NFL Punts Its Nonprofit Status

Over the past year, Key Elements Group has provided ongoing coverage of the controversies facing one of the most profitable nonprofits in the United States – the National Football League. In the wake of domestic violence scandals and soaring profits and salaries for its executive staff, the NFL began attracting more and more public and media scrutiny, particularly over its tax-exemption status.

Evidently, this attention had some effect.

The NFL announced Tuesday, April 29 that it was relinquishing its tax-exemption status. As a nonprofit, team owners pay into the league in a form of dues, which go toward administering the league and paying out the gargantuan (untaxed) paychecks of its chief executives. Roger Goodell – the league’s commissioner – made a staggering $35 million in 2013. A lot of the NFL’s earnings are distributed back to teams, however, which as taxable entities consequently pay up. This doesn’t stop some team owners, however, from bullying cities for preferential treatment and kickbacks.

Goodell announced to the press that the “league office and its management council will file returns as taxable entities for 2015 fiscal year,” referring to its nonprofit status as a “distraction.”

Commentators point out that a primary catalyst behind the move is a desire for less transparency. By law, nonprofits must reveal how much money top-level employees make. Under the new tax categorization, the NFL will not have to reveal just how well-compensated executives like Roger Goodell truly are.

The moral of this story? Bad media attention can force hands.

With executive missteps over the year’s spate of domestic violence cases, looming lawsuits over the longterm health issues faced by former players, and the extraordinary compensation enjoyed by NFL elite, the tax-free treatment that league cadres enjoyed was a bit too much for the nation to bear.

How NGOs – And You – Can Help Nepal

As the tremors faded, aid officials and victims of the April 25 earthquake in Nepal began taking stock of the destruction and pain left in the disaster’s wake. Nearly 5,000 people are thought to have perished, with over 9,000 injured and up to 8 million directly impacted by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake.

In the capital city of Kathmandu, many people are sleeping out in the open, avoiding the danger posed by damaged and destroyed buildings. Makeshift tent cities surround the capital. Lingering threats include landslides, one of which claimed the lives of as many as 200 people in the days following the earthquake.

According to a spokesperson from World Vision – an aid group – landslides are one of the most pressing concerns at this juncture: “Villages . . . are routinely affected by landslides, and it’s not uncommon for entire villages of 200, 300, up to 1,000 people to be completely buried by rock falls.” With the geological stress from the earthquake, more of these may occur in the coming days.

Nepal is among the poorest nations on earth, and has inadequate resources and infrastructure to cope with the tall challenges facing it. To make matters worse, the country is also remote and geographically isolated. Some villages are extremely inaccessible, posing difficulty for aid providers, rescue teams, and government agencies.

With the severity of the crisis and Nepal’s preexisting poverty, commentators are making inevitable comparisons to the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Writing for the Nonprofit Quarterly, Rick Cohen points out a number of considerations that NGOs need to make in order to avoid mistakes and controversies that arose from relief efforts in Haiti. It is essential for NGOs to work closely with Nepalese authorities, he writes, and not “bypass them as they did so often in the case of Haiti.”  Accountability is also an issue, with NGO self-regulation in underdeveloped countries often resulting in poor oversight.

Lastly, Cohen remarks that “[n]o State Farm or Allstate is going to rebuild the homes of people who lost their shelter,” and that the “millions of Nepalese affected by the earthquake need to be helped back beyond where they were.”

Though seemingly cavalier to state now, this disaster may be an opportunity for long-term improvements for the Nepalese people, as well as a chance for NGOs to shore up infrastructure and operations to help in this process.

There are a number of ways you can help. These vetted organizations are accepting donations for relief efforts. 

ActionAid: USA

American Jewish World Service


Catholic Relief Services

Heart to Heart International

Save the Children

United States Fund for UNICEF

Disaster in the Mediterranean: A Growing Refugee Crisis

[This is part 1 in a 2 part series on migrants in Europe]

Tragedy struck on Sunday, April 9 in the Mediterranean, in an event that may prove to be the worst refugee disaster in decades.

A ship carrying up to 900 refugees capsized after passengers swarmed to one side of the ramshackle boat to get the attention of a Portuguese merchant vessel. The traffickers allegedly kept many of the refugees locked in the lower decks, meaning that many of the victims’ bodies remain at the bottom of the Mediterranean. Italian authorities have arrested two individuals – survivors from the disaster – on charges of human trafficking. The sinking coincided with a similiar yet unrelated incident off the coast of Greece, where a makeshift raft carrying refugees crashed ashore, killing several passengers.

Human rights and government officials have swiftly condemned the underfunded and understaffed European Union rescue efforts. Many commentators argue that current EU policy is woefully insufficient for grappling with migrant issues. While the overall increase in attempted crossings is up only slightly from the same period last year, deaths have increased tenfold.

Operation Triton – the European Union’s current search-and-rescue program – is a watered down version of its predecessor, Italy’s unilaterally-operated Mare Nostrum. The EU’s program has less jurisdiction and operating power than Mare Nostrum, a program that was generally lauded as an efficient and life-saving enterprise shouldered by the already cash-strapped Italy. The funding for Operation Triton comes from EU member nations.

The current refugee crisis stems from a number of ongoing problems in the Middle East and Africa. From the civil war in Syria to repression in Eritrea, many refigures are fleeing violence and political conflict. As Sofia, an Eritrean refugee, explained to the Guardian, the dangers of the sea voyage are worth it: “In Eritrea you’re even afraid to talk to your family. The person next to me . . . could be a spy, and they are looking at what you are doing. People disappear every day.” While Syrians and Eritreans represent the two largest ethnic groups of refugees, still many others are simply trying to get a foothold in Europe to escape poverty endemic to sub-Saharan Africa.

Crossing attempts are abetted by sectarian conflict in Libya. The country’s instability has given smugglers and human traffickers a virtual carte blanche for operating out of Libyan ports. Though a big business in Libya, migrant smuggling networks stretch along the horn of Africa, encapsulating multiple countries and affecting refugees of many different nationalities. In Libya alone, there may be anywhere between 500,000 to a million people ready to make the treacherous voyage.

Nonprofits have stepped in, calling world attention to the complex issues at hand. Save the Children is offering migrants advice on the southern shores of Europe. Its leadership has also appealed to EU foreign ministers, who are meeting this week to come up with impactful solutions to the crisis, to “increase the number of Syrian refugees being resettled in Europe through legal channels, according to the criteria and needs identified by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.”

Other small groups are bringing philanthropists, humanitarians, and security professionals together to provide rescue services. Migrant Offshore Aid Station was founded by former Maltese military professionals, and has come to the aid of 3,000 refugees in distress off the shores of the island nation Malta. But these efforts simply aren’t on the scale necessary to deal with the hundreds of thousands of vulnerable persons poised to make the arduous, potentially fatal attempt at crossing the Mediterranean. 

While the myriad issues that contribute to the crisis may seem daunting, a comprehensive, unified response is needed immediately. Not only do migrants risk their lives during the voyage,  but they also face violence in their host countries. Migrants awaiting the opportunity to cross in Libya face beatings and rape. In Greece, an ongoing economic crisis and a large influx of migrants have created a social environment in which a resurgent neo-Nazi party has risen, with an uptick in paramilitary violence and xenophobic attacks.

In our next installment, we will look at the plight faced by migrants in southern Europe, breaking down the issues and exploring how nonprofits are involved. 

Photos: Autism Society Puzzle Walk, Omaha

Autism awareness is a big part of my life. Broadcasting the messages of inclusion and self-determination is essential for moving the discussion forward. I was fortunate to join my family – including my nieces Zoe and Phoebe – in Omaha, Nebraska this past weekend to participate in the Autism Society Puzzle Walk & 5k.

Lynette Zimmerman

President & CEO

Key Elements Group, LLC

An Interview with Women on 20s Founder Barbara Ortiz Howard

An innovative nonprofit has attracted a great deal of press lately, broadcasting its message of gender equality through a clever campaign to put an influential woman from US history on the $20 bill.

Women on 20s aims to replace Andrew Jackson – the controversial president who presided over the Indian Removal Act. Who exactly should go on in his place, however, is up to the US populace. The organization rolled out a primary round voting this spring, consisting of 15 women that included key figures from the suffragette, abolitionist, labor, and environmental movements. Counting more than 250,000 votes, the final list features Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks. And – in a nod to Jackson’s infamous legacy – the nonprofit has included Cherokee Nation Chief Wilma Mankiller in the final round of voting.

Barbara Ortiz Howard – the founder of Women on 20s – sat down with Key Elements Group to discuss the inspiration behind the campaign, her experience starting and running a 501(c)3 nonprofit, and how her organization’s campaign fits into a larger context.

KEG: What was your inspiration for founding Women on 20s?

BOH: A desire to honor our Centennial of suffrage with an iconic woman on our currency that heretofore had not seen a woman on it. For me, having role models of great women in our daily lives is important to helping us all conquer stereotypes that limit our perspectives. Seeing women who exemplify the best of who we can be is at once uplifting and inspiring for everyone. Imagine if we were all inspired to be our best selves.

KEG: The campaign’s goal is so precise, and has garnered so much positive attention and press. How did you and your team arrive at such a specific, effective objective? 

BOH: It was a precise mission – the lack of a woman on our currency despite the significance of women in our culture, economy, and everyday life seemed to be a glaring omission, and not a difficult one to formulate. On the other hand, it has been tempting to veer off and consider other missions, so it has been important to stay on point.  In addition, we had some other defining parameters. Us wanting the process to proceed in a timely way meant limiting the scope to replacing one portrait with a woman who fit the few guidelines in the code. Not trying to change too many things at once.

KEG: What larger mission or goal – outside the scope of Women on 20s –  does the campaign fit into?

BOH: This campaign is about helping create cultural shifts that will better align the intentions we inscribe in our laws in our everyday lives. This mission is to value women as full and equal beings, which can be best done in our everyday lives and activities rather than in thick laws most of us don’t have access to and rarely refer to as we interact with one another.

KEG: After registering as a 501(c)3 nonprofit, what were some of your biggest hurdles getting the organization running, and how did you overcome them?

BOH: Spending time setting up your 501(c)3 is very important in minimizing the hurdles you may face down the road. Understanding what you can and cannot do and your purpose is critical. Getting this done correctly and efficiently will allow you to get donations more quickly.  Get professional help in doing this if at all possible, this will be a huge ROI. We were fortunate to get this right, although I wish it had been earlier in our evolution.

BOH: After that, getting the timing, critical support from similar groups and influencers, and having a “product” with integrity were essential ingredients. As a startup organization we faced huge staffing issues that never got quite resolved. I work at this as I can, as I have another business to take care of, while my colleague Susan Ades Stone rarely was able to leave her desk caring for the infinite pieces of the campaign.  We do not have a physical office and we have become so busy and specialized and time sensitive, we cannot bring on staff. If you can set up the right people in advance and have funding for this, it will not be so challenging! It is unlikely that you will ever have enough people or support to do exactly all you need to do, but try to get a strong team together as soon as possible.

KEG: What were your most effective fundraising strategies? Which strategies were least effective? 

BOH: So far we have not had effective fundraising strategies.  We are working on that so we can sustain the enthusiasm and maintain our movement. We’d really also like to take advantage of many exciting options that we can develop, such as the educational component, and funding will allow that. While people have been donating lately, we are far from being self-sustaining.  However, we believe that inspiration will carry us through most of what we have in the days ahead, and then new options will pave the way. We are fortunate that we have such a compelling cause. A well developed and compelling cause is a main goal you must achieve.

KEG: When do you estimate the final vote will take place? 

BOH: We are planning to keep the voting going through the month, as our funds allow and as the voting remains strong.

KEG: How would you characterize the response from voters?

BOH: Overwhelmingly positive, with many expressions of gratitude for the effort and offers of help.

KEG: Is there any advice you would offer to young women who want to make a difference, and who may pursue their goals through forming a nonprofit organization?

BOH: I think most of my answers here are also formed in part as advice. Surround yourself with good people and ask for help. You cannot do it alone. You must be willing to do what you may never have thought you’d do and /or sacrifice. You can do it if your heart is really in it, and people will respond to that!

KEG: What do you think the chances are that your campaign will succeed?

BOH: We seem to have the law, timing and hopes of so many on the side of this overdue change, so we are very hopeful it will all happen to celebrate the Centennial in a grand way.

Charities Step Up for Refugee Christians, Yazidis

As various nations, paramilitary groups, and coalitions continue their roles in the intractable war against ISIS, a growing humanitarian crisis is further jeopardizing regional stability and spurring relief nonprofits – both Christian and secular – into action to help persecuted minorities.

Since the beginning of the conflict in 2011, an estimated 9 million people have been displaced as a result of the conflict (3 million making it to neighboring countries Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, and 6 million displaced inside Syria). Few nations outside of the Middle East have extended a helping hand. Chief among those that have is Sweden, which has resettled some 30,000 refugees. Fellow EU member Bulgaria has also established camps for displaced Syrians, but is too cash-strapped to offer optimal services.

Refugees’ existence is precarious, dangerous, and divisive; often, host communities become hostile to innocent civilians fleering destruction at home, as recent riots and anti-refugee violence in Turkey show. Syrians have to cross borders on foot, covering immense distances with few resources. The crisis is also tearing apart families, with women and children comprising 75 percent of inhabitants in Turkish refugee camps. Men are more likely to stay behind to protect property or to take up arms in the conflict.

ISIS’ advance through Iraq and Syria has negatively impacted virtually all ethno-religious groups, as their intolerant and apocalyptic brand of theocratic politics ravages cities and attracts often indiscriminate military responses from the Syrian and Iraqi governments. Certain minorities, however, are singled out and persecuted, including Yazidis and Christians.

Yazidis are a Iraqi minority that practices Yazidism, a syncretic faith descendent from ancient Zoroastrianism and other Mesopotamian religions. ISIS – which views the sect as “devil worshippers” – infamously isolated 40,000 Yazidis on a mountain in August 2014, threatening them with starvation or dehydration if they stayed, and slaughter if they fled. The impasse was broken following military strikes led by the United States.

Christians also face virulent hatred and intolerance under the Islamic pseudo-state. ISIS gives Christians the option to either convert to Islam or be executed as heathens. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians have fled their homes as a result. The country’s largest Christian cities – including Qaraqosh, Tel Askof, Tel Keif, and Qaramless – emptied almost completely before falling to militant jihadists.

The country’s Christian leaders are not mincing words about the onslaught, calling ISIS’ actions genocidal. Patriarch Louis Sako, leader of the Chaldean Catholic church described how 100,000 Christians were forced to flee the Nineveh province:

They fled their villages and houses [with] nothing but … the clothes on their backs …Christians are walking on foot in Iraq’s searing summer heat towards the Kurdish cities of Irbil, Duhok and Soulaymiyia, the sick, the elderly, infants and pregnant women among them. They are facing a human catastrophe and risk a real genocide.

Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, commented on what he sees as government responsibility for alleviating these conditions: “It is extremely important that aid efforts are supported and that those who have been displaced are able to find safety.”

While governments organize resources and begin formulating partnerships with various relief organizations, a number of nonprofits have already stepped up, rolling out fundraising appeals in the name of persecuted refugees. The Cradle of Christianity Fund (CCF) is using preexisting networks in the region to distribute basic necessities for Christians who fled with nothing. In part aided by the Jordanian government, the CCF focused later 20014 on providing refugees with resources to withstand the cold desert winter.

The Assyrian Church of the East Relief Organization is using donations to provide medical care for Christians displaced by the conflict. The International Orthodox Christian Charities is going even a step further, providing educational materials and remedial classes to refugees, as well as shelter and temporary employment.

Secular organizations are making a difference as well. The International Rescue Committee is providing medical and social services in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria. Mercy Corps is distributing immediate needs – including food and clean drinking water – to displaced families.

These efforts are a tremendous start, but the severity of the problem warrants a unified, comprehensive approach that marries the UN, governments, and nonprofit groups into an effective and well-organized unit. The scope is massive – so too must the cooperation, trust, fundraising efforts, and generosity be if positive change for persecuted minorities is to happen.

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