Wednesday, January 20, 2021
A recent press release from the University of Southern California reveals that research conducted by the University of Southern California and Princeton University has concluded that the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly reduced life expectancy in the United States, with Black and Latinx Americans disproportionately impacted.
Based on estimates of deaths under four scenarios — one in which the pandemic had not occurred and three that include COVID-19 mortality projections — by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, the report, Reductions in 2020 US Life Expectancy due to COVID-19 and the Disproportionate Impact on the Black and Latino Populations, found that as a result of pandemic deaths in 2020, Americans' overall life expectancy will fall 1.13 years, to 77.48 years — the single largest decline in at least forty years and the lowest number since 2003.
The study also identified significant disparities by race, with researchers projecting that life expectancy for African Americans will fall 2.1 years, to 72.78 years; by 3.05 years, to 78.77 years, for Latinx individuals; and by 0.68 years, to 77.84 years, for white Americans.
Reporting on the projections, today's Philanthropy News Digest quotes Theresa Andrasfay, a postdoctoral fellow at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and co-author of the report as stating: "While the arrival of effective vaccines is hopeful, the U.S. is currently experiencing more daily COVID-19 deaths than at any other point in the pandemic. Because of that, and because we expect there will be long-term health and economic effects that may result in worse mortality for many years to come, we expect there will be lingering effects on life expectancy in 2021. That said, no cohort may ever experience a reduction in life expectancy of the magnitude attributed to COVID-19 in 2020."
As an African American, I dare say the result of this study does not make me too happy.
Vaughn E. James, Texas Tech University
Wednesday, January 6, 2021
The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) has released a report entitled Consolidation of Examination Case Selection and Assignment in the Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division Created Benefits, but Additional Improvements Are Needed (Report Number 2021-10-005). Here are the highlights:
What TIGTA Found
The creation of the CP&C [Compliance Planning and Classification] function centralized how noncompliance issues are identified, developed, approved, classified, and monitored for all five TE/GE [Tax Exempt and Government Entities] Division functions. This reorganization changed how the TE/GE Division identifies examination projects, processes referrals, and tracks examinations results. However, because management did not develop performance metrics to measure progress towards achieving reorganization goals, TE/GE Division leadership cannot determine if the CP&C function improved the effectiveness and efficiency of identifying, planning, classifying, and monitoring examination workload.
Further, TE/GE Division management did not establish reorganization goals and outcomes, have a dedicated implementation team in place for the duration of the reorganization, involve all key stakeholders, effectively communicate with affected employees, or provide adequate project management oversight to ensure timely implementation of all necessary actions. This resulted in employee confusion and compromised the initial success of the reorganization. Finally, TIGTA’s analysis showed that the CP&C function has had mixed results reducing the number of unnecessary contacts with compliant taxpayers and identifying more productive examinations. Specifically, between Fiscal Years 2016 and 2019, the number of examinations closed without any changes favorably decreased for two of the five TE/GE functions, but increased by 36, 40, and 31 percent for the other three functions. Further, the overall number of cases closed without full examination (surveyed) favorably decreased by 5 percent, but increased by 468 percent for the Indian Tribal Government function.
The reorganization helped create additional benefits, such as reducing the potential for bias in case selection. In addition, the CP&C function implemented processing changes that decreased processing time for Exempt Organization function referrals by 37 percent, and began implementing a tracking system for all assigned inventory in September 2020.
What TIGTA Recommended
TIGTA made six recommendations, including the Director, CP&C, should develop performance metrics and explore process improvements for validating identified cases to ensure that they include the identified issues prior to assignment. In addition, the Commissioner, TE/GE Division, should determine the feasibility of reassigning resources from compliance functions to improve the efficiency of identifying, classifying, and monitoring productive examination workloads. Management agreed or partially agreed with five of the recommendations, but disagreed to explore process improvements to ensure that selected cases include identified issues prior to issuance. TIGTA believes this action could help reduce the number of assigned cases that employees close without examination.
Saturday, November 21, 2020
The U.S. Government Accountability Office has published Opportunities Exist to Improve Oversight of Hospital's Tax-Exempt Status. Here are the highlights of the report:
What GAO Found
Nonprofit hospitals must satisfy three sets of requirements to obtain and maintain a nonprofit tax exemption (see figure).
Requirements for Nonprofit Hospitals to Obtain and Maintain a Tax-Exemption
While PPACA established requirements to better ensure hospitals are serving their communities, the law is unclear about what community benefit activities hospitals should be engaged in to justify their tax exemption. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) identified factors that can demonstrate community benefits, but they are not requirements. IRS does not have authority to specify activities hospitals must undertake and makes determinations based on facts and circumstances. This lack of clarity makes IRS's oversight challenging. Congress could help by adding specificity to the Internal Revenue Code (IRC).
While IRS is required to review hospitals' community benefit activities at least once every 3 years, it does not have a well-documented process to ensure that those activities are being reviewed. IRS referred almost 1,000 hospitals to its audit division for potential PPACA violations from 2015 through 2019. However, IRS could not identify if any of these referrals related to community benefits. GAO's analysis of IRS data identified 30 hospitals that reported no spending on community benefits in 2016, indicating potential noncompliance with providing community benefits. A well-documented process, such as clear instructions for addressing community benefits in the PPACA reviews or risk-based methods for selecting cases, would help IRS ensure it is effectively reviewing hospitals' community benefit activities.
Further, according to IRS officials, hospitals with little to no community benefit expenses would indicate potential noncompliance. However, IRS was unable to provide evidence that it conducts reviews related to hospitals' community benefits because it does not have codes to track such audits.
Why GAO Did This Study
Slightly more than half of community hospitals in the United States are private, nonprofit organizations. IRS and the Department of the Treasury have recognized the promotion of health as a charitable purpose and have specified that nonprofit hospitals are eligible for a tax exemption. IRS has further stated that these hospitals can demonstrate their charitable purpose by providing services that benefit their communities as a whole.
In 2010, Congress and the President enacted PPACA, which established additional requirements for tax-exempt hospitals to meet to maintain their tax exemption.
GAO was asked to review IRS's implementation of requirements for tax-exempt hospitals. This report assesses IRS's (1) oversight of how tax-exempt hospitals provide community benefits, and (2) enforcement of PPACA requirements related to tax-exempt hospitals.
What GAO Recommends
GAO is making one matter for congressional consideration to specify in the IRC what services and activities Congress considers sufficient community benefit. GAO is also making four recommendations to IRS, including to establish a well-documented process to ensure hospitals' community benefit activities are being reviewed, and to create codes to track audit activity related to hospitals' community benefit activities. IRS agreed with GAO's recommendations.
Independent Sector has published a report titled Health of the U.S. Nonprofit Sector (free sign-up required to access). Here is the Snapshot of the report's findings provided by IS:
- Nonprofits make up 5.5% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
- In 2019, Americans gave $450 billion to charity, but the number of donors continued a downward trend, declining by 3%
- Nonprofits make up 7% of total workforce and 10% of private workforce
- 59% of U.S. public trust nonprofits to do what is right
- Voters contacted by nonprofits turn out at rates 11 percentage points higher than comparable voters
- 7% of nonprofits are estimated to close due to the pandemic and almost 1 million nonprofit jobs have been lost
Friday, November 20, 2020
DAFs: Surge in Giving Amid Concerns, Proposals for Change at Federal & State Levels, Maybe New Regs Soon
There has been a lot of news recently relating to the quickly growing universe of donor-advised funds. A recent analysis by the Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that eight of the nation's largest community foundations have seen giving from DAFs they oversee increase by 42% from March to April of this year. And a recent study by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy (pictured) finds that seven of ten nonprofits surveyed have received DAF grants, even as many nonprofit leaders expressed concerns relating to seeking and processing DAF gifts, especially relating to communicating with donors who give through a DAF.
Not surprisingly, the growth and spread of DAFs continues to attract proposals for increasing oversight of and rules for them. Last month the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported that billionaire John Arnold and law professor Ray Madoff have joined forces as part of their Initiative to Accelerate Charitable Giving to propose a set of federal tax law changes that would, among other goals, accelerate giving from DAFs. Push back was quick, including from the Philanthropy Roundtable.
At the same time, proposals related to DAFs are also being made at the state level. For example, members of the California legislature continue to pursue possible DAF-related bills, as detailed by Gene Takagi earlier this year. And a recent attempt in California to pass a bill (AB 2936) that would have established a state-law category of DAF sponsoring organizations failed in August, according to CalNonprofits. In Minnesota, a new report by the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits recommends that state law there be changed to "require charitable trusts transferring funds to a donor advised fund (DAF) to include in their annual trust filing with the office of the attorney general an itemized list of all grants and contributions made or approved for future payment during the year from that DAF."
Regardless of whether any of these proposals advance, we do know that Treasury is working on regulations relating to DAFs. As tweeted by Gene Takagi, Cindy Lott said at the NAAG/NASCO conference to expect some sort of DAF regulations in the next few months.
Finally, the Stanford Law School Policy Lab on Donor Advised Funds published Are Donor Advised Funds Good for Nonprofits? in the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR). That article follows an earlier SSIR podcast on How Nonprofits Are Leveraging Donor-Advised Funds.
Thursday, November 19, 2020
A recent report indicates that donors are increasing their giving in response to the challenges of 2020, including the pandemic. The Association of Fundraising Professionals' Fundraising Effectiveness Project reports that charitable giving in the first half of 2020 increased by 7.5% over the first half of 2019, a sharp increase after a decline for the first quarter of 2020 as compared to the first quarter of 2019. The number of donors also increased, by 7.2%, with an increase of 12.6% in new donors offsetting a decline in new retained donors. Coverage: Chronicle of Philanthropy (subscription required).
And according to a recent report from the Center for Effective Philanthropy, a survey of 236 foundations found that 66 percent had loosened or eliminated restrictions on existing grants since the pandemic began. A majority of respondents also reported that since the pandemic began they have reduced what is asked of grantees, made new grants as unrestricted as possible, and/or contributed to emergency funds. Coverage: Chronicle of Philanthropy (subscription required); The NonProfit Times.
Saturday, September 19, 2020
First, in CREW v. FEC the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit affirmed a district court decision that struck down the FEC's narrow interpretation of a statute relating to public disclosure of contributor information when the recipient organization makes independent expenditures, as defined by federal election law. The FEC had taken the position that the statute only required disclosure if a contribution was earmarked to support a particular independent expenditure. The court concluded that this position contradicted the plain terms of the statute, which at a minimum required disclosure if a contribution was made to generally support independent expenditures. However, the court did not resolve whether the statute could be interpreted by the FEC to only require disclosure of contributions with this general intent or instead required disclosure of all contributions (above a modest threshold set by the statute) given to an organization that makes independent expenditures. For further analysis, see the FEC summary. For coverage, see Politico. This ruling may be especially important as the use of so-called dark money increases on both sides of the aisle.
Second, the states of New Jersey and New York quietly ended their lawsuit against the Department of Treasury seeking documents relating to the Revenue Procedure (2018-38), which initially eliminated reporting of information about significant contributors to the IRS for tax-exempt organizations other than section 501(c)(3) and 527s. That Revenue Procedure was struck down by a federal district court and eventually replaced by regulations. According to Tax Notes, the parties filed a stipulation of voluntary dismissal that provides the states are satisfied Treasury and the IRS have produced the documents requested.
Third and finally, the Washington Post reports the FEC Chairman said during an interview earlier this week that a 2017 executive order freed churches to endorse political candidates. This was in the context of criticizing Catholic church leaders for admonishing priests who appear to do exactly that. He apparently acknowledged that the so-called Johnson Amendment, which prohibits section 501(c)(3) organizations, including churches, from supporting or opposing any candidate for elected office, is still good law, but asserted that it was unlikely to be enforced. Regardless of your views regarding the wisdom or even constitutionality of the Johnson Amendment, it is a bit shocking to hear a public official and lawyer say it is okay to break the law because it probably won't be enforced against you. (Not to mention the executive order he relies upon does not actually prohibit such enforcement.)
Thursday, May 14, 2020
According to a study of more than 200 grant makers released by the Center for Effective Philanthropy on Wednesday, nine in 10 foundation leaders say their foundations seek to influence public policy through their grant making and other activities. Not only that, but almost 75% of those foundations have increased their policy efforts during the past three years, most frequently at the state and local levels.
Foundation leaders apparently find nothing wrong with the practice. The study relates that "These efforts are not new, but have increased in recent years." Moreover, "most foundation leaders view efforts to influence public policy as an important way to achieve their goals."
The study published a sample of views held by some foundation leaders:
- "Good public policy helps our grants go further, and bad public policy undermines our grant making."
- "Public policy can have significantly more impact on the issues we care about than our grant dollars alone can."
- "One cannot be serious about, for example, the health of the environment and ignore the importance of policy action on climate change."
The report maintains that "The primary way foundations pursue their policy agenda is through grant making. Almost three-fourths of foundations that engage in policy work support grantees’ policy efforts."
Yet, the survey found that many foundation leaders run into internal resistance to their policy work. According to the report, "Foundation leaders face some common challenges, particularly when it comes to building board support."
Monday, May 11, 2020
Writing in today's Chronicle of Philanthropy, Susan N. Dreyfus and John MacIntosh opine that during the current COVID-19 crisis and its aftermath, many medium-sized nonprofit organizations will not survive unless the federal government provides them more much-needed support. Dreyfus is CEO of the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities; MacIntosh is managing partner of SeaChange Capital Partners, an organization that helps nonprofits facing complex financial challenges. In their thought-provoking article in today's Chronicle, they argue that while
[n]onprofits of all kinds provide critical help to communities across the United States, . . . it is the medium-sized ones that make a critical difference — those with at least 500 employees. Their workers operate food pantries, and homeless and domestic-violence shelters. They manage and staff residential facilities for young people with mental illnesses. They offer in-home and residential services for older Americans and people with disabilities. During the Covid-19 pandemic, their work is more urgent than ever.
Yet, the authors state, even as these organizations face various challenges -- challenges as daunting as those faced by their smaller counterparts -- they "are not receiving the government support they need to survive." For example, the "federal Paycheck Protection Program excludes nonprofits with more that 500 employees from obtaining the forgivable loans that would allow them to retain and compensate their employees and continue to deliver essential services during this public-health crisis."
What, then, can we do? As the article points out, at "a time when many nonprofits are at a breaking point, we [cannot] afford to leave those with more than 500 employees out of support programs that are keeping smaller organizations afloat."
According to the article,
A new analysis of New York City’s larger nonprofits found that under normal circumstances, most have just two weeks of cash on hand. Without immediate assistance, the report projects that some won’t survive through May and that few, if any, will be in a position to continue services during the Covid-19 crisis and its aftermath. Most of these organizations lack meaningful endowments and have limited access to credit. Their operating margins are razor thin (an average of 1 percent), even before taking into account the reduction in revenue and increase in expenses associated with the pandemic. Most importantly, their philanthropy, which covers less than 5 percent of expenses, cannot make up for a reduction in funding and contracts during the health crisis.
The article continues:
This situation is not unique to New York. A 2018 report on the financial stability of community-based human-services organizations found that 40 percent of the larger nonprofits had less than one month of cash reserves. Those providing housing and shelter-related services faced significantly greater financial stress.
Critics may be quick to argue that the challenges confronting these nonprofits are the result of their own inefficiency and poor management. Not so, argue Dreyfus and MacIntosh. They specifically state that:
The challenges confronting these nonprofits are not the result of inefficiency or poor management. Most government funding and philanthropy traditionally does not cover the full cost of providing services. Government contracts for essential services also create cash-flow problems since, unlike with grants, payments are not made until after the work is completed and can be subject to long and unpredictable delays. Cash, as a consequence, is an ongoing issue. But unlike large for-profits, these organizations do not have access to capital markets, cannot easily unlock illiquid assets, and are unable to use bankruptcy to restructure while continuing to deliver services. Any increase in costs, reduction in revenue, or delay in cash receipts could put some of them permanently over the edge.
So just what is the solution? The authors call for Congressional action:
Wednesday, April 15, 2020
This blog has been on hiatus as its contributors have dealt with moving their courses to online delivery, supporting students facing many stressful situations, and of course dealing with the personal impacts on us and our families of the pandemic. It therefore seems appropriate to start with an initial roundup of nonprofit law-related coronavirus topics before turning to other recent nonprofit law developments.
CARES Act: Many provisions of the CARES Act (Pub. Law No. 116-136) could be relevant to most nonprofits, but three provisions stand out in particular:
- Partial Charitable Contribution Deduction for Individual, Non-Itemizers (section 2204): Modifies Internal Revenue Code section 62 by adding paragraph (a)(22) and subsection (f) to allow individuals who do not itemize their deductions to deduct, above-the-line, cash charitable contributions (as defined in section 170(c)) of up to $300 total made in taxable years beginning after December 31, 2019. Supporting organizations and donor-advised funds are not eligible recipients, but private foundations are.
- Temporary Elimination or Increase of Limits on Certain Charitable Contribution Deductions (section 2205): Modifies IRC section 170 by eliminating the contribution base percentage limit on charitable contributions by individuals and increasing the taxable income percentage limit on charitable contributions by corporations from 10 percent to 25 percent for cash contributions made during the 2020 calendar year. Again, supporting organizations and donor-advised funds are not eligible recipients, but private foundations are.
- Small Business Administration Loans: Section 501(c)(3) organizations, including religious ones, are eligible to participate in the Paycheck Protection Program (sections 1101-1106) if they satisfy number of employee (usually 500 or less) and other requirements, and all private nonprofits are eligible to participate in the Emergency Economic Injury Grants program (section 1110) if they satisfy that program's number of employee (usually 500 or less) and other requirements. For more details about these programs, see the SBA website; there is also an informative webinar on the Pittsburgh Foundation's website (dated April 10th) on this topic, as well as additional webinars on other coronavirus, nonprofit-related topics.
Coverage: Independent Sector; National Council of Nonprofits. Interestingly, these summaries state that the above-the-line deduction provision applies to contributions made in 2020, but the statutory language appears to make this provision permanent in that it applies "to taxable years beginning after December 31, 2019" without any expiration date and so it should be available for cash contributions made after 2020 as well. An analysis by the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, which states the above-the-line deduction is only available for contributions made in 2020 (I believe incorrectly), predicts that deduction will cost $2 billion but will only increase charitable contributions in 2020 by $110 million.
Extended IRS and State Filing Deadlines: In Notice 2020-23, the IRS explicitly extended to July 15, 2020 the deadline for filing (and paying any related tax owed) Form 990-PF, Form 990-T, Form 990W, and Form 4920 if they otherwise would have been due on or after April 1, 2020 and before July 15, 2020. In addition, by cross-reference to Revenue Procedure 2018-58 (see Section 10) the IRS also also extended to July 15, 2020 the deadline for filing a wide range of forms relating to tax-exempt organizations, including Form 990, Form 990-EZ, Form 990-N, Form 1023, Form 8871, Form 8872, and Form 8976 if they otherwise would been due during the same time period. For an analysis of this cross-reference, see this post by Laura J. Kenney of Blum Shapiro. Hat Tip: EO Tax Journal.
The IRS has also announced in a memorandum that it is permitting examination agents and managers to use "an increased reasonable application of business judgment" when applying the otherwise applicable deadlines for responding to information document requests and follow-ups during enforcement actions. This "temporary deviation" from the otherwise applicable requirements for enforcing such deadlines is in effect through July 15, 2020.
Finally, states are extending deadlines for required filings by nonprofits. For example, the New York Attorney General's Charities Bureau has announced it will grant an automatic six-month extension for annual financial reports originally due after February 15, 2020.
More updates to follow. Stay safe.
Friday, February 7, 2020
The initial results of the 2019 NACUBO-TIAA Study of Endowments, released late last month, reported that the 774 U.S. colleges, universities, and affiliated foundations reporting had an average annual endowment return of 5.3% (net of fees) from July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2019. This was a decline from the previous fiscal year's 8.2% average. Here is more information from the press release announcing the results:
Data gathered from 774 U.S. colleges, universities, and affiliated foundations for the 2019 NACUBO-TIAA Study of Endowments® (NTSE) show that participating institutions’ endowments returned an average of 5.3 percent (net of fees) for the 2019 fiscal year (July 1, 2018 – June 30, 2019).
Despite posting a lower return than FY18’s one-year average of 8.2 percent, the average 10-year endowment return reached 8.4 percent, surpassing institutions’ long-term average return objective of 7 percent for the first time in a decade. This reflects the strong stock market recovery since the 2008 financial crisis as well as solid management practices.
Due in part to strong 10-year returns, three quarters of institutions increased spending from their endowments to support students and faculty, with an average increase of more than $2 million. Participating institutions put 49 percent of their endowment spending dollars to student financial aid, 17 percent to academic programs, 11 percent to faculty, and 7 percent to campus facilities.
“The jump in spending from endowments last year shows once again the value of college and university endowments in supporting students and their access to a high-quality education,” said NACUBO President and CEO Susan Whealler Johnston. “These endowments help make opportunity available to college and university students and ensure the strength of academic programs that prepare them for work and life.”
“Endowments continue to play a significant role in institutions’ operations and financial strength, making it essential to take advantage of a wide range of investment options and strategies,” said Kevin O’Leary, Chief Executive Officer of TIAA Endowment and Philanthropic Services. “Endowment asset allocations and returns varied across different size endowment cohorts. Considering larger endowments generally have greater access to certain asset classes, such as private equity and venture capital, which were some of the highest performing asset classes in FY19, they again outperformed their smaller cohorts.”
One current hot topic with respect to higher education endowments is whether institutions should divest from fossil fuel holdings. C.J. Ryan (Roger Williams University School of Law) and Christopher Marsicano (Davidson College) have posted Examining the Impact of Divestment from Fossil Fuels on University Endowments. Here is the abstract:
Between 2011 and 2018, 35 American universities and colleges divested, either partially or completely, their endowments from fossil-fuel holdings, marking a shift toward sustainability in university endowment investment. However, the decision by these universities to divest was often marred by controversy, owing to conflicts between student- and faculty-led coalitions and the university board. Principally, endowment fiduciaries are averse to divestment decisions because they think that it will hurt the endowment's value, but this concern, motivated by a narrow interpretation of fiduciary law, can be empirically examined.
To date, the academic study of the effect of divestment on endowment values has focused on the top university endowments and has produced mixed results. Our study is different from the extant but limited literature in this area in that we examine holistically the impact of total or partial divestment on endowment values for all universities as well as a select group of institutions that are illustrative of their peers by endowment size. More importantly, we evaluate the assumption that divestment does injury endowment values through legal and empirical lenses.
Results from our difference-in-differences analyses of the effect of full and partial divestment suggest that either form of divestment does not yield discernible consequences--either positive or negative--for endowment values, at statistically significant levels. However, we do find evidence that divestment improved the value for three of four universities that we examined through synthetic control analysis, with the greatest increase in value at a university with a very large endowment (Stanford University) and modest increases at two universities with mid-sized and large endowments, respectively (University of Dayton and Syracuse University). Thus, the negative consequences of divestment may be overstated in the near-term. This challenges the assumption that divestment yields negative returns to endowments and cracks open the door for endowment fiduciaries to divest without violating duties of loyalty and prudence. We hope that this study both grounds and advances the debate about endowment divestment with empirical evidence and a reasoned discussion of its costs and benefits.
Thursday, February 6, 2020
Giving Issues: Recent Trends, More Bad Publicity for DAFs, and Greater Transparency for the PayPal Charitable Gift Fund
Starting with giving trends, in a lengthy Nonprofit Quarterly article Patrick Rooney (IUPUI Lilly School of Philanthropy) documents in great detail "the continued decline of the small donor and the growth of megadonors," with the former trend possibly accelerating because of the 2017 federal tax changes. That said, the effects of these trends likely will not affect all charities equally - a CNBC report indicates that while the largest, well-known organizations are still seeing increasing giving, many smaller, local charities are facing giving declines even in the midst of a a growing economy. And according to a study by Wealth-X, younger "ultrawealthy" donors tend to focus on one or two causes, which may further skew changes in giving levels. That said, a report from Cygnus Applied Research (executive summary requires free registration; full report must be purchased) found that most donors planned to maintain their giving amount in 2019 as compared to 2018, with 29% planning to give more and only 10% planning to give less.
The Rooney article includes a section on donor advised funds, finding that they are both continuing to grow significantly and "remain largely the realm of large donors." That growth is despite continuing bad publicity for DAFs, including news stories that both Google's Larry Page (through $400 million in grants from the Carl Victor Page Memorial Foundation) and Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg ($230 million in Facebook stock) had used giving to DAFs to, respectively, satisfy the private foundation payout rate and (presumably) generate substantial charitable contribution deductions without having to transfer funds to actual operating charities. To be fair, the funds may have eventually ended up at operating charities; there is just no way to know for sure. At the same time, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reports (subscription required) almost half of nonprofits surveyed said that DAFs hamper their ability to build relationships with donors. But there is not a complete lack of regulation of DAFs, as Tax Notes reports (subscription required) that the National Outreach Foundation has been forced to go to court to challenge the IRS' revocation of its tax-exempt status for allegedly using its role as a DAF sponsor to facilitate a tax avoidance scheme similar to one flagged by the IRS in Notice 2004-30.
Finally, the NonProfit Times reports that last month nearly two dozen states and the District of Columbia settled a dispute with the PayPal Charitable Gift Fund, Inc., the charitable arm of PayPal. According to a press release from the New York Attorney General (which also provides a link to the actual agreement), the Fund agreed to make sure donors know they are giving to the Fund, the timeframe for the selected ultimate charitable recipient to receive the donated funds, the difference between "enrolled" and "unenrolled" charities on the platform, and whether the donor's gift has been diverted to a different charity than the one the donor designated. The Fund also agreed to pay $200,000 to the National Association of Attorneys General, to be used to defray investigation and litigation costs relating to charities and to provide training and education for charity regulators.
Tuesday, August 13, 2019
There have been several notable recent additions to the donor-advised fund (DAF) debate. In June, H. Daniel Heist (U. Penn Social Policy & Practice) and Danielle Vance-McMullen (DePaul School of Public Service) published Understanding Donor-Advised Funds: How Grants Flow During Recessions, Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly (2019). Here is abstract:
Donor-advised funds (DAFs) are becoming increasingly popular in the United States. DAFs receive a growing share of all charitable donations and control a sizable proportion of grants made to other nonprofits. The growth of DAFs has generated controversy over their function as intermediary philanthropic vehicles. Using a panel data set of 996 DAF organizations from 2007 to 2016, this article provides an empirical analysis of DAF activity. We conduct longitudinal analyses of key DAF metrics, such as grants and payout rates. We find that a few large organizations heavily skew the aggregated data for a rather heterogeneous group of nonprofits. These panel data are then analyzed with macroeconomic indicators to analyze changes in DAF metrics during economic recessions. We find that, in general, DAF grantmaking is relatively resilient to recessions. We find payout rates increased during times of recession, as did a new variable we call the flow rate.
Earlier this month Candid (formerly the Foundation Center and GuideStar), released the results of a community foundation survey. Included in those results is the following information regarding donor-advised funds maintained by the surveyed foundations (citations omitted):
Product Mix: On average, donor advised funds make up more than a third of assets for community foundations larger than $250M. Although DAFs continue to grow, they don't appear to comprise significantly more of respondents' asset bases than in previous years.
Total Donor Advised Fund Assets, Gifts, and Grants: Aggregate community foundation donor advised fund (DAF) asset, gift, and grant totals all saw a higher rate of increase in FY18 than the field as a whole. DAF grantmaking grew at a higher rate (4%) than assets and gifts (2% each).
Donor Advised Fund Flow Rate: The "flow rate" of DAFs compares a given year's grantmaking total with its gift total, dividing grants by gifts. This metric may help capture the activity of donors who contribute to their DAF and grant from it that same year. As with distribution rate and other measures of DAF activity in this survey, data is collected in the aggregate by sponsoring community foundation. Data collection on the account level would be necessary to analyze the activity of individual DAF holders. 39% of FY18 Columbus Survey respondents had a DAF flow rate of over 100%, meaning that they granted out more from DAFs than they received that year.
Distribution Rates: DAFs at community foundations tend to be highly active grantmaking vehicles; more than half (53%) of all survey respondents granted more than 10% of their DAF assets out in FY2018. Larger community foundations, which as noted above tend to carry more non-endowed assets, also have the highest distribution rates.
Hat tip: Nonprofit Quarterly.
Finally, a piece in the Nonprofit Quarterly written by Alfred E. Osborne, Jr. (UCLA Anderson School of Management and also Fidelity Charitable Board Chairman) titled Fidelity Charitable 2019 DAF Grants Spike: How Donor-Advised Funds Changed Giving for the Better triggered a response (in the comments) from Al Cantor raising issues about Fidelity Charitable's influence over news coverage of it that is worth reading along with the main article.
Monday, August 12, 2019
We have previously blogged about congressional, DOJ, and IRS scrutiny of conservation easement donations, as well as academic coverage of this topic led by our contributing editor, Nancy A. McLaughlin (Utah). This scrutiny shows no signs of abating, with the following developments just in the past couple of months:
- Senators Chuck Grassley and Ron Wyden, Chair and ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, sent three letters in June asking for further answers to their questions relating to syndicated conservation easements. Hat tip: Tax Analysts (Fred Stokeld) (subscription required).
- The Joint Committee on Taxation issued a report last month concluding that enactment of the Charitable Conservation Easement Program Integrity Act of 2019 (S. 170), which is designed to end abusive conservation easement tax breaks would raise $6.6 billion over several years. The JCT letter is available from Tax Analysts (subscription required).
- That followed a June report (revised slightly in July) from the Congressional Research Service describing the concerns regarding abuse of conservation easement tax breaks.
- It also coincided with three recent publications relating to conservation articles, including from the ABA Real Property Trust and Estate Conservation Easement Task Force (Recommendations Regarding Conservation Easements and Federal Tax Law), attorney Jenny L. Johnson Ware of the Johnson Moore LLC firm (Valuing Conservation Easements: An Empirical Analysis of Decided Cases), and Professor McLaughlin, who posted an updated version of Trying Times: Conservation Easements and Federal Tax Law (last revised June 2019).
With organizations that support appropriate tax breaks for legitimate conservation easements, such as the Land Trust Alliance, trying to avoid having Congress throw the baby out with the bath water, while DOJ and the IRS battle promoters and contributors of allegedly abusive conservation easement donations in the courts, it will be interesting to see how this issue ultimately shakes out both legislatively and in litigation.
Monday, June 24, 2019
As this is my first post on Nonprofit Law Prof Blog, I thought I would do an introductory post. Excited to be blogging here. My name is Philip Hackney, and I am an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. I primarily teach tax law related courses and my scholarship focuses on nonprofit organizations, tax-exemption, tax law, and the IRS. You can see my scholarship here and you can see some articles I have written for more popular press here.
I worked for five years at the Office of the Chief Counsel of the IRS in Washington DC regulating the nonprofit sector. That work very much influences my research and scholarship and likely what I will blog about here. For instance, I will likely speak about stories like the Taxpayer Advocate Service ("TAS") criticizing the IRS on its new Form 1023-EZ. I note this story because in TAS's 2020 Objectives Report to Congress, TAS again criticizes the IRS's management of its tax-exempt application system. The Form 1023 EZ is a relatively new cursory form that allows small nonprofits to quickly qualify with the IRS as tax exempt organizations. The form was a response to chronic backups at the IRS for approval of routine applications for tax-exemption. TAS is not wrong about the problems raised by the adoption of Form 1023 EZ, a form that will be abused. Charities that should not get tax benefits will be approved by the IRS as a result of the cursory form. The IRS is not doing the kind of audit work that will ensure those organizations are caught. But the reality is that the IRS does not have the resources to do the oversight of the nonprofit sector to the extent many people seem to want. I don't want to get deeply into this issue here, other than to highlight a perspective that I try to bring to the table, which is that as we think about the nonprofit community it is important to be realistic about the resources we are willing to dedicate to their oversight -- not much -- and then work from there.
I will also blog about the role of nonprofits in our democracy. Values of democracy deeply inform my scholarship, and I will work to highlight the democratic role, or often lack thereof, of nonprofit entities in the US, states, and local governments. Because I believe the well-working of our nonprofit community in its democratic role is critical to the governance fabric of our nation, I think thoughtful laws and well operated oversight of the sector matters greatly. I hope to talk about that.
My wife, who is an artist, and I are deeply engaged in the arts community. I have taken an interest in art law as a result and will likely blog about art law matters as well, particularly as they intersect with nonprofits.
Look forward to interacting with this community.
Wednesday, June 19, 2019
The annual Giving USA report provides what is generally recognized as the most comprehensive report on charitable giving in the United States. It is therefore not surprising that this year's edition is garnering headlines for its report that total giving in 2018 only increased by 0.7% over 2017, and declined by 1.7% when adjusted for inflation, despite the continuing strong economy. Giving by individuals also declined, both in current dollar (-1.1%) and inflation-adjusted (-3.4%) terms, but was partially offset by increased foundation and corporation giving. A variety of reasons may have caused the declines, including the recent tax law changes, as noted in the press release that accompanied the report:
A number of competing factors in the economic and public policy environments may have affected donors’ decisions in 2018, shifting some previous giving patterns. Many economic variables that shape giving, such as personal income, had relatively strong growth, while the stock market decline in late 2018 may have had a dampening effect. The policy environment also likely influenced some donors’ behavior. One important shift in the 2018 giving landscape is the drop in the number of individuals and households who itemize various types of deductions on their tax returns. This shift came in response to the federal tax policy change that doubled the standard deduction. More than 45 million households itemized deductions in 2016. Numerous studies suggest that number may have dropped to approximately 16 to 20 million households in 2018, reducing an incentive for charitable giving.
“The complexity of the charitable giving climate in 2018 contributed to uneven growth among different segments of the philanthropic sector. Growth in total giving was virtually flat. Contributions from individuals and their bequests were not as strong as in 2017, while giving by foundations and corporations experienced healthy growth,” said Amir Pasic, Ph.D., the Eugene Tempel Dean of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. “Charitable giving is multi- dimensional, however, and it is challenging to disentangle the degree to which each factor may have had an impact. With many donors experiencing new circumstances for their giving, it may be some time before the philanthropic sector can more fully understand how donor behavior changed in response to these forces and timing.”
It remains to be seen if these trends continue in future years, particularly as individuals and households continue to adjust to the 2017 federal tax law changes.
Thursday, March 28, 2019
UPDATE: Rep. Mike Thompson, Chair of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Select Revenue Measures and Rep. Mike Kelly have introduced the Charitable Conservation Easement Program Integrity Act of 2019 in the House. Senator Steve Daines previously introduced a bill with the same name in the Senate.
Senators Chuck Grassley and Ron Wyden, Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, respectively, have announced an investigation into the potential abuse of syndicated conservation easement transactions. While stating general support for the availability of charitable contribution deductions for conservation easements, they cited a need to preserve the integrity of the conservation easement program by preventing "a few bad actors" from wrongly gaming the tax laws relating to conservation easements. They have requested information from fourteen named individuals relating to such transactions, drawing on a 2017 Brookings report on conservation easements.
This announcement follows a Department of Justice complaint filed in December 2018 against certain promoters of "an allegedly abusive conservation easement conservation easement syndication tax scheme" and a 2017 IRS Notice targeting such schemes by declaring them "listed transactions."
At the heart of all these actions are allegedly false valuations based on inflated appraisals that sharply increase the tax benefits from the conservation easements.
Wednesday, February 6, 2019
Report finds that racial and gender biases, not lack of experience or talent, blocks advancement for women of color
(New York, NY) – The Building Movement Project (BMP) today released a new report, Race to Lead: Women of Color in the Nonprofit Sector, which examines the impact of both race and gender on the career advancement and experiences of women of color working in the nonprofit sector. Based on data from more than 4,000 survey respondents, this latest report in the Race to Lead series shows that women of color encounter systemic obstacles to their advancement over and above the barriers faced by white women and men of color.
Some key findings include:
- Racial and gender biases create barriers to advancement for women of color. Women of color report being passed over for new jobs or promotions in favor of others—including men of color, white women, and white men—with comparable or even lower credentials.
- Education and training do not provide equity. Women of color with the advanced education were more likely than men of color, white men or white women to work in administrative roles and the least likely to hold senior leadership positions. Women of color also are paid less compared to men of color and white men and more frequently report frustrations with inadequate salaries.
- The social landscape of organizations is fraught for women of color. Women of color who reported that their race and/or gender have been a barrier to their advancement indicated that they were sometimes left out or ignored and sometimes hyper-visible under intense scrutiny, with both conditions creating burdens.
The report also includes a section detailing key themes from survey write-in responses by women of color and from focus groups and interviews conducted with Asian/Pacific Islander, Black, Latinx, Native American, and transgender women of color.
“In response to the Movement for Black Lives and the struggles for the rights of indigenous peoples and immigrants, nonprofit leaders have become more adept at talking about intersectionality, anti-Black racism, and de-colonization,” said Frances Kunreuther and Sean Thomas-Breitfeld, co-directors of the Building Movement Project, “but the Race to Lead data shows that nonprofit organizations need to dramatically change more than the words we use on our websites and in our grant reports. Real change means re-shaping the hierarchies and power structures in the nonprofit sector, the ways organizations behave, and how they treat their staff, particularly women of color.”
Some solutions BMP recommends include:
Darryll K. Jones
Wednesday, December 19, 2018
This year’s Pennies for Charity report includes data from the 964 fundraising campaigns conducted all or in part in 2017 by professional fundraisers in New York. The campaigns raised over $1 billion. Key findings include:
• Over $372 million (31%) of funds raised were paid to fundraisers to cover the costs of conducting the charitable campaigns. Charities received $812+ million overall.
• In 313 campaigns (32%), charities retained less than 50% of funds raised.
• In 156 campaigns (16%), fundraising expenses exceeded charitable revenue. In 2017, this loss totaled over $10 million dollars.
The New York AG's office also provides a database with detailed information for campaigns, searchable by charity or fundraiser name.
Monday, December 3, 2018
From today's NY Times:
NASHVILLE — There’s a meme about charitable giving that makes the rounds in Southern social media circles from time to time. It’s a map of United States counties color-coded by charitable giving, and it purports to demonstrate that people living in red states give a greater percentage of their income to charity than people living in blue states. The caption beneath the map reads, “Those heartless conservatives — am I right?”
The map was created in 2013 from a report in The Chronicle of Philanthropy. “Donors in Southern states,” the report notes, “give roughly 5.2 percent of their discretionary income to charity — both to religious and to secular groups — compared with donors in the Northeast, who give 4.0 percent.”
These are figures that Southerners, accustomed to being thought selfish and cruel by the rest of the country, will happily create a meme to promote.
There are many problems with a map like this, but the biggest is that it’s based on the filings of taxpayers who itemize deductions. The vast majority of American taxpayers — some 70 percent — don’t itemize anyway, so there’s really no way to know how many people actually make charitable donations and how much they give when they do. Even so, it has become a cultural commonplace: People in red states are more generous than everyone else.