Thursday, March 31, 2005

Everyone should be able to deduct donations

In today's Oregonian, Greg Chaille, president of the Oregon Community Foundation urges us through an editorial piece to contact Congress and ask for their support of the CARE Act of 2005. It would allow people who do not itemize deductions on their tax returns to be able to receive tax deductions for a portion of their charitable contributions. Chaille says that history shows this would increase charitable giving in the US by 5 to 10 percent.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Unfair Competition?

The Business Journal, Portland, Oregon, published an article today, "Foundation Says Credit Union Break Unjustified." They reported that "A new Tax Foundation study concludes the federal income tax exemption granted to credit unions is unjustified and will cost the government more than $31 billion over the next 10 years." The Tax Foundation's complete report is available at www.taxfoundation.org.

This raises a long-nagging issue for me. There are many not-for-profit organizations that are essentially competing head to head with for-profit companies. Is this fair? Several years ago the YMCA ran into this very issue and was sued by for-profit health clubs which claimed that the YMCA had an unfair advantage because they could charge membership fees, obtain donation revenue, and avoid paying taxes. You see the same thing with nonprofit hospitals and health insurance providers.

Recently in Portland a new nonprofit organization was formed to provide accounting services to nonprofit organizations. This organization will now compete head to head with for-profit accounting firms yet is tax exempt. There are also tax exempt management service organizations that compete directly against consultants and yet they can generate grant and other revenue to subsidize their efforts. In fact, one prominent such organization was in many ways operating for years in the manner of a for-profit entity. Until very recently, its Executive Director and top staff also served on the organization's board of directors and the organization rented space from a home owned by the ED. Do you consider that a fair playing field?

If you were going to provide management, consulting or accounting services to nonprofit organizations, would you incorporate as a tax exempt organization? Personally I long ago decided that it is better to err on the safe side and proudly pay my taxes as a for-profit consultant. But if the formation of these tax exempt management service organizations becomes epidemic, I may have to re-consider.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Check Out Brinkerhoff's Newsletter

If you ever have a chance to attend a workshop with Peter Brinkerhoff, I recommend it. He was one of the first to begin stressing the importance of an organization's mission, and has written excellent books about financing your mission. You can sign up for his newsletter and find valuable resources at his Website, www.missionbased.com.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Bush wants to allow charities to discriminate in employment practices

According to the Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/admin/, "Bush highlighted legislation, heading to the House floor today, that would allow religious charities to hire and fire based on religious beliefs even while receiving federal funding. If Congress does not follow his lead, Bush warned that he would try to circumvent lawmakers by using executive powers."

So, not only is the administration providing Federal grants almost exclusively to Christian organizations through the faith-based initiative, he is trying to further erode the Constitutional separation of church and state by allowing employment discrimination at faith-based charities. As we noted below, such organizations are already getting away with these practices but only by cleverly assigning multiple job duties to staff. Bush wants to remove such obstacles to force tax payers to support religions they don't subscribe to.

This is policy is unacceptable to anyone who truly believes in the U.S. Constitution.

Federal Faith-Based Grant Writing Class

Last Summer I attended a grant writing class put on by the Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives (OFBCI). It was actually a very good program on how to obtain Federal grants from Housing and Urban Development and other departments. The two-day course also provided a good overview on grant writing in general and the best thing was that there was no charge to attend. When asked why such a great workshop was not provided in the past, and was being run out of OFBCI, the staff replied that "there has been discrimination in the past against faith-based organizations" when it came to Federal grants.

President Bush repeated this ridiculous theme yesterday in addressing a conference put on by OFBCI. If this were true, then how did Catholic Charities and many other "faith-based" organizations obtain Federal grants for decades prior to Bush's Presidency? It has always been true that faith-based organizations must separate their Federally funded programs from others within the church and not require religious participation to obtain a free meal or participate in the program. The HUD and OFBCI staff that conducted this workshop assured the attendees that this was still the case. But the truth is that most religious groups do not WANT to separate out the preaching and converting from their programs. And of course that is perfectly fine if they don't plan to do this evangelizing with our tax dollars.

The grant workshop staff were very careful to explain that not only must the programs avoid preaching, but that they can't discriminate in their hiring practices when it comes to a program receiving Federal grants. However, they can get around this if the church staff person also does other activities and a portion of their time is on the Federally funded program. So in effect, they can and do discriminate against atheists, agnostics, and people of a different religion in their hiring practices.

Sorry, but I just don't think our tax dollars should be supporting religious activities that bar participation by staff and individuals who do not subscribe to that particular faith. We still have a little thing in the US called the Constitution, and one would think that churches would like to continue the freedom they have to practice their religions free of government interference.

So while the workshop was excellent and mostly had nothing to do with religion, I still have big questions about the advisability and Constitutionality of the "faith-based" program grants. And since this appears to be the ONLY free grant writing program offered by the Federal government, if you have a chance to attend I recommend doing so.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Texas Hold'Em

The popular game, Texas Hold'Em, may become a regular feature of charity Casino Nights in Oregon. The Oregon House passed a bill Monday, on a vote of 56-1, to allow the game at charity events. Under current law, players are not allowed to bet against each other, only the house.