Nonprofit Pro Media

Donor-Advised Contributions Increase Dramatically

Nothing motivates major donors faster that potential tax law changes. According to the National Philanthropic Trust, there has been a 72 percent hike in donor-advised contributions. Favorable market conditions and concern over changes to tax laws may be responsible for this dramatic shift.

Donor-advised funds are most likely to be held by high-net worth and ultra-high-net worth individuals. Fears of giving caps influenced major donors in 2016. What will happen in 2017? What type of tax policies will the new administration devise? Questions with answers waiting to be revealed.

It should be noted that the surge in donor-advised contributions did not translate to increased contributions from those funds to nonprofit organizations in 2016. Nonprofits actually saw a decrease in gifts from donor-advised funds. Organizations should find solace in the fact the money is there but the check has not been mailed. As tax-policies become law, 2017 will be an experimental year for giving practices.

Jackson, Mississippi is the New Poster City for Civil Rights

Enlightened thinking is happening in Mississippi, a state that has a reputation for leading with hate instead of love.

Last April, Mississippi governor signed an anti-gay law that allowed individuals and institutions with religious objections to deny services to gay couples. A few months later, a federal judge blocked the controversial law, describing it as “state-sanctioned discrimination.”

Today, through a ground-breaking museum underway in Jackson, the state of Mississippi may be turning over a new leaf.

The Civil Rights Museum “will be the first state-constructed and state-operated civil rights museum in the nation,” stated Haley Fisackerly, President and CEO of Entergy Mississippi.

A collaborative effort between the state and private sector has led to the Civil Rights Museum, which will share the history of the struggle for equal rights between 1945 and 1976. Perhaps, in the future, they will expand the exhibits and collections to feature other groups that have fought (and are still fighting) for greater equality, such as the LGBTQ community. Who knows, perhaps other civil rights movement organizations will join the growing list of culturally enlightening places to visit in Jackson, Mississippi.

The project received significant funding from Toyota, a company that has become a major employer in the state over the last decade with Toyota car manufacturing located in the state as well as the firm’s R&D headquarters. Evidently, corporate giving is very much alive and well. Look for the rise of corporations as they continue to take on a larger role in communities that are looking to make an impact.

Cannabis Gives Back

Or at least its trying to.

A recent article in the Denver Post raised the issue of charitable giving from cannabis businesses. Many nonprofits refused the accept donations from the Colorado Harvest Company – a chain of shops and a shareholder with O.penVape – for fear of the ramifications. Organizations walk a fine line when soliciting corporate donations from politically charged companies, such as those selling cannabis.

Philanthropy is an important part of our culture and corporate giving is a responsible way for businesses to give back to their communities. Corporations of all kinds have programs that provide literacy support, funding for community beautification projects, or resources for volunteer cleanup events. Why should cannabis companies – if they want to use their profits for the social good – be treated any differently?

There are a couple of considerations that nonprofits have regarding this issue: fear of losing their nonprofit status or federal funding and the misalignment of organizational goals.

Fears relating to the federal government may be somewhat justified. There is merit to the argument that many nonprofits may lose federal funding under the Trump Administration’s proposed budget, so there is a perceived heightened risk of accepting corporate donations from cannabis companies.

Losing a 501c3 status status would be devastating for any nonprofit, and there is a lack of clarity in our legal system stemming from the novelty of state-level marijuana legalization. Can a nonprofit registered and doing business in a state that legalizes cannabis lose their 501c3 tax status for accepting donations from companies selling marijuana? Inevitably, this question will emerge in the courts.

As more states work to legalize cannabis, nonprofits should be able to entertain contributions form this dynamic and growing industry. Diversifying contributed revenue streams is a best practice solution for all nonprofits and corporate giving is part of the equation. Corporations that deal in legal commerce shouldn’t be treated any differently from the rest, especially considering that the medical use of cannabis is a legitimatizer that other substances – such as alcohol – lack.

Michigan Foundations Short-Change Underserved Communities

(Clean water protesters. Residents of Flint Michigan were let down when public water was horribly contaminated due to institutional neglect).

From 2003 to 2013, Michigan’s 66 foundations – including some of the largest in the nation, such as The W.K. Kellogg Foundation, McGregor Fund, and The Kresge Foundation – gave $10.3 billion to programs based in the United States. During that period, the U.S. was at war and was in the midst of the worst economic recession since the great depression. In a word, It was a period of great uncertainty for many.

Yet only 31% of that $10.3 went toward programs that benefited lower-income people and other disadvantaged communities and vulnerable populations, including people of color, children, domestic workers, immigrants and refugees, the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated, the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, people with HIV/AIDS, sex workers, and women and girls who have been victims of abuse.

Support for advocacy, citizen engagement, community organizing, and long-term solutions to inequality faired even worse. Finding solutions to global income inequality can’t even begin when, here at home, we put forth limited resources for finding solutions to inequalities in our own neighborhoods.

So far, the year 2017 has brought rapid change and nonprofits will undoubtedly look to foundations for support and direction over the next decade. The election 2016 fallout has led many funders to change course.

Groups of people previously passed over for by funders have become top priorities, and programs previously considered ineffective because of their grand social visions are receiving renewed attention. Upcoming grant cycles will most likely see an influx of funding for nonprofits dedicated to underserved populations and social justice issues.

Discover more information on funders and nonprofit organizations by reviewing their information available online through the Foundation Center.

PSR Philadelphia Hosts Advocacy Training for Med Students, Health Professionals

On January 28th, the Physicians for Social Responsibility – Philadelphia (PSR – Phila) hosted an advocacy training seminar on the campus of Jefferson Hospital. The training was designed to teach a number of skills to medical students and health professionals eager to make their voices heard in the world of political discourse.

The event attracted a tremendous amount of interest, requiring PSR – Phila to compile a waiting list, keeping with an ongoing trend in the wake of the post-election fallout which has seen a massive surge in youth interest in volunteering and political participation.

As Dr. Pouné Saberi from PSR – Phila told Key Elements Group LLC President and CEO Lynette Zimmerman:

Health professionals are the most trusted voice in society, we believe that legislation of all policies benefit from having the input of a health professional. But health professionals are not trained in how to give their opinions in policy making or even voicing their opinion in general media. We hope to provide a certain set of skills that will empower health professionals and students to seek out more visibility in the public policy arena.

The national PSR organization has been a nonprofit for more than 50 years, working on a number of social issues from the perspective of health professionals. Visit the group’s website to learn more.

Paris Agreement Likely to Take Force This Year

(World leaders gather during COP21 talks last year)

Finally, some great news for the environment.

Dozens of nations have signed on to the Paris Agreement, bringing international action on climate change closer than ever to reality. The new signees come just after the United States and China – the world’s two largest carbon emitters – announced their intention to sign the agreement earlier this month.

The news came during this week’s UN gathering in New York City, where 31 countries formerly pledged to join the Paris Agreement. Also known as COP 21, the agreement was negotiated merely a year ago. Compare this lightening fast turn-around to the hurdles faced by the Kyoto Protocols – which took seven years to initiate – and the speed with which governments are moving to find common ground on climate change is, indeed, encouraging.

Among the nations that signed on this week, many rank high on the list of top polluters, including Brazil (5th largest polluter) and Mexico (13th largest polluter). Other states signing on this week include Albania, Honduras, Mongolia, The United Arab Emirates, Singapore, and Morocco.

The fact that a total of 60 countries accounting for a full 48 percent of the entire world’s carbon emissions are now on board is a massive step for the international community in facing this existential threat. Now, all that remains is for additional signees accounting for a further 7 percent of the world’s carbon emissions to join before the agreement’s stipulations commence.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon spoke about the historical nature of initializing the agreement:

This momentum is remarkable. It can sometimes take years or even decades for a treaty to enter into force… This is testament to the urgency of the crisis we all face.

There are, of course, the typical gamut of climate-deniers who would love nothing more than to scuttle the agreement. Republican presidential candidate and serial conspiracy theorist Donald Trump has – in perhaps one of the most absurd instances of conservative intransigence on this issue – claimed that climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese government to derail US business interests.

His campaign has announced its intent to cancel the agreement should Trump win the November election. This, thankfully, is much more difficult than it sounds. Upon signing the agreement, a nation agrees to stringent protocols in the event that it chooses to leave the agreement. The process is so laborious that it would likely require more time than the lifespan of a potential Trump administration in order to successfully accomplish.

Nonetheless, forces hostile to the social good will continue trying to obstruct meaningful action on this paramount threat. Socially invested entrepreneurs, activists, and conscientious politicians need to keep up pressure on the Donald Trumps of the world in order to ensure maximum impact of green initiatives, for sake of all nations and future generations.

Anti-Trans Bathroom Bill: North Carolina Governor Doubles Down

(Anti-LGBTQ North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory)

Republican leadership in North Carolina can’t take a hint.

After sparking a massive controversy earlier this year with the so called “bathroom bill” designed to marginalize trans people, the Tar Heel State’s Governor Pat McCrory is lashing out again at the state’s LGBTQ community.

The bathroom bill – HB2 – was rushed through the state legislature in response to a city ordinance passed by the city of Charlotte that gave trans residents the right to use restrooms corresponding to their gender. HB2 forbids transgender North Carolinians this basic civil right. Furthermore, the law does more than merely nullify Charlotte’s law, but goes as far as neutralizing local legislation designed to prevent workplace discrimination against the LGBTQ community broadly.

The latest affront from North Carolina’s bigoted governor came in the guise of a “compromise’ which, in reality, amounts to a reaffirmation of the state’s willingness to enshrine discrimination in its legal code. McCrory offered to convene a session of the state’s general assembly to repeal HB2 if Charlotte willingly repealed the initial law that set off this totally unnecessary firestorm.

McCrory’s singular commitment to persecuting the transgender community of North Carolina is shocking, even if you only consider the economic backlash and national isolation it has caused. A number of businesses – from Paypal to Deutsche Bank, General Electric to Whole Foods – have boycotted North Carolina. Nationally touring musicians have refused to perform in the state. And, in the latest news, the NCAA has pulled seven NCAA championship games out of the state.

Combine these developments with the generally low support that North Carolinians have for HB2 – hovering around a mere 35 percent in one poll – and the Republican establishment’s fixation on this issue is confusing to say the least.

New York AG Investigates Trump Foundation

(Photo: Gage Skidmore)

While the Democratic nominee for president Hillary Clinton has drawn scrutiny for the international dealings of the Clinton Foundation, her opponent for the White House is mired in his own host of controversies relating to his philanthropic enterprise.


On Tuesday, the New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that his office was opening an inquiry into the The Donald J. Trump Foundation. Schneiderman told CNN:

We’ve inquired into it. We’ve had correspondence with them. I didn’t make a big deal out of it or hold a press conference. But we have been looking into the Trump Foundation to make sure it’s complying with the laws governing charities in New York.

The investigation emerges following a string of reports from the Washington Post that Donald Trump may have used contributions to his namesake foundation for personal expenses. The Republican presidential candidate also received heat on the campaign trail for asserting that his campaign raised $6 million for veterans charities, including $1 million donated by the real estate tycoon himself.

These claims have never been verified.

The Trump Foundation is no stranger to controversy. Earlier this month, the philanthropic entity was fined for a political donation to a group supporting the reelection bid of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi in 2013. Bondi was tasked with deciding whether or not to pursue fraud charges against the now defunct Trump University. The fake institution of higher education scammed thousands of people through deceitful sales practices designed to prey on people’s financial insecurities.


The Trump campaign has lashed out, calling the New York Attorney General a “partisan hack.” But if the foundation’s own foot print is anything to go by, uncovering further malfeasance would hardly be a big surprise.

Report Shows Sugar Industry’s Deceit

A damning report released by the American Medical Association on Sunday, September 11 reveals how the sugar industry played a large role in covering up sugar’s negative health impacts. Penned by Cristin E. Kearns, the report details how the Sugar Research Foundation (SRG) helped isolate fat as the primary cause of heart disease.

During the 1950s, when coronary heart disease was growing increasingly common, SRF helped torpedo studies that showed sugar’s hand in the burgeoning health crisis. As Kearn remarks:

The industry sought to influence the scientific debate over the dietary causes of CHD in the 1950s and 1960s, a debate still reverberating in 2016. The industry would subsequently spend $600,000 ($5.3 million in 2016 dollars) to teach ‘people who had never had a course in biochemistry…that sugar is what keeps every human being alive and with energy to face our daily problems.

Indeed, looking back to the 60s and 70s, ads touted sugar’s health benefits as an energy-inducer. While that erroneous claim may no longer grace billboards, the long-lasting effects of the sugar industry’s obfuscation of the dietary risks posed by its cash crop are immense in magnitude. In the United States – second only to Mexico as the most obese nation on earth – added sugar pervades our foods, contributing to a number of pressing heath issues associated with obesity.

The sugar industry’s meddling didn’t end there. Industry interests also worked with the National Institute of Health to construct a dental health program for kids that precluded limiting sugar from daily diets. Sugar – of course – is the leading cause of cavities and tooth decay.

The insidious influence of commercial interests hostile to public health also spanned the Atlantic Ocean. An early whistleblower who correctly identified the risks posed by sugar, John Yudkin was a British professor who composed a prescient book that made headlines at the time but that ultimately led to his marginalization within the field. “If only a small fraction of what we know about the effects of sugar,” Yudkin wrote, “were to be revealed in relation to any other material used as a food additive, that material would promptly be banned.”

Working with government nutritionists, the sugar industry marginalized Yudkin’s findings and – just as in the United States – accomplished this largely by underscoring fat’s role in heart-related ailments.

The sugar industry’s decades-long lobbying efforts are a haunting example of how a special interest can shape public perception. Both nonprofit organizations focused on the social good and social enterprises genuinely concerned with human progress need to take these examples to heart, turning away from duplicity and innovating healthy programs, products, and services that are pro-growth and pro-people and that do not require deceit in order to generate profit.

Merkel Suffers Electoral Defeat to Anti-Immigrant Nationalists

This past Sunday saw a stunning defeat of Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) at the hands of an ascendent radical right-wing party known as the Alternative for Germany Party (AfD).

The local defeat took place in Merkel’s own parliamentary constituency in the state of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania. While the results do not threaten CDU’s hold on power nationally, they provide a sobering look at voter sentiment just a year out from national elections.

Merkel’s governing party not only fell behind AfD in this past weekend’s elections, but was also defeated by the center-left Social Democrats, leaving CDU in third place in what has historically been a safe district for the party.

Analysts point to the Germany government’s policy on refugees as the primary catalyst for the rise of populist, anti-immigrant sentiment among the nation’s population. Frauke Petry – leader for the AfD – credits Merkel’s open border policy for her own party’s success:

The CDU is falling apart, but not only [in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania]. We see that in many regions of Germany where the CDU bases, the party bases, don’t agree with Merkel’s policy anymore. We want that the German government closes German borders to illegal migration… We need controlled borders. We need a change of legislation on a German level, but also an EU level, to avoid illegal migration.

CDU candidate Lorenz Caffier agreed, stating that “there was only one subject during the campaign, and that subject was the refugee policy. The refugee question was decisive.”

In 2015, Merkel’s government accepted more than 1 million refugees – mainly Syrians fleeing the intractable conflict in their home country – making it the single most open nation in Europe. Over the past year, several attacks linked to Islamists have heightened fears of immigration and provided fuel for nationalists to stoke anti-Muslim sentiment.

Far from being unique, Germany is a piece of a larger puzzle. Far-right nationalist parties are succeeding across Europe. In France, the National Front has made great strides in recent years, taking advantage of voters’ insecurities stemming from immigration and terror attacks.

Earlier this year, Petry sparked outrage when she suggested that the border patrol shoot immigrants attempting to cross illegally into Germany. This language is a big deal. Since the horrors of WWII, Germany has celebrated a culturally liberal spirit that has shamed many other nations with an emphasis on multiculturalism and acceptance.

These historical tendencies – however – are now under threat from rising populist parties that offer few solutions to their voters’ economic and cultural fears other than promises of international isolation and the marginalization of disadvantaged communities. While the issues that have caused the largest displacement of people in a century are complex and variegated, further disenfranchising desperate populations will only abet the very terrorists that have contributed to refugees’ plight.

Not only is a more humane treatment necessary to promote the general social good, but it’s integral to any meaningful security policy designed to keep Western nations safe.

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