Confounding Conventional Wisdom With a Simple Ask

This post is co-authored by Henry Berman

"The main reason people give is because someone asked." Virtually everyone in the nonprofit sector recognizes this principle as key to securing the resources necessary to advance an organization's mission. Nonprofits and grantmakers need to apply this same principle today by asking their Senators to vote in September to pass the America Gives More Act.

The America Gives More Act would implement several common-sense changes in tax law that many in the nonprofit and philanthropic communities have been seeking for too many years. The legislation would renew and make permanent expired charitable giving incentives that allow contributions from individual retirement accounts directly to charitable nonprofits and promote donations for land conservation purposes. It would also create greater incentives for donations of nutritious food to food banks at a time when almost 47 million Americans suffer from hunger and turn to nonprofits like the Feeding America network for food.

Significantly for private foundations that are frustrated by tax policies that discourage grantmaking at times of greatest need, the bill would simplify the foundation excise tax, thereby making more funds available for good works. Finally, the legislation would make donations from individuals to nonprofits through April 15 eligible to be counted as deductions on the prior year's taxes. For nonprofits, this means a potential new rush of donations to support the work of nonprofits around tax time, not just at the holiday season.

The prospect of getting this legislation enacted certainly isn't just wishful thinking; the legislation has already passed the House of Representatives with strong, bipartisan support and is awaiting Senate action. Or Senate inaction, if the naysayers are allowed to be correct. For a short period of time, readers have the opportunity to prove those naysayers wrong.

Every community is positively affected by the America Gives More Act because the legislation creates benefits for all nonprofits. And yet, the U.S. Senate is not currently scheduled to take action on the bill during the few weeks it is in session in September. Rather, it is expected that Senators will do no heavy lifting in September as they devote more time and effort to their own or their colleagues' re-elections.

Conventional wisdom in Washington says that there isn't time to do any serious legislating before the November elections. Yet if the Senate sidesteps this issue in September to deal with it in a lame-duck session following the elections, then it will only pass temporary extensions of tax measures, postponing any substantive reforms until 2015, 2017, or in the unforeseeable future. Anyone who calls a Senate office today is likely to hear a variation on that theme, perhaps with a conciliatory statement that "I agree with you but, ...."

If this conventional wisdom, really a collection of excuses for further inaction, is allowed to come true, the many gains in the America Gives More Act will be lost for years. The off-again, on-again, approach of temporary extensions to the charitable giving incentives (IRA rollover, enhanced deduction for food inventories, and conservation easements) means that only large organizations with development offices can take advantage for a year or two, and the resource needs of smaller, frontline nonprofits will once again be put on hold. The sustainability of their essential work in our communities will remain in question.

The triumph of conventional wisdom -- inaction by the Senate -- will also mean that we are kicked back to square one in the effort to streamline the foundation excise tax and lengthen the giving season until April 15. Those reasonable reforms will get thrown back into the mix of thousands of tax provisions that must be culled into a future comprehensive tax bill voted on by many as-yet unelected politicians.

None of this ground will be lost if we are successful in communicating the urgent needs of our communities to Senators. There is time to call on them to insist that the America Gives More Act is passed in September. September is key; conventional wisdom becomes reality once Senators go home to campaign.

Our message to Senators is simple: Don't leave Washington in September until you passes the America Gives More Act; our communities are counting on you.

Our message to readers is even simpler: Deliver this message and spread the word that your Senators' action is needed right now, not later. For the change we all want and need.

Tim Delaney is President and CEO of the National Council of Nonprofits. Henry Berman is Chief Executive Officer of Exponent Philanthropy.