Monday, April 27, 2015
Accounting Today reports that the Financial Accounting Standards Board has issued a proposed accounting standards update that would modify how nonprofits must report information in their financial statements and notes thereto. Proposed changes address the reporting of restricted assets, results of operations, expenses by both nature and function, investment returns net of expenses, operating cash flows, and quantitative and qualitative information about liquidity.
The Clinton Foundation is obviously making headlines these days. I hardly know anything at this point begging for this nonprofit law professor’s comment. But for those who would like a sampling of stories from the past week’s news cycle, here is coverage from the Chicago Tribune, USA Today, the New York Times, and the Washington Post.
Wednesday, April 15, 2015
Happy Tax Day all - and a special happy statute of limitations day to all of those involved in the preparation of tax returns!
Thursday, April 2, 2015
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has decided to consider an issue that could have far-reaching consequences for the way attorneys and charities interact. The issue before the court is whether an attorney who has reason to believe that charitable assets are being diverted to private individuals may inform the Attorney General. This issue deals with Rule 1.6 of the Rules of Professional Conduct, which permits breaching attorney-client confidentiality in very limited cases, e.g., to prevent death or serious bodily harm. Not surprisingly, a cloud of secrecy has surrounded the case since late last year, and the order permitting consideration of this issue was only made public in March. A recent article explores this case and its possible implications.
Interestingly, the petitioner’s argument is not based upon Rule 1.6 but rather on the idea that counsel has a fiduciary duty to report unlawful diversions of charitable assets to the Attorney General since the general public is affected. In addition, the petitioner claims that since the charity is a tax-exempt entity supported by the public, it has waived its rights under Rule 1.6. As pointed out in the article, Rule 1.13 is also relevant. Rule 1.13 details the steps an attorney may take within an organization before going outside of it. For example, an attorney may choose to report the matter to higher-ups within the organization. As noted, attorney-client confidentiality serves an important purpose in our society. Overall, we want to promote the seeking out of legal counsel when there is a problem, and this will not happen if potential clients are afraid their confidences will be shared. As noted above, limited, dire circumstances must exist for an attorney to breach attorney-client confidentiality.
At the same time, one must ask whether the attorney-charity relationship calls for a different rule, particularly in the case of public charities. After all, these charities are accountable to the public. Also, given the recent problems associated with IRS oversight and the growing number of charities, attorneys may provide a more helpful, rather than hurting, hand in the quest to monitor an ever-increasingly large number of organizations.
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Earlier this month, the blog featured a piece on for-profit college conversions. Citing a recent New York Times article, the post noted that several for-profit colleges have decided to become nonprofits to escape certain governmental regulations and bad publicity. Interestingly, a third option is becoming apparent for colleges as reported in Inside Higher Education: becoming a benefit corporation. As you may know, a benefit corporation exists in the space between the for-profit and nonprofit sectors and focuses on achieving a double bottom line: profit and social impact. The first regionally accredited college to take the route of benefit corporation status is Alliant International University in California. Alliant was previously a California nonprofit accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (“WASC”). Last summer, WASC approved Alliant’s change of status. It is anticipated that other nonprofit institutions will follow suit due to the desire to participate in a new system of health sciences institutions known as Arist Education System. Arist Education System is headed up by University Ventures Fund and supported financially by Bertelsmann, the German media giant. Its purpose is to train health professionals who can work in collaborative teams, which is a new focus of a significant number of hospitals and health systems. It is envisioned that this goal will be accomplished through a focus on student outcomes, and Arist is convinced that such focus will be achieved if the social mission of universities is protected.
The benefit of the change to Alliant is that it may now solicit much needed private funding while still maintaining a public commitment to its mission and public purpose. As a California public benefit corporation, Alliant is required to remain accountable not only to board members and in terms of profit but also to the larger society and in terms of social good. In contrast to for-profit colleges that are changing to nonprofits, Alliance will actually face more regulation as a result of its change in status. As Alliant President Geoffrey Cox noted, by becoming a benefit corporation rather than a for-profit, colleges can preserve their unique missions and attract investors who are looking to leave their funds with them for the long-haul. Finally, I would add that benefit corporation status will keep accountability and transparency in the equation of measuring the performance of colleges in terms of both bottom lines.
Thursday, March 12, 2015
The Chronicle of Philanthropy is reporting that ten individuals using technology to improve the world will be honored tonight at the Dewey Winburne Community Service Awards at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Conference. The awards honor the late Dewey Wineburne, a co-founder of SXSW Interactive, who had deep interests in education and technology.
According to the Chronicle:
This year’s honorees, selected by a panel of previous winners who live in Austin, represent five countries and a range of interests, including literacy, economic opportunity, and journalism. Each will receive $1,000 for the charity of their choice.
Among the honorees are:
- Rebecca McDonald of Australia who, after seeing footage of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, quit her job in Australia and moved with her husband to the Caribbean country where she founded Library for All, an online digital library accessible using tablets distributed to schools across Haiti. Books are carefully selected to be culturally relevant and language-appropriate, with most written in French or Creole. The organization pays local publishers for texts and asks larger companies, which do not usually sell books to Haiti, to donate books.
- Jukay Hsu, a native of Queens, New York, who founded Coalition for Queens, a nonprofit designed, according to Mr. Hsu, to foster "a more inclusive tech ecosystem" and "pioneer a pathway from poverty to the middle class." The organization's keystone program, Access Code, trains people — many of them immigrants — to create mobile applications and prepare for entry-level developer jobs. So far, the average income of participants going into the program has been $26,000, while their average income after completion is $73,000.
- Libby Powell, of London, England, who has used her training as a journalist to found Radar, a communications-rights organization that trains citizen reporters and promotes the stories they tell through social media and other ways online. Based in the United Kingdom, the staff offers editorial guidance to local correspondents who report from the field. The group has generated coverage about elections and Ebola in Sierra Leone and slavery in India and is working on new projects that give voice to people living with dementia and those who are homeless. Created with money raised through the crowdfunding site Indiegogo, Radar works to raise awareness among the public, policy makers, and service providers about issues affecting marginalized groups. The organization has helped place articles in The Guardian and the BBC.
- Tembinkosi Qondela, of Cape Town, South Africa, who founded Whizz ICT Centre, an organization that seeks to facilitate the use of information communication technology (ICT) tools for development efforts of the community in Khayelitsha, one of the largest and poorest areas of Cape Town, South Africa. Mr. Qondela observed that marginalization of poor people in the use of ICT and the lack of access to information perpetuates the inequalities and poverty that face most young South Africans. Whizz ICT runs a center which gives young people access to computer training, other ICT related services and training in a range of income generating skills. To date Whizz ICT has provided training to over 1000 youth.
The names and brief profiles of the other six honorees are available on SXSW's website. We congratulate them all.
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
Study Finds Combination of Employment and Income Policies, New Tax Credit, Could Cut NYC Poverty Rate
I just came across this 116-page report commissioned by the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, and the UJA-Federation of New York titled How Much Could Policy Changes Reduce Poverty in New York City? The report was actually prepared by the Urban Institute. According to the report, a combination of employment and income policies, in-kind benefits, and a new tax credit could significantly reduce the poverty rate in New York City, where 20 percent of all residents currently live in poverty.
Giving a summary of the report, the Philanthropy News Digest states that
the report . . . analyzed the potential impact of a transitional jobs program, increased earnings supplements, a $15/hour minimum wage, increased Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program benefits, more housing vouchers, guaranteed childcare subsidies, and a tax credit for non-working seniors and people with disabilities. Among the individual policy options, the study found the jobs program likely to be most effective (assuming that 50 percent of the unemployed living under the poverty line participate), reducing the poverty rate from 21.4 percent to an estimated 15.9 percent, followed by the tax credit for seniors and people with disabilities, a $15/hour minimum wage, and increased SNAP benefits.
The combined effect of multiple policy options, however, would be far greater, the report argues. Based on an analysis of three scenarios, the study found that even the least extensive combination — increased SNAP benefits, Earned Income Tax Credit, and childcare benefits; the tax credit for non-working seniors and people with disabilities; and 25 percent participation in the transitional jobs program at $9/hour but no change in the minimum wage or housing subsidies — would nearly halve the city's poverty rate to 12.1 percent. In the scenario with the most extensive combination of policy options, including 50 percent participation in the jobs program at a minimum wage of $15/hour, Paycheck Plus earning supplements, and housing vouchers for half the people on the waiting list, the poverty rate would fall by more than two-thirds, to 6.7 percent.
The study also found that the most effective individual policies, the jobs program and the tax credit, were the most expensive, and that total costs for the combination of policy options was estimated to range from $6.5 billion to $9.1 billion. While the costs are substantial, the report concludes, the analysis shows "that a package of policies can greatly reduce the number of people living in poverty," with potential long-term effects "that differ from those in the short run, especially if less near-term poverty helps more of today’s children avoid poverty in adulthood."
Monday, March 9, 2015
I have always found it troubling when people donate to charity but the donees receive a very small share of the donation. And yesterday's Orange County Register published a story about such a practice, a story that made me see, well, not orange, but red. According to the Register, in 2013, the for profit firms that raise money for charities collected $361.3 million from well-meaning Californians and pocketed $161.2 million, or 45.4 percent, of the take, this according to the latest figures from the Office of the Attorney General. Incidentally, those figures were better than those for 2012, when the for-profit firms pocketed 63 percent of the money raised in nonprofits' names.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris has bemoaned "the alarming extent to which charitable donations are often diverted to for-profit companies." However, Assemblywoman Jaqui Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks, noted that at least the trend seems to be going in the right direction (i.e., from 63 percent last year to 45.4 percent this year). Meanwhile, here's an interesting statistic: "generally speaking, charities with the words 'police' or 'firefighter' in their names kept less than one-third of what was raised on their behalf, with the overwhelming majority going to the for-profit fundraiser," reports the Register.
The Register continues:
In their defense, officials said some campaigns costing millions were strategic investments that will pay off far more than they cost, in future contributions.
Others, however, are run-of-the-mill, we-need-your-money-now-please affairs, where for-profit firms kept huge chunks of what donors believed would fund good works.
Charities often argue that it’s not really money out of their pockets, since professional fundraisers take a percentage of proceeds, or a pre-determined amount if a minimum is not met, said Sandra Miniutti, vice president of Charity Navigator, a nonprofit watchdog.
“However, from a donor’s perspective, that argument does not hold, since it is actually the donor’s money that is going to a professional fundraiser as opposed to the charity they thought they were supporting,” Miniutti said by email. “In large part, it is still professional companies taking advantage of the lack of education on the giving public’s part.”
And that’s why the Attorney General’s Office started gathering these numbers to begin with.
Well, I hope the Attorney General's Office can use these numbers to do something to change this sad situation.
OK; I'll admit it: my heart is breaking as I write this blog. I was Orange before I stepped foot on the SU campus, remained Orange while I was a student there, and am still Orange. And now my Orange pride has taken a hit. All weekend long I've been hanging my head in shame as the TV stations have kept repeating the news over and over: "The NCAA suspended Syracuse University basketball coach Jim Boeheim on Friday for nine Atlantic Coast Conference games and took away scholarships after a lengthy investigation of the school's athletic programs."
I've been trying to figure out just what happened. What did Boeheim and my alma mater do? I'll let Reuters tell the story:
Syracuse discovered and self-reported 10 violations, over an eight-year period dating to 2001, that primarily involved men’s basketball but also football, the NCAA Committee on Infractions said.
Those infractions included academic misconduct, extra benefits, failure to follow the school's drug testing policy and impermissible booster activity.
"Over the course of a decade, Syracuse University did not control and monitor its athletics programs," the committee said in a statement, "and its head men's basketball coach failed to monitor his program."
Boeheim's suspension will cover the first nine ACC games of the 2015-2016 season.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association's penalties include five years' probation, financial penalties, and a reduction of three men’s basketball scholarships per year through 2018-19.
Also Syracuse will vacate all wins in which ineligible men's basketball students played in 2004-05, 2005-06, 2006-07, 2010-11 and 2011-12 and all wins in which ineligible football students played in 2004-05, 2005-06 and 2006-07.
Boeheim, a Hall of Famer who has been the Syracuse head coach since 1976, won 135 games in those five seasons and 108 of those wins will be wiped out.
Say what? One hundred and eight wins erased? Treated like losses? How is that possible? Well, I guess the games are being forfeited after they were played and won! And in addition to that, Syracuse must return to the NCAA all money it received through the former Big East Conference for its appearances in the 2011, 2012 and 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.
I'll be honest: I find these sanctions harsh -- and not only because Syracuse is my alma mater. These sanctions are saying to me, "Let us pretend that Syracuse did not play basketball in 2011, 2012 and 2013." That doesn't make much sense.
On the other hand, I find one sentence of the report of the NCAA Committee on Infractions troubling:
- Two staff members completed course work for an academically ineligible student "when the school was under investigation for other potential violations."
I have a problem with that. That was dishonest. It was wrong.
Not surprisingly, Chancellor Kent Syverud is not amused. According to the Chancellor, "Syracuse University did not and does not agree with all the conclusions reached by the NCAA, including some of the findings and penalties included in [the] report. However, we take the report and the issues it identifies very seriously, particularly those that involve academic integrity and the overall well-being of student-athletes."
There is much talk about an appeal by Boeheim and an appeal by Syracuse. I guess this is not over. Stayed tuned for the next installment.
Philanthropy News Digest reports that L'Oreal Paris has announced a Call for Nominations for the 2015 L'Oreal Paris Women of Worth awards, an annual program designed to honor women making a "beautiful difference" in the world through voluntarism.
According to the Digest,
Since 2006, the program, in partnership with Points of Light, has recognized eighty inspiring women who have selflessly devoted themselves to causes at the local and national level and motivated others to get involved. Past honorees have been involved in a range of important causes, from advocating for victims of childhood abuse and mentoring homeless children, to helping break the cycle of poverty and empowering teens with disabilities.
As regards the current Call for Nominations, the Digest states that this year, "ten women will be awarded $10,000 each and one woman will be named the national honoree and receive an additional $25,000 to further her charitable efforts. All ten honorees will be recognized in December at a star-studded awards ceremony hosted by L'Oreal Paris in New York."
Complete program guidelines, information about previous recipients, and nomination instructions are available at the Women of Worth website.
Friday, March 6, 2015
The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that proposed legislation in California would impose greater disclosure requirements on charity fundraisers. Explains the article:
California law requires "commercial fundraisers" to include a disclosure in charity solicitations whenever a portion of a donor’s charitable contributions will go to a for-profit company. However, some fundraisers have skirted that requirement by establishing their operations as "fundraising counsel" instead of "commercial fundraiser."
According to the story, the bill, sponsored by California Assembly member Jacqui Irwin and supported by California Attorney General Kamala Harris, would impose the transparency requirement on “all for-profit companies involved in fundraising for charities,” and would also lengthen to 10 years the statute of limitations applicable to particular offenses relating to "the exploitation of charitable assets." The article states that a recent attorney general’s report has found that “an average of 54.6 percent of funds raised through campaigns conducted by commercial fundraisers in the state in 2013 went to the charities.”
Wednesday, March 4, 2015
The Los Angeles Times is running a piece that calls into question the creation and use of charitable nonprofits by political leaders to raise money funding activities that accomplish the leaders’ agendas. The focus of the article is the charity established by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, the Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles. There is no allegation that the fund is intervening in political campaigns or otherwise unlawfully influencing the political process. The concern is that big donors to the fund can obtain influence by supporting the Mayor’s pet projects. The story explains:
The contribution is one of dozens the Mayor's Fund has received, from companies with a stake in City Hall decisions and from charitable foundations, according to records reviewed by The Times. Modeled on similar nonprofits in New York and other cities, the fund provides a financial boost for civic programs — as diverse as environmental initiatives and summer jobs for thousands of inner-city kids — that might otherwise fall victim to city belt-tightening.
But the nonprofit, which took in about $5.2 million between its formation in June and last month, can also offer a discreet destination for special-interest money that is not subject to campaign finance restrictions. City law caps contributions by individuals or businesses at $1,300 per election for mayoral candidates. By contrast, the average donation to the Mayor's Fund has been $111,000.
According to the Times piece, “Garcetti's fund has benefited from donations of as much as $1 million from prominent charities as well as manufacturing, engineering, telecommunications, software and financial firms, or foundations linked to those companies.” The Times also reports that “some donors to the fund said they had enjoyed one-on-one meetings with the mayor and dinner receptions at his official residence.” The mayor, for his part, is reported to have insisted that “he keeps his distance from the organization's operations and that donors are dealt with by the nonprofit's staff.”
The Chicago Tribune reports that the Bernie Mac Foundation (“BMF”) has adopted numerous reforms to improve its governance following an audit by the Illinois Attorney General prompted by a journalistic probe by the Tribune. The need for change is perhaps best captured by the following fact reported by the Tribune: Only $152,000 of $900,000 worth of the BMF’s expenditures from 2009 to 2013 “went to charitable programs.”
The late comedian Bernie Mac created the BMF to combat sarcoidosis, a disease that afflicted Mac. After his death, the BMF’s board at one point reportedly dwindled to three people consisting of two family members and a long-time associate of Mac. The BMF received several hundred thousand dollars of charitable contributions after Mac’s death, but problems soon surfaced. According to the story, much of the donated money “ended up going to salaries and contracts that benefited board members, and the foundation fell far short of recognized benchmarks for charitable spending.”
But all of that now appears to have changed. The BMF is reported to have increased its board membership to eight people, giving the board “a range of community leaders and professionals.” The Tribune further reports:
[T]he Bernie Mac Foundation's charitable spending is expected to increase this year.
The organization also will stop contracting with two companies controlled by Mac's longtime associate, board Treasurer Edward Williams, according to new board member Manotti L. Jenkins, who is serving as a spokesman for the group. Several experts told the Tribune that the sums paid out to one of Williams' companies seemed large for the financial consulting and investment management services it was listed as providing.
In addition, says the piece, the BMF’s bylaws now prohibit board members from receiving salaries from the charity and from voting on transactions in which they are financially interested. Other reforms include (1) formalizing the BMF’s support of its primary charitable beneficiary, the Bernie Mac Sarcoidosis Translational Advanced Research (STAR) Center, established at the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System, and (2) requiring modest participation in fundraising by board members.
Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Readers of this blog are likely familiar with issues surrounding nonprofit hospital conversions. It appears that we may be witnessing a trend of conversions in the opposite direction (i.e., from for-profit to nonprofit form) in another field – education. In Some Owners of Private Colleges Turn a Tidy Profit by Going Nonprofit, the New York Times reports that recent governmental regulations and extensive negative publicity have led some for-profit colleges to opt for a solution quite distinct from going out of business. These schools have chosen to convert to nonprofit corporations. Apparently to illustrate the risk that for-profit culture may (or at least may be perceived to) carry through to the newly created nonprofit entities, the Times presents the case of Florida’s Keiser University. Says the Times:
In 2011, the Keiser family, the school’s founder and owner, sold it to a tiny nonprofit called Everglades College, which it had created. As president of Everglades, Arthur Keiser earned a salary of nearly $856,000, more than his counterpart at Harvard, according to the college’s 2012 tax return, the most recent publicly available. He is receiving payments and interest on more than $321 million he lent the tax-exempt nonprofit so that it could buy his university. And he has an ownership interest in properties that the college pays $14.6 million in rent for, as well as a stake in the charter airplane that the college’s managers fly in and the Holiday Inn where its employees stay, the returns show. A family member also has an ownership interest in the computer company the college uses.
The piece quotes fellow blogger Lloyd Mayer of the law school at the University of Notre Dame as observing the concern that newly formed nonprofit schools “may be providing an impermissible private benefit to their former owners.”
Dr. Arthur Keiser reportedly has dismissed the notion that the conversion of Keiser University raises concerns by stating that transitioning to the nonprofit form was long contemplated and by observing, “We disclosed everything. There’s nothing wrong with it.” However, not all appear convinced. According to the Times, former Education Department official Robert Shireman “filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service accusing Mr. Keiser and three board members of violating tax regulations and using the nonprofit ‘for personal gain.’” Keiser is reported to have responded to these allegations by stating that “all the financial arrangements ‘are at fair market value terms and conditions,’ and that the college adheres to ‘generally accepted auditing and accounting principles.’” Further, Dr. Keiser points out that the valuation of the college when sold was supported by “two independent auditors” and that he donated much of the value to the new school.
The Times reports that the structure of the Keiser University conversion is not atypical. Others are reported to have financed the purchase of for-profit colleges through a combination of loans and charitable contributions “to a closely affiliated nonprofit.” According to the story, the newly formed tax-exempt schools also may lease space from the original owners at hefty rents. The piece discusses conversions of Stevens-Henager, CollegeAmerica, California College (all owned by Carl B. Barney), Remington College and Herzing University, and a planned conversion of Grand Canyon University.
Monday, March 2, 2015
According to a recent article in the Boston Globe, “Northeastern University recently retroactively paid the city of Boston $886,000 to help cover the costs of municipal services after the school faced criticism for failing to give anything this past fiscal year.” The Globe further reports that the city had requested $2.5 million, and that the letter accompanying the lesser payment states that it “should not be construed as support or commitment to the PILOT formula, so much as it reflects our willingness to work with your administration to arrive at a financial number that properly reflects Northeastern’s relationships with the city.”
The story sets forth additional facts that provide context to the Boston PILOT program:
Fifteen of the 19 colleges [owning highly appraised property in Boston], including the city’s wealthiest universities, did not pay the amounts requested by the city during fiscal 2014.
The amounts the city requests are based on the total assessed value of tax-exempt properties owned by the nonprofits. Northeastern has been criticized sharply for failing to pay what the city requests despite its large size. The university owns about $1.3 billion worth of tax-exempt property in Boston, which is the third most of any college in the city.
Boston University owns $2 billion worth of tax-exempt property and last fiscal year paid the city about $6 million, about $500,000 less than the city requested. Harvard, while based in Cambridge, owns about $1.5 billion worth of tax-exempt property in Boston and paid the city $2.2 million, while the city requested about $4.3 million.
Northeastern, reports the Globe, already pays the city more than $2 million annually in property taxes, and has stated that it not only provides annual community benefits exceeding $28 million, but also has committed millions to improve a nearby city park.
The Boston Globe reports that Massachusetts lawmakers are hearing many proposals for expanding services that the commonwealth provides the elderly who need more help to enable them to live at home. A coalition of nonprofit entities are reportedly supporting various legislative initiatives that, proponents say, ultimately will save taxpayers money because they will reduce the time that older residents spend at expensive institutions, such as hospitals and nursing homes. Proposals include providing older people of moderate means assistance with grocery shopping and taking medicine, as well as teaching family members how to perform in-home nursing tasks. Laws governing the latter, says the story, have already been enacted in Oklahoma and New Jersey.
With the expanding costs of healthcare and the aging population of baby boomers (who must think not only of their current and future medical care needs, but also of their parents’ present health care requirements), a proliferation of similar proposals across the country would not be surprising.
Friday, February 6, 2015
The most recent edition of Nonprofit Advocacy Matters, published by the National Council of Nonprofits, contains a number of entries that may interest readers. Headlines include the following:
Federal Budget 101 (discussing the significance of the President’s Budget, the Budget Resolution prepared by the House and Senate Budget Committees, the Appropriations process and the process of Budget Reconciliation)
Got Influence? (opining that “nonprofits from eleven states have the inside track on delivering the message on how tax exemptions, giving incentives, and regulations” affect the charitable sector because leadership assignments in the Senate Finance Committee “will affect the policy debates and legislation for the next two years”)
Maine Governor Proposes Taxes on Nonprofits (reporting that the budget plan of the Governor of Maine “would remove the full exemption from property taxation on properties owned by nonprofit organizations with an assessed value in excess of $500,000, and reduce the exemption to 50 percent on the portion of the value in excess of $500,000”)
Court Orders Massachusetts to Update Rates Paid to Nonprofits (reporting that a state judge has ordered the Massachusetts Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to “update the rates paid to nonprofits for human services provided on behalf of the Commonwealth”)
Nonprofit Independence Challenged, Preserved in the Northeast (citing recent examples of how “public and government officials often misunderstand the relationship between governments and charitable nonprofits and mistakenly presume that rules and mandates by government ought to automatically apply to these independent organizations”)
Taxes, Fees, PILOTs (noting developments in Alaska and Pennsylvania)
New State Offices for Faith-Based Nonprofits (discussing the creation in New York of an Office “to assist and leverage community and faith-based organizations in the delivery of education, health, workforce training, food programs, and social services to communities, particularly those most in need” and proposed legislation in Pennsylvania to establish an Office “that would do much of the same work contemplated for the new New York Office”)
Thursday, February 5, 2015
As reported in The Buffalo News, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is proposing that those who donate to organizations “that give scholarships to low- and middle-income families to attend private schools would get a tax break,” as would those who donate “to education foundations and other groups that help public schools.” The form of the proposed tax incentive is reported to be a state income tax credit that “would take up to 75 cents off the tax bill for every dollar donated, up to a $1 million.”
Enacting the proposal into law may require some political maneuvering. The story continues:
In Albany, debate over the tax credit has been framed as a fight between private school supporters and public school advocates. But Cuomo last month linked it to another education proposal, the DREAM Act, short for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, which would let children of undocumented immigrants get college tuition assistance.
Cuomo told lawmakers last month that he would only approve the two together.
The article states that opponents fear the proposal will lead to less support for public schools, whereas others see benefits to public education in that donors to charities “that raise money for school improvements or academic programs at public schools would be eligible for the tax credit under Cuomo’s plans.”
Wednesday, February 4, 2015
The Chronicle of Philanthropy is running three stories discussing certain of the provisions affecting the charitable sector in President Obama’s proposed budget, one of which stories also notes efforts in the House of Representatives to make permanent several temporary charitable giving incentives.
One article observes the “mix of praise and criticism for a nearly $4-trillion budget package for fiscal year 2016 that was formally released by the White House on Monday.” The sense of the article is that the nonprofit sector is (unsurprisingly) embracing many of the President’s funding initiatives, while (also unsurprisingly) expressing some disappointment with his perennial proposal to limit the value of the charitable contributions deduction to higher income taxpayers. One of the fairest assessments comes from a YMCA leader:
Regardless of what is ultimately passed by Congress, the proposal is a good reflection of the President’s priorities, said Neal Denton, senior vice president and chief government affairs officer for the YMCA of the USA. “We’re especially happy to see his focus on ensuring opportunities for children and families to learn, grow, and thrive,” he said, noting line items that would increase access to child care and early education, among other things.
Key excerpts from another article, which focuses on tax matters:
Part of a massive $4-trillion proposal, President Obama’s plan would limit the value of all itemized deductions, including one for charitable gifts, to 28 percent for individuals who earn more than $200,000 and couples who earn more than $250,000. …
The budget plan follows a tax proposal President Obama made in January that would raise the capital-gains tax rate and close what the White House called the "trust-fund loophole," which limits heirs’ exposure to gains in the value of the assets they inherit. The president’s plan would subject appreciated value to the capital-gains tax but would provide an exemption if the assets are donated to charity.
Joanne Florino, senior vice president for public policy at the Philanthropy Roundtable, an organization that represents donors, said it was curious that President Obama exempted charitable gifts on those inheritances, yet is still pushing to limit the deduction over all. …
Meanwhile, House Republicans are pushing to make a set of temporary tax breaks for charitable giving permanent. The tax benefits, for gifts of land for conservation purposes, gifts of food to food banks and other charities, and gifts made by retirees straight from individual retirement accounts, are part of a slate of about 50 temporary tax provisions called "extenders" that are usually renewed each year.
And yet another piece explains why the President’s proposal to raise the estate tax rate – while simultaneously not subjecting appreciation on assets to federal income taxation when the assets are donated to charitable entities – is a significant tax incentive for charitable giving:
An estate-tax increase would provide a huge benefit to charities because donations to these groups would become the only easy way to legally avoid capital-gains taxes, according to Len Burman, director of the Tax Policy Center.
Rather than pass assets down to heirs and incur a higher tax levy, more wealthy tax filers will chose to bequeath their assets to charities upon their death, Mr. Burman said.
“The president has locked up the philanthropic sector vote,” he wrote in TaxVox, a blog maintained by the center. “Except, of course, he isn’t running again.”
For an opinion-free survey of the President’s tax-related proposals affecting charities, see this previous entry on the blog.
Monday, February 2, 2015
The Boston Globe reports that Boston College’s Center on Wealth and Philanthropy, established in 1970, will cease operating when its leaders step down. The Center’s director, Paul Schervish, a former Jesuit priest, and associate director John Havens, reportedly plan to retire soon, perhaps by this summer (barring the Center’s receipt of an unforeseen grant that would prolong their interest in operating the Center). The Center’s work apparently has been tied closely to the unique, complementary backgrounds and personalities of its leaders:
[B]oth [leaders] say their distinctive blend of expertise — Schervish’s background is in literature, sociology, and theology, while Havens’s training is in economics, mathematics, and physics — has created an academic partnership that would be difficult to replicate.
“We have a special chemistry, and that’s led to a unique working relationship,” Havens said.
The story features an interesting discussion on misconceptions about the relationship between estate taxation and philanthropy:
In 2006, the center published a paper refuting the long-held belief that the main reason wealthy people leave money to charity is to avoid estate taxes, and that charitable bequests would plummet if estate taxes were eliminated.
On the contrary, Schervish and Havens found, the wealthiest Americans tend to give to charity for more altruistic reasons once they reach financial security.
“We always focused on spiritual context,” Schervish said, “and our statistical work was always the foundation for a moral question: How can you use your wealth for deeper purposes when you no longer need to achieve a higher standard of living?”
The Globe reports that Schervish was recently appointed a visiting research fellow at Duke University and intends to serve on the faculty of Boston College until the end of the year.