Opinion: It’s Time For National NPOs To Work Locally

February 13, 2017       Paul Clolery      

The inauguration has taken place and yet the sun still came up. Not an election cycle goes by without one side or the other getting its shorts in a twist regarding the newest occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, 20500.

One thing is certain: No matter who is President of the United States, advocacy will take place and the nation’s shortcomings will not be eradicated by the end of any presidential term. There is work to be done, made more challenging by the upheaval in Washington, D.C., and in the infrastructure of the charitable sector.

Here’s the situation not generally discussed in polite company. Leaders of some the most influential nonprofits and infrastructure groups can’t agree on very basic principles. Some leaders love donor-advised funds while others believe that they are damaging to the philanthropic process. Some leaders want foundations to increase output while many foundation leaders prefer to continue waiting for a rainy day. Many demand transparency, while others hide behind the federal Form 990 using holding companies and contractors to opaque data the public needs to see.

And make no mistake that there are rivalries, hard feelings, grudges and slights (real and imagined) in charitable C-Suites across the sector that might give anyone flashbacks to junior high.

There’s a finite pool of money and nonprofits often exercise influence to move the money in their direction and thus away from others. What’s going to happen when the pot gets smaller? We’ve all heard the kumbaya platitudes about working together to get all boats rising. It’s a nice but quaint idea complicated by everyone being human.

These are the conditions under which things could get very ugly for the charitable sector.

When it comes to elected officials, the past administration wasn’t a great friend to the sector unless the phrase social innovation was involved in the process. President Barack Obama often threatened ceilings on the charitable deduction. President Donald Trump said during the campaign his idea of tax reform is taxpayers who can currently deduct giving at the 39.6 percent rate having that cut to 33 percent and limiting deductions to $200,000 per couple.

Toss into all this the fact several of the premier umbrella organizations relied upon for arm-twisting are so strapped for cash that staff members are being let go.

Several members of Congress started getting cold feet on repealing the Affordable Care Act when their constituents realized a majority of the hallowed body was serious and had the muscle to do it. The pressure started locally and that’s exactly where nonprofit leaders should start.

Elected officials must be quizzed at the local pancake breakfast why they want to eliminate social safety nets. And, don’t accept the line that local control is more important than programs funded with federal money and mandates.

The United States works when we mobilize to solve problems and incredibly that often requires more money than a locality can afford. If Iowa needs agriculture subsidies to feed people and Utah needs healthcare programming, a piece of the funding will come from every state. That’s the way it works and members of Congress should hear about it back in their districts.

Some members of Congress are getting pretty comfortable. The congressman for the district in which The NonProfit Times operates, Rodney Frelinghuysen, has been in Congress for 22 years. John Conyers is the longest-serving member of Congress, representing the Michigan 13th for 52 years. Thad Cochran was returned to Congress for 44 years by the good people of Mississippi in both the House and Senate, although he got a good scare back in 2014.

This is not to say these representatives aren’t doing their jobs. It’s a matter of ensuring that they are listening to their districts and nonprofit leaders need to make their concerns not just heard but also acted upon by their federal, state and local officials.

  • advocacy
  • charitable sector
  • John Conyers
  • local
  • Rodney Frelinghuysen