The Community Foundation Case for Attending Foundations on the Hill

Hopefully by now you have received an email (or two or three) from SECF encouraging you to attend this year’s Foundations on the Hill (March 11-13). I have a feeling that a lot of you are in the “kind of interested” camp or the “maybe I will go next year” camp. Anyone from any type of foundation would benefit from attending, but I specifically want to encourage my community foundation colleagues to consider joining us in Washington, D.C. this year. Community-driven philanthropy is facing some special challenges, and it is important that we have a strong showing on Capitol Hill.

So, why should you attend? Let me break it down into four points:

  1. Even in the best of times, you should have a relationship with the policymakers that work for your community. As community foundations, we are uniquely positioned to help provide a voice for our community to legislators. We work with organizations and donors on the ground, and we can relay information and provide context in a distinct way. However, if we are not present, we do not get that opportunity. There is an appropriate adage that says that if you do not tell your story, someone else will. This is increasingly true in this fast-moving, ever-evolving age of digital media. You need to be there, because the best way to get your story and the story of your community told is to tell it yourself.
  2. But it is not the best of times, and we must combat the growing mistrust in endowed philanthropy. This is so important that SECF adopted a position statement on this topic in February 2017. It says that SECF “supports laws and regulations that allow public and private philanthropy to operate in perpetuity, thereby permitting charitable organizations the ability to use endowments to generate long-term responses and support to communities.” We all have donors who are building up their funds over time so that they can make a bigger impact in the future. We know they are not, as some critics say, hoarding funds. They are not keeping that money from the nonprofits that really need it. They are not taking the tax advantage and then never granting out the funds. They are being strategic, thoughtful, and long-term stewards of the communities that mean so much to them. It is important that policymakers hear these stories.
  3. Your legislators and their staff are confused about donor-advised funds. They just are. I have been going to Foundations on the Hill for six years, and I have never had a meeting where every legislator and staff member in the room completely understood how a donor-advised fund works. With the massive growth of the commercial funds and some bad actors in our field receiving a lot of press in the last couple of years, the simple truth – community foundations use donor-advised funds as a tool to increase the impact of giving – has been obscured. A community foundation is not the same thing as a donor-advised fund. Donor-advised funds are only one tool in our toolbelt working to better our communities. Again, we have to tell this story and clear up the misconceptions about what it is we do and how what we do is focused on place. We are vital members of our community who are able to connect donors with the causes they care about the most.
  4. Changes in tax law happened last year, and we accept those changes, but we need to see some tweaks to continue the flow of philanthropic capital into our communities. SECF has taken a position on this topic, as well. It says “public policy should encourage charitable giving and all taxpayers should receive recognition for their charitable contributions.” This one is pretty straightforward. According to the National Council on Nonprofits, the doubling of the standard deduction in the 2017 Tax and Jobs Act will likely result in an approximately $13 billion reduction in gifts to nonprofits from donors per year. If our partner nonprofits are hit hard by a reduction in giving, they are going to look to us, and our private, health legacy, and family foundation friends, to make up the difference. We support the creation of a universal charitable deduction to help level the charitable playing field again and encourage donors at all levels to continue to give. 
    And while we are tweaking, let’s just go ahead and allow for the rollover of IRA funds into donor-advised funds, okay?

These are all really important matters that can only be properly addressed by the leadership of community foundations from across our region and country. These stories will not be told the way they need to be told without your presence in Washington, D.C. Please join us!

Sutton Mora Hayes is executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis. She also sits on SECF’s Public Policy Committee.


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