption for privately-run charter schools. As the story notes, many charter schools are run by private, for-profit management organizations. Ergo, though the school itself may be organized as a nonprofit, management fees paid by the school to the for-profit management might result in excessive private benefit.
This past Thursday afternoon and Friday (October 29-30), the National Center on Philanthropy and the Law at NYU hosted an invitation-only conference on Measuring the Comparative Worthiness of Charities. Rob Atkinson (Florida State) began the conference Thursday afternoon with a particularly heroic effort entitled Philanthropy and the Law: Remembering and Measuring the Common Good, covering the theories of tax-exemption, deduction, and comparative worth of charities from philosophic, economic, political, and legal viewpoints. Yours truly presented a paper entitled The Role of Redistribution to the Poor in Federal Tax Exemption for Charities that considers some anomalies in the federal tax definition of charity under 501(c)(3) that sometimes requires charities to engaged in poor relief to be entitled to tax exemption, but not always. Evelyn Brody from Chicago-Kent followed on Friday morning with a marvelous presentation on state property tax exemption, All Charities are Property-Tax Exempt, but Some Charities are More Exempt Than Others. Richard Schmalbeck from Duke closed the Friday morning sessions with yet another superb presentation, a paper on potential reforms to federal tax incentives for charities, Reforming the Charitable Sector to Account for Relative Worthiness? (the question mark indicated his general discomfort with such an effort). A trio of practitioners and academics from Canada (Terrance S. Carter), Australia (Myles McGregor-Lowndes) and England (Debra Morriss) treated participants to comparative views on the topic from their respective countries in the Friday afternoon session.
NCPL publishes the papers presented at its conferences in due course. See the NCPL web site for more information.