Thursday, March 26, 2009

Creative Destruction

No pain, no gain. From the ashes, the phoenix. The king is dead; long live the king. Some economists say that "out of destruction, a new spirit of creativity arises". There can be a process of transformation that comes from change and innovation, and it’s often most obvious in the marketplace – like when 8-tracks gave way to cassettes, cassettes to CDs and CDs to MP3’s, or when Sears and Montgomery Ward got eclipsed by the mega-systems of Wal-Mart and by consumers increasingly buying stuff on-line. What’s this got to do with philanthropy and the non-profit sector in general? These days, as all non-profits struggle to make ends meet, some will die. Is that a tragedy of our times, or has their time simply come, perhaps to make way for a newer and better “something” to replace them? Any business -- for-profit or non-profit -- needs routinely to "reinvent" itself and its SOP's. Otherwise, at some point it's likely to be left in the dust.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Plunge into Podcasting

A member of our Board turned to a fellow committee member this morning and said "I'm such a fossil, but let me explain Twitter. I only know about it because of the Marketing Committee Meeting last week." He went on to explain it perfectly, with "tweets" and "twitter feeds" peppering his paragraphs like a pro. When he finished up his colleague turned to me and said "I can just feel myself slipping behind." Well, today I am that fossil, just chipped from the shale and popped open for all to see. TheDigitel just posted our first podcast. The light of the 21st century and Web 2.0 finally reaches me.

Tell me what you think. Will our voices make any difference in the roar of the crowded worldwide web?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Darwinian or Donor-winning?

At its most basic, charity is about giving without the expectation of return. Often charities push against the "invisible hand" of the marketplace as they act selflessly to feed those without money for food, clothe those without access to credit, provide spiritual guidance to those who have no church, etc. Now here's food for thought. In a recent article in The Nation, Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University, predicted that "at a minimum" more than 100,000 nonprofit organizations would be wiped out in the next two years. 

The Nation reported that Light went on to ask the assembled audience whether any of them had tuned in to the recent hearing in Washington on the impending nonprofit upheaval. The room fell silent. Light then admitted he'd missed the deliberations as well, because, alas, there hadn't been any. "We should demand a hearing immediately on the state of the nonprofit sector--immediately," he declared. 

Would you attend such a session? Would you come to a meeting in Charleston to discuss what should or should not be done to save collapsing nonprofits? Are some too big to fail? Are some expendable? What is your view?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Everyone plays!

Last Saturday was perfect weather for Charleston Miracle League’s opening season. Richard and I ventured out there Saturday morning to celebrate with them and watch some baseball. For those of you unfamiliar with CML, their mission is to provide recreational opportunities to kids and adults with physical and mental challenges, with a special field that allows people using wheelchairs to round the bases. No outs, no scores, and everyone has a chance to bat!

We had the opportunity to speak to the parents of some of the players. Parents consistently told stories of kids waking up at 4:00am, asking “When is it time for baseball?”, followed by a question an hour later “When is it time for baseball?”, followed by yet another question of - you guessed it - "When is it time for baseball"? You can see the excitement on the players’s faces and the joy they experienced by having an opportunity to be a part of the game. You can visit them at their West Ashley field every Saturday through May 2nd (except 4/4), or their Summerville field starting April 11th. Join the cheering section or maybe even be a “buddy” to one of the players!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

“Quid Pro Quo” Implications of Proposed Limit on Tax Deductible Gifts

In nonprofit fundraising you often hear the words “quid pro quo” especially in reference to the making of a gift. On a most basic level, anytime an individual donates to charity they are in fact getting “something for something” – they are getting a tax deduction for making a gift to a 501(c)(3) or other tax-exempt organization. Taken to its extreme, however, quid pro quo can take on the connotation of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” -- and when a fundraising situation moves into this grey area, the ethical aspects of the relationship come into play.

A March 3rd report issued by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities states that “President Obama’s proposal to limit the tax deduction for charitable contributions would affect only the top 1.2 percent of affluent U.S. households and, despite claims to the contrary, would reduce total charitable contributions by only 1.3 percent.”

Thankfully, most donors look for the intangible benefit of “making a difference”, but the tax deduction is always a helpful incentive. Charities across the nation are constantly looking for ways to attract donors to support the various worthy causes we represent. Sometimes we offer incentives in addition to the implicit tax benefit – prime seats at events, naming opportunities, etc.

The question I have for readers, is, if the proposed limit on the tax deduction for charitable gifts becomes law, do you think it will force charities to come up with new or additional “quid pro quo” incentives to encourage or maintain gifts from affluent donors?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Alone With Life and Death

Some stories just stick with you. Edna Crews, Regional Director of Coastal Community Foundation's Beaufort office told one today that is a keeper. While greeting one of the volunteers at Friends of Caroline Hospice in Port Royal the conversation turned to grief counseling. Edna told a story of how when she was a counselor at a public school a teacher made her aware of a little boy who chewed the collar on his shirt. I mean, chewed and chewed and chewed until the collar was just broken threads. After talking to the family Edna learned that the boy's Grandmother had died some weeks before. Talking to the little boy she found out the whole story.

The little boy said that on the night that his Grandmother died she called him into her room in the evening and said that she wanted to say goodbye to him because she was going to die that night. She also said that he was not supposed to tell anyone of their conversation. He went off to bed and woke the next morning to find that his Grandmother had in fact died. Edna found out in conversation with the boy that he believed he was responsible for her death. He felt if only he had told someone what his Grandmother said that she would have lived.

I felt my chest tighten and my vision telescope onto the nodding heads of Edna and the Hospice volunteer. What a story! The conflict between honoring his Grandmother's wishes and taking responsibility for her is an overwhelming burden, even for me as a bystander. I would be doing more than chewing my collar trying to work out that puzzle. Whose wishes do you honor? Moreover, Grandma was just trying to tell the boy how much she loved him. She did not intend for this to cause him any grief and in fact was probably trying to help him.

I had assumed that children do not need to know the details of death and if you just say that "Grandma has gone away for a long time" a small child would be okay. This story made me realize how much we depend on others; in Edna's case teachers, counselors, and family. More broadly, at least in the case of death from a child's point of view, Hospice volunteers, caregivers, and the whole interconnected community that surrounds our lives.

Life and death is more than we can handle alone.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Should you use twitter?

Should you use twitter? In a word.. “yes”. I was probably one of the biggest skeptics when I heard about twitter. Will people stalk me? Does anyone care what I’m doing? Do I have time for this? I decided to just jump on board with it at the end of 2008, joining the 11% of online Americans using twitter Three other staff from Coastal Community Foundation are on currently and you can find us here: Christine, Edna, George, and me. All of us agree it is a great tool to connect with people on topics of interest.

Setting up an account is free and very easy to do by going to It’s important to add a description of who you are and preferably a web site before you start tweeting. (If you don’t have a web site, you could include a link to your blog, LinkedIn profile, etc). Include a picture so we can see who you are. Also, send out a couple tweets before you pick people to follow. (Hey, why not start out by following us? We’re pretty interesting!)

There are a couple things to keep in mind. You are putting information out there for the world to see. It may not be wise to announce your home will be empty for a month before you go on your travels. Also, make sure you are sharing information that people can use. The premise of twitter is “What are you doing”, but I like to think of it as “What are you doing… that people would care about?” There’s definitely a place for humor, but make sure many of your posts provide helpful content to your followers.

So, are you ready to tweet? Drop us a comment once you set up your account and let us know what you think.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Potential Changes In The Tax Deductibility of Gifts

The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that Obama's proposal to limit the deductibility of gifts for the wealthiest Americans has generated an outburst of criticism. While of course it is much too soon to tell how the proposal might eventually be translated into the tax code, I am interested in what you think of it.

Some facts:

The effect of the proposal would be to limit the tax deductibility of all itemized deductions to 28% of their value, down from 33 or 35% depending on the total Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) of the taxpayer. If the taxpayer's AGI was $250,000 or more a gift of $100,000 would only result in a $28,000 deduction from the taxes owed, rather than a $33,000 or a $35,000 deduction depending on which tax bracket the taxpayer was in (i.e., 33% or 35%).

Many of the highest earning taxpayers already cope with a 28% limit on deductibility because they are captured by the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT).

Estimates are that it could reduce total giving in the United States by $3B, a 1% drop from the $303B in gifts made last year.

So, what do you think? Will this stifle charitable giving? Will you (if you are lucky enough to be a high earner) give less?

And while it certainly is nice, why should we expect the government to subsidize our charitable giving anyway?

I would appreciate your comments while I attempt to form an opinion on this issue. I am sure that I will be asked, so give me your thoughts.