Nonprofits Today: We can make ‘good enough’ better

Some of the best things in our communities came to be not because they were mandated, but because it was the will of the people to make it so. People from all walks of life have built and sustained some of our most cherished community assets. Our museums, libraries, health care organizations and a variety of other human service, arts and culture, environmental and quality-of-life enhancing entities exist as a result of the great north country charitable and can-do, giving spirit.

This year marks the centennial of community foundations in America. Just 15 short years after the first community foundation was established in Cleveland, Ohio, residents of this area replicated the Cleveland model in 1929. Since the first major gift from Watertown mayor DeWitt Middleton, gifts of all sizes have made possible a community endowment that has helped to broadly strengthen the place where we work, play, raise our children and spend our lives. For 85 years, it has helped enable north country residents to most effectively give where they live in meaningful and enduring ways.

In 2013, Americans donated more than $300 billion and foundations pledged nearly $50 billion to support charitable causes. There is no question this has made a real difference in all of our lives. Had we relied solely on government to make this difference, we might very well still be waiting and it may have cost twice as much.

Washington is presently trying to find all types of ways to discourage the type of charitable giving that has been so vital to cities, towns, villages and neighborhoods across our north country. A variety of proposals from both sides of the aisle are looking to lessen or eliminate the favorable tax treatment free citizens receive when choosing to support the things that matter most to them.

Meanwhile, there is some potential good news. In July, the House of Representatives passed the America Gives More Act of 2014, which helps promote and protect charitable community investment. The act provides more certainty to donors contemplating charitable giving. It would make permanent the tax deductibility of contributions from individual retirement accounts made directly to nonprofit organizations. In past years, donors have been left to wonder if the deduction would be permitted. This has made it difficult, and in some years impossible, to plan the best way to give.

The act would also make permanent current tax extender provisions that enhance the deduction for certain land conservation easements and corporate donations to food pantries. It would include an expansion of the deadline to claim charitable deductions from Dec. 31 to April 15 of the following year.

Although it has passed the House, its future in the Senate is far from certain. Budgetary issues related to the act have been debated over the substance of the legislation.

We want to live in places where we can all benefit from the collective and shared vision of a healthy community. Northern New York is not just a special place, it is home. At home, our charitable organizations do much to keep our communities great. Until government can demonstrate that it can provide the things that we have all come to enjoy as part of a caring community, every effort should be made to provide those who make the choice to share their blessings with others the most favorable treatment possible.

In the north country, we recognize the value that a common desire for better communities has for all of us. Our nonprofit organizations continue to demonstrate a unique ability to create results in ways government often cannot.

Now is the perfect time to remind ourselves of the important work philanthropy, in all its shapes and sizes, plays in our area. “Good enough” should never be used to describe the place we call home. By affirming this, we celebrate the many stories of people willing better things for the region, and encourage many more stories yet to be told. May we all have the desire to do everything possible to continue the tradition of giving back to the places that have given so much to each one of us.

 

Rande Richardson

Rande Richardson

Rande Richardson is executive director of the Northern New York Community Foundation. He is a lifelong Northern New York resident and former funeral director. Contact him at rande@nnycf.org. His column appears every other month in NNY Business.