Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Who speaks for progressive philanthropy?

The Senate Finance Committee and the Joint Committee on Taxation are both investigating nonprofits and philanthropy. There is every likelihood that this, the 109th Congress, will enact some level of "reform" of the nonprofit sector and philanthropy. Both Houses of Congress are currently controlled by Republicans, and both bodies have shown a remarkable degree of legislative dexterity when it comes to interpreting or simply rewriting the rules of law - as seen most recently in their involvement in a private family medical decision. This Congress and Administration are not the slightest bit shy in terms of allowing their supporters to the "dirty work," and so we have USA Next, the group behind the attach ads on Candidate John Kerry now aggressively taking on the AARP - which it deems as too liberal which I would read as "its big and it opposes privatizing social security."

What does this have to do with philanthropy and nonprofits? Well, philanthropy is big - US Foundations control more than $400 billion in assets and make more than $30 billion in grants each year. Nonprofits are big - accounting for hundreds of millions of jobs and more than 5% of GDP. And they both tend to be liberal. Which actual progressives would disagree with, but, its only really important that the conservatives see both foundations and nonprofits as liberal.

So, here's what we have:

1) A Republican controlled legislature pushing for "reform" of a big sector it deems too liberal.

2) The primary response so far from the sector itself has come from an independent panel on the Nonprofit Sector. This panel is fine, but it is consensus-based, attempting to be representative, and responsive. In other words, it has very little power and is only addressing those questions that are asked of it.

3) The Alliance for Charity Reform. This is a lobbying effort paid for mostly be members of the Philanthropy Roundtable - a politically conservative group of funders. The Alliance is not representative, it need not reach consensus, and it is focused on advancing a conservative agenda for philanthropy and nonprofits.

$) And, speaking up for the left, actively promoting a progressive agenda, lobbying Congress for reform that might strengthen the sector, its influence or its resources, is....Anybody? Is there Anybody out there?

This is the time to have the conversation about the future of the nonprofit sector and philanthropy. The conservatives are there - they set the table and they came to dinner. Who will speak for progressive philanthropy?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good thoughts. Great rhetorical question. Threshold? Changemakers? NCRP? Commonweal Institute? Tides? Pew? When will we get the message that for the other side politics is war by other means, and to the end, scorched earth.