Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

October 27, 2008

Election critical for nonprofits, giving

Nonprofits have a lot riding on the Nov. 4 elections.

The candidates Americans elect to serve in federal, state and local offices will shape and carry out laws and public policies that affect nonprofits and giving, as well as the people nonprofits serve and the needs it is their mission to address.

So nonprofits should make it their business to make sure voters know where the candidates stand, and to encourage voters to go to the polls.

Over one million nonprofits operate in the U.S., employing over 14 million people and working with 61 million volunteers.

The Nonprofit Voter Engagement Network, which aims to spur nonprofits to work on a nonpartisan basis to engage their staffs, boards, volunteers, clients and constituents in the election process, says it is “not only legal but well within our missions to encourage voter and civic participation.”

And as a new survey makes clear, nonprofit executives expect the new president to help respond to the urgent issues facing America, and have strong ideas about the policies needed to fix those problems.

Four top priorities a broad cross-section of nonprofit executives identified in the survey by the Nonprofit Listening Post Project at Johns Hopkins University include:

* Restoring or increasing funds for their field in the federal budget.

* Reinstating and expanding tax incentives, including those in the estate tax, for charitable giving and volunteering.

* Federal grant support for nonprofit training and capacity-building.

* Improving reimbursements under Medicare, Medicaid and other federal programs to ensure they cover the actual costs of service.

With the economy under severe strain, says Lester M. Salamon, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies, “our country needs a strong nonprofit sector more than ever.”

Yet nine of 10 nonprofit executives responding to the survey reported “little improvement in government policy toward their organizations over the recent past, as well as a considerable need for support to meet the challenges the country is now facing.”

And Peter Goldberg, chair of the Listening Post Project Steering Committee and CEO of the Alliance for Children and Families, says that, with government moving “to open the financial arteries of our economy, let’s not repeat mistakes and overlook until it is too late the great stresses and strains spreading throughout America’s vital nonprofit sector.”

Most nonprofit executives responding to the survey also supported policies to:

* Forgive college loans for students who take nonprofit jobs.

* Provide a broad nonprofit investment tax credit to offset the “unlevel playing field” for nonprofits in securing capital to pay for technology, facilities and capacity-building.

* Expand AmeriCorps and other national service programs that work with nonprofits.
Nonprofit executives also want national policy to pay more attention to poverty, provide for university health insurance, and require students receiving student aid for college to perform community service.

What voters decide on Nov. 4 will have a huge impact on nonprofits’ ability to advance their missions of making our communities better places to live and work.

So nonprofits, building on the trust they have established and that is rooted in their good work, need to help their boards, staff, volunteers, clients and constituents understand about the issues and candidates’ positions, and encourage them to vote.

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