Since I became Council president and CEO, I have spent many hours talking with our members and other leaders engaged with philanthropic giving around the country. Many of you shared that the diversity of interests of Council members would be among my biggest challenges. I disagree; I think it’s our biggest asset. Yes, philanthropy often groups itself into categories such as family, independent, community, operating, or corporate grantmakers. But at the core, all of us seek to have an impact in the communities we serve, creating hope and opportunity when neither seems possible.
Each of you knows where a grant has made a difference, a donation jump-started an initiative, or a contribution catalyzed a movement. Our federal, state, and local lawmakers need to understand that you and your partners made that happen. That is why I am announcing today that the Council, in collaboration with other organizations, will lead a comprehensive campaign to convey philanthropy’s story—your story.
In the three months since I arrived, I have committed funds and assembled a team of seasoned political strategists, communications tacticians, and tax-policy experts with deep ties to federal policymakers to spearhead an aggressive, proactive campaign to communicate philanthropy’s story to federal lawmakers. This team, directed by the Council, will utilize our unique position within the sector to champion philanthropic giving—its value to the economy, its contributions to communities, and its steadfast investment in the common good. The campaign will strengthen our efforts to educate key legislative policymakers, define a clear message about philanthropy’s role in society, and identify and link champions who will communicate philanthropy’s impact in communities across our nation.
This will not be another “special interest” campaign. That approach will only consign us to a group of countless other industries seeking to protect their turf. Instead, it is about telling the story of lives changed, jobs created, and communities transformed through philanthropy’s partnership with private and public community leaders and organizations.
Let me tell you why this campaign is essential: Philanthropy drives innovation and creates change that our government and the private sector cannot. Its efforts and dollars fuel the nonprofit service organizations that strengthen the fabric of community life across this country. In 2011 alone, total charitable giving approached $300 billion, according to “Giving USA: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2011.” Nearly $218 billion came from individuals and more than $24 billion from bequests. Foundations distributed nearly $42 billion. And corporate giving topped $14 billion.
Sadly, the nation’s fiscal crisis has prompted federal policymakers to consider limiting Americans’ giving ability. Doing so would affect untold numbers of essential service organizations and fray the connective tissue vital to our nation’s communities, large and small. Today, the impact of philanthropy and its partners is at risk. Both President Obama and Governor Romney have put forth plans that will affect giving, and Congress is eyeing all tax deductions as potential revenue raisers. This would be a grave mistake and would negatively affect significant numbers of Americans.
In a December 2011 paper, “Rethinking the Deduction for Charitable Contributions,” Joseph Cordes states that altering the charitable deduction could result in a loss of $3 billion to $6 billion in charitable giving. Others say the loss could be even higher. We recognize that the debt crisis must be addressed, but raising revenue at the expense of philanthropic giving is not a solution. Philanthropy is a valuable catalyst and partner for change. Limiting or eliminating the charitable deduction would curtail the ability of philanthropy and government to create and scale change independently and when timely, together. You and I need not think long to comprehend the number of services that would face significant funding cuts as a consequence of decreased giving.
Today, most Americans do not really understand what philanthropy is all about despite its impact and deep roots in our culture. Only four in ten engaged Americans are able to name a foundation. As leaders in the philanthropic sector, we owe it to the organizations we partner with to educate our fellow citizens and lawmakers about philanthropy’s role in our communities. That is why it is now critical to establish a campaign about philanthropic giving and show why it matters so much. Rest assured that all of the Council’s existing government relations efforts on behalf of its membership will continue, but today’s political and economic environment necessitates a more proactive holistic advocacy effort than previously led by the Council.
We will continue working with members of Congress and the executive branch, including our partnership with philanthropic liaisons in nine federal agencies as part of our Public-Philanthropic Partnership Initiative. We will continue working closely with the State and Treasury departments on efforts including the recent IRS guidance on equivalency determination that reduces the burdens on cross-border grantmaking. These achievements and others have led to more streamlined collaboration between direct service organizations, funders, and the government and will continue as part of our broader advocacy effort to increase awareness of philanthropy.
I’ll use this blog to share our progress in this campaign. But it’s your stories—together with the ways they foster change and have an impact—that will give this strategy the legitimacy it needs. The Council staff will share a plan and tools for you to participate, but the first step is hearing how you and your partners catalyze change each day. Please share your stories on this site and by using #mygivingstory on Twitter, or complete the story template. The more you share, the more effective our campaign will be. Let’s get started and together tell philanthropy’s story of innovation and impact. Lawmakers must know they have options and should not limit or eliminate Americans’ ability to positively affect our communities through philanthropy.
Vikki Spruill is president and CEO of the Council on Foundations