The sector has learned a great deal about policy work over the past decade, including two key lessons:
We are far more effective when we work together, pursuing one goal with many voices. One example of this is the Charitable Giving Coalition (CGC). Founded in 2009, the CGC has brought together more than 60 diverse organizations representing private and community foundations, their grantees and other charities, and the associations and umbrella groups that serve their needs. The CGC’s core purpose is the preservation and expansion of the charitable tax deduction.
Although it is certainly important to rally supporters in responding to an unforeseen crisis, the sector’s most valuable work is engaging supporters in the less dramatic and more time-intensive process of relationship-building to ensure that nonprofits are recognized as essential community resources and not-to-be-forgotten constituents. At the federal level, while meeting with lawmakers in Washington is efficient, lawmakers somehow listen better and longer when they are back home in their constituencies. Ten miles from the Capitol amidst nonprofit leaders at a favorite café in his home state, one Virginia lawmaker immediately agreed to sponsor helpful legislation that he had been stalling on. Yes, even 10 miles makes a difference.
Even with valuable lessons learned, however, bumps along the way are inevitable. Congress passed a major tax and economic bill at the end of 2017 in which the charitable sector was a big net loser. The legislation effectively taxed charitable gifts from more than 90 percent of donors (up from about 65 percent) and, among other new taxes, added an excise tax on nonprofit employers that gave free parking and public transit benefits to their employees.
But did the sector throw up its arms and walk away from politics? Not a chance. Redoubling efforts after a loss is a small price to pay to be at the table and be taken seriously.
We recommitted to old coalitions, built new ones, and added in religious organizations that contributed their substantial political might. Along the way, Congress decided to roll back the excise tax on parking and transportation benefits, which some lawmakers referred to as the “church tax.” Not in recent memory can we recall Congress so quickly reversing itself, proving that a focused collaboration of disparate voices can lead to a swift victory.
Read the full article about taking the long view by Sandra Swirski and Joanne Florino at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.