For The Love Of Community: Superheroes without Capes

Lt. Col. Jamie Cox

The people who’ve made Northern New York home have come from all over America. The vast majority have generational connections to the north country. However, some arrived on orders from the Army. Others journeyed north to raise their family. A few came to be part of something special. 

    There is an extraordinary breed of individuals amongst us who rise above the the rest. They are servants to the community. 

    The list of whom they serve unfortunately runs long. There are victims of domestic violence, families struggling with food insecurity, people who fight mental health conditions, individuals who have become casualties of the opioid crisis, infants born to homeless mothers, veterans in search of work opportunities, adolescents struggling with self-identity, and seniors who can’t afford much needed prescriptions. 

    These selfless servants carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. The stories they hear from their clientele haunt their dreams. And despite the low pay and lack of benefits, they continue to perform miracles day after day. 

    For most who serve, it is a calling: a vocation to help the most vulnerable members of our community. The paychecks they receive are reliant on the generosity of good people, philanthropic foundations and companies who embrace corporate responsibility. When funding dries up, they learn to do more with less. 

    They are desperate for career and job skill training, a cost of living pay raise, benefits, and a clean and professional facility to conduct their business. 

    When they see nationally renowned charitable organizations throwing lavish parties for donors and executives, our local servants cringe at how that image imposes itself on their own company. They fear the effects of the economy on people’s ability to give. They know societal philanthropy is decreasing year after year. 

    And yet they continue to serve. 

    The employees of nonprofit organizations throughout NNY serve to give friends, neighbors, and even strangers hope for a better future. They are passionate to make our part of the country a better place for everyone to live. They do it for the children, seniors, arts, environment and individuals and families in crisis. It’s a willingness to live a simpler life because the sense of fulfillment and pride is more than any paycheck could convey. 

    So to all of those who serve, thank you. Thank you for holding the hand of a teen who’s going through violent withdrawals from drugs and for providing care for toddlers while their parents work. Thank you for teaching people to read and for hugging the senior who’s not able to leave their home. Thank you for driving the veteran to his appointment in Syracuse and for teaching people how to interview for a job. Thank you for feeding the hungry and for educating our children about the dangers of substance abuse. Thank you for guiding teens who have identity challenges and bringing music to our communities. Thank you for protecting victims of domestic violence and for filling propane tanks in the winter. Thank you for saving the river, lake and our forests. Thank you for sacrificing your financial security and for incurring greater personal debt to pursue a life in service to others. 

    Thank you from all of us to all of you who put our neighborhoods and communities ahead of yourselves. You deserve more. You are all – truly – superheroes. 

Lt. Col Jamie Cox, a combat decorated and wounded US Marine Corps (Retired) aviator, is currently the President and CEO of the United Way of Northern New York. He can be reached at Jamie.Cox@unitedway-nny.org.

Charitable Contributions A ‘Non-Factor’ to Determine Domicile

Rande Richardson

Approximately one-third of all annual giving occurs in December. Supporters of local charitable organizations are generous throughout the year; however, nonprofit organizations rely heavily on year-end giving to fulfill their work and mission for all 12 months. At the Community Foundation, in addition to annual giving, many donors turn their thoughts to ways to perpetuate their support of causes through lifetime giving and legacy planning. At the same time, many take advantage of utilizing the benefit of the unique tool of a Community Foundation donor-advised fund to help ensure they reach a level that allows all of their yearly charitable giving to surpass standard deduction levels to ensure their deductibility.

Meanwhile, more Northern New Yorkers have become residents of other states (predominantly Florida). For local nonprofits, this is a trend that may be a cause for concern. An unintended consequence of a change of domicile is that now-seasonal New Yorkers inevitably become attached to charitable organizations and churches where they spend the winter. This is understandable.

What is less understandable, however, is some former residents are wrongly led to believe that their choice to change their residence limits, or even prohibits, their ability to make charitable contributions in New York. I occasionally have conversations with donors who have spent their lives, raised their families and earned their living in the North Country who fear that their domicile status may be jeopardized by their expression of charity. Not only is this notion hurtful to our area, it is simply not true. There are checklists of “do’s and don’ts” where domicile is concerned, however, published tax audit guidelines make clear the intent of the law is not to interfere in any way with personal giving, either within New York or anywhere else.

You should always consult your advisors for accounting and legal advice, and the Community Foundation will soon publish a more in-depth article on this written by a local estate planning attorney. For the purposes of this column, it is simply worth noting in broad terms that New York State auditor’s guidelines specifically state that a taxpayer’s charitable contributions are a “non-factor” and are not to be taken into account in determining domicile. The guidelines go even further to ensure that volunteer service not be used in any way to jeopardize domicile. Taken directly from the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance website: “Live out of state? Donating to a NY-based charity doesn’t make you a NYS resident for tax purposes. Making a charitable contribution to a New York State charity does not determine your domicile (your permanent and principal home for tax purposes). We want residents of other states to know that they can contribute to New York State charities with full knowledge that such a contribution isn’t taken into account when determining domicile.”

The North Country relies on gifts of both time and treasure from all for whom this place holds special meaning. We must do everything we can to help ensure that both organizations and the donors who support them are not misled down a path that somehow those relationships need end with a change in domicile.

Charitable giving is a very personal decision. Done properly, it is an extension of the individual and a reflection of one’s interests, passions and values. For many, that includes causes that they have supported for many years, across multiple generations. It is a reflection of their fondness and appreciation for the way the North Country has weaved through their lives. If donors choose to cease their giving and sever their ties to Northern New York charities, it should be for reasons other than mistaken myth and misconception.

Our region has been blessed by a culture of giving that has enhanced the quality of life here. Not only do our regional organizations rely on and value that type of generosity, those donors who desire to be part of that heritage need to be reassured that domicile need not be an obstacle to their personal and individualized expression of their core values in an enduring way.

Strength in Local Journalism

Bob Gorman

Nineteen years ago during my previous career in journalism, an applicant for a reporter’s job at the Watertown Daily Times was in my office, outlining his background.

    He was the son of a former U.S. diplomat. He grew up in Japan and once wrote – in Japanese – a magazine article on Japanese architecture.  Over the previous year he kayaked from the St. Lawrence River through the Great Lakes, down the Illinois & Michigan Canal and Mississippi River to New Orleans because, well, he lived in Vermont at the time and it was something he thought would be interesting.

    He had been a reporter at other newspapers. So I had to ask: Of all the gin joints and newspapers in the world, why Watertown?

     “Because my dad worked here as a reporter for a short time after he got out of college,” he explained. “He once told me about this story he did that caused a lot of commotion. He was on a train from Albany to Watertown and there was a huge delay because of a snow storm. And the mayor of Watertown was on the train as well and started berating the crew because he had to get back to something important in Watertown. He didn’t know my dad was there and so the next day there was a story in the paper about the mayor yelling at everyone on the train.”

    When my interview was over, I took the applicant into the office of the late and great John Johnson, who had been the editor and publisher of the newspaper since 1949. I wanted to see if he would remember the applicant’s father, even though he had only briefly worked at the Watertown Daily Times more than 40 years earlier.

    Johnson eyed the applicant for a few moments and said, “You look like your father.”

    He then started to chuckle and added, “I remember this story he wrote about being on a train in a snowstorm with the mayor of Watertown…”

    Old journalists are like that. They remember the good stories, even the ones they didn’t write.

    For instance:

    In 2007 Alec Johnson was a college-aged intern at the Watertown Daily Times assigned to writing feature stories.  One afternoon I heard a call over the police scanner about a man and his dog missing in Lake Ontario at Wehle State Park. We were short-staffed in the newsroom that day so I sent Alec.

    What would he end up writing about? Who knows? All I ever told reporters was “If you don’t go you won’t know.”

    Johnson arrived on the scene soon after to find a lot of confusion. The woman who called for help was on a cliff looking down, but could not see any evidence of her boyfriend and his dog. The waters were becoming increasingly choppy. Had the man and his dog been crushed on the rocks, pulled under or dragged by the current to another place on shore? Law officers couldn’t tell either.

    An hour later, Johnson called me and said there no evidence of a body. Since it looked like a shear wall of rock down to the water, searchers along the cliff were about to leave the area to go see if the body was someplace else along the shore.

    I told Alec he could head home. He had already worked a full day as a features intern. Since I had a night reporter coming in soon, I told Alec I would have that person follow up with police as the evening wore on.

    “I think I’ll hang out here a little longer,” replied Alec.  “Something might happen.”

    Good call. Within the next hour a rescue boat saw the man and his dog in an indentation in the wall of rock, directly below where his girlfriend was looking. And Alec was there to watch the rescue unfold. The newspaper the next day printed Alec’s pictures of the man and his dog pulled to safety and our story included Alec’s on-the-scene quotes from the very lucky survivor and those who rescued him.

    After completing his undergraduate degree at Dickinson College and then getting a master’s degree at Columbia University, Alec spent eight years as a reporter and editor at the Waterbury (Conn.) Republican-American. Now, he has returned to the Watertown Daily Times as managing editor.

    (The Johnson family avoids hiring its own blood right out of college. They prefer the pups make their early career mistakes on someone else’s dime.)

    While the Johnsons made no hiring exception for Alec when he finished college, maybe they should have as he quickly became an award-winning journalist in Connecticut. He once tracked the police records of a drunk driver who had killed another driver. It was the reprobate’s seventh DWI but because his previous crimes occurred just across the borders of New York and Massachusetts – and nobody was sharing police records — he was still driving and killing another driver instead of being in jail.

    For those of us dependent on a free press to tell us about our local businesses, hospitals, schools, nonprofits, etc., we must be willing to acknowledge some cold truths. Johnson works in a world where our President refers to journalists as “the enemy of the people,” a term preferred by totalitarians who are about to round up the opposition for execution. Combine that with a growing population that thinks their Facebook “news feed” is actual journalism and you end up with the sorry mess of news coverage we find ourselves in today.

    Similar to the view he had on the cliff at Wehle State Park many years ago, Alec Johnson now navigates these choppy waters of news gathering. Fortunately, the new managing editor – who now stands on the bridge were his family has stood for more than 100 years — has the patience, fortitude and competence to guide the Times’ newsroom in service to our community.

 

‘Uncertainties’ in Nonprofits Are Uncertain

Rande Richardson

One of the most frequent words used when discussing the future of nonprofit organizations is “uncertainty.” Nearly every week I hear speculation that the next generation won’t choose to support the work of nonprofits in the same way their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents did. Others wonder whether the work and mission of some nonprofits will be relevant to those in line to lead them. While I remain optimistic based on what I see through the Community Foundation’s Youth Philanthropy Council, Young Professional’s LEAD Council and Youth Giving Challenge initiative, I believe that “business as usual” for some local charitable organizations may be turning the page on its last chapter.

                It would have been difficult to predict 25 years ago that the Syracuse Symphony would cease to exist after 50 years, but we all know what happened in 2011. While there were likely multiple reasons for this, one of them had to be the changing landscape and the growing disparity between the mission, its sustainability and those willing to support it.

                At the Community Foundation, we continue to look for opportunities to encourage and support the thoughtful consideration of nonprofit reorganization through mergers or other affiliations, as well as sharing of resources. Indeed, there have been successful examples of preservation of mission over entity, including the Teen Center finding sustainability under the auspices of the Children’s Home of Jefferson County or Meals on Wheels finding a natural collaboration with the Watertown Urban Mission. The Philanthropy Center now allows five nonprofits to share space and other resources, with one more expected soon. More of these will happen. Some organizations may even dissolve completely where the mission has become increasingly irrelevant or obsolete or another organization has found a more sustainable way to fulfill that same purpose.

                All is not lost, however. When I meet with charitably-inclined citizens looking to perpetuate their giving for a specific nonprofit, I will usually ask: “Is it the organization you want to support or is it WHAT THEY DO that you want to support?” There is a distinction. In most cases, the donor acknowledges that it is the work and mission they are supporting, not the organization itself. While they may be sentimentally or emotionally attached to the current provider of that work and mission, they recognize that it is the result that they want to see sustained through their gift or bequest.

                While community foundations exist to support diverse aspects of a region’s quality of life, what truly makes them unique is their ability to maintain appropriate flexibility and adaptability through something called “variance power.” In 1976, the Internal Revenue Service issued Treasury Regulations that endorsed and codified the variance power as an essential feature of community foundations.

                Back to the Syracuse Symphony illustration. Many years ago, a committed group of residents teamed up to raise funds to establish an endowment to support Syracuse Symphony performances in the Watertown area. That fund was entrusted to the Community Foundation, and through prudent management, has grown to nearly $700,000. Because of this, when the Syracuse Symphony officially dissolved, the Community Foundation’s governing body was able to deploy those funds to support live orchestral music performed by other groups. The charitable purpose endures as each year the fund supports performances by the Orchestra of Northern New York, among others. Recently, a donor created an endowment to support their church, with provisions for three other nonprofit organizations if the church should someday face an unforeseen end. The might and muscle of this variance power cannot be overstated, both for the purpose and the donor.

                I will always feel strongly that the best gift is an enduring one, and the future of the nonprofit sector will increasingly rely on that long-term support. As organizations shuffle, the sacred trust and stewardship of donors who want to see vibrant, healthy, happy communities must be positioned to do the most good, regardless of the organization doing it. If not for variance power, we run the risk of not only losing the charitable resource, but providing an obstacle for perpetuating legacies that can make a difference, despite the nonprofit landscape of the future.

                Remaining relevant in a world that, inevitably, will change, applies not only to nonprofit organizations, but also to the resources that are used to support them. Part of that relevancy includes providing an approach that balances the desire for specificity and the desire for thoughtful flexibility over time so the larger charitable intent remains intact. The standard for variance action is extremely high, however, when it is needed, its value to the donor, the nonprofit sector and the needs of our ever-changing community landscape is even higher.

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.

Giving, Sharing, Makes Lives Better

Rande Richardson

BY: Rande Richardson
Nonprofit organizations across the country are looking at the implications of the tax reform bill on the work they do and those they serve, including operational and compliance issues, potential related state and local government changes and the impact of the increased standard deduction as it relates to charitable giving. Changes in laws that affect nonprofits have direct impact, and make a statement on how we view their role in our society and the value we place on them.

    At the same time we were hearing about tax reform, media retrospectives were reminding us of lives lived and lost. The year-end summaries honor those who have left an imprint on our world. It is in those moments that we have a heightened sense of the way others affect our lives and shape us. The most profound legacies are those that reach deep into our collective, human souls and the heart of our communities.

    There are diverse ways others touch us and leave their mark but there is a common theme. As a society and as individuals, the greatest meaning comes from that which makes us uniquely human. Throughout our lifetimes, the things that become the fabric of our culture and heritage are the expressions of the essence of our humanity.

    Each December, the Kennedy Center recognizes those whose talent and ingenuity have enriched and shaped cultural life in America. The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize celebrates the work of artists whose careers reflect lifetime achievement in promoting song as a vehicle of musical expression and cultural understanding. There are numerous other awards that we bestow that affirm the values and ideals we hold most dear. It is through these that we celebrate and uphold what matters most to us.

    What this has to do with nonprofits? When I hear acronyms such as NPOs, NGOs and NFPs to generalize the nonprofit community, I cringe. When I see legislation enacted that devalues charitable investment and its role in our country, I am disheartened. Somehow, in the generalization of “nonprofit,” something gets lost in the translation. If you take the time to think about the way nonprofit organizations have become part of all of our lives, you realize that they are simply a formal expression of our humanness. They embody the values and beliefs that make us human. They represent the best in the human spirit that demands that living life by simply existing is not enough.

    Our nonprofit organizations are a primary mechanism through which we make a difference in the lives of others and express our values. They are the way our own lives are made more enriched and fulfilled. Their importance goes beyond a classification.

    Our community’s nonprofit organizations not only provide a tangible link to the golden rule, they also are the way we sustain things government and the private sector should not or cannot alone provide.

    It is natural to generalize when we place groups in a sector. In doing so, however, we must not lose sight of what the sector actually is. In a world where over-generalization happens too often, we should pause and see nonprofits as an extension of our human existence and our love for the things that make life worth living.

    As long as there are good people in our world, those organizations providing the most value will find the support needed to continue. If you found a way to make a difference in 2017, congratulations. You already know how it feels to experience something so fundamentally human.

    Use 2018 to find more opportunities to express what matters most to you. It is in this way, that nonprofit organizations quickly become more than a sector, more than an acronym. They are an essential part of our lives, they are worthy of our care and nurturing. Ultimately, they are a clear reflection of ourselves. When you look back on the retrospective of your own life, may it have had meaningful moments that are consistent with the core of the beliefs and values that our nonprofit organizations embody.

    So what are nonprofits really? They offer us opportunities to surround ourselves with things that really matter, and, in the end, help ensure that we have more happiness and fewer regrets through this transitory experience called life. Giving, sharing, volunteering and working for a better world makes our lives better, tax deduction or not.

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.