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Nonprofit Advocacy Matters | October 7, 2013

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October 7, 2013

Paying for Indirect Costs Essential to Success, New Report Finds

Investing for ImpactPrevailing government policies and practices render many charitable nonprofits less efficient and effective, according to findings presented in a new report by the National Council of Nonprofits. Investing for Impact: Indirect Costs are Essential for Success details how a combination of inconsistent terminology by governments, arbitrary application of those terms, and unrealistic expectations impair the ability of nonprofits to deliver services that governments at all levels contract with them to provide and weakens the viability of the entire sector to provide services to the public on behalf of governments. Among other findings, the report challenges outdated thinking and demonstrates that actual indirect costs range from 20 percent to 40 percent at charitable nonprofits.

Investing for Impact offers practical solutions that governments at all levels can adopt to strengthen the government-nonprofit contracting relationship while ensuring higher-performing partners and cost savings for taxpayers. Charitable nonprofits are invited to help ongoing contracting reform efforts by sharing your experiences and problems with contracting with local and state governments. For more on the report and on the Council of Nonprofits’ government-nonprofit contracting reform initiative, go to www.govtcontracting.org.

Federal Issues 

Long Federal Shutdown Means Greater Demands, Impact on Nonprofits

When the federal government shut down on October 1 due to the failure of politicians to reach agreement on a bill to fund federal programs, many people presumed that the government would be closed for only a few days and the impact would be relatively light. However, the widening chasm between the political parties suggest that the shutdown could continue for weeks, perhaps even spilling over to and beyond the October 17 date when the federal government will hit the statutory debt limit. Every day of shutdown increases the tally of adverse effects for nonprofits and the people they serve. Many federally funded, community-based programs that provide food for infants, children, veterans, and seniors, such as Meals on Wheels and WIC (Women, Infant, and Children Supplemental Nutrition), report having only enough resources to continue operating for a few more days. At least 23 Head Start programs in 11 states have already run out of money, leaving children without access to vital educational programs and their parents scrambling for options. People who could be applying for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, veterans' benefits, or other essential programs -- all of which have been idled during the shutdown -- turn to charities for help. Members of the VISTA national service program continue to accrue their stipends during the shutdown, but they won’t be paid until government operations resume, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service; yet, VISTA participants reportedly are prohibited from taking second jobs to earn other income while they wait to be paid. 

Government shutdowns – just like arbitrary sequestration cuts – may stop funding, but they do not stop human needs. Indeed, they actually increase needs. When people are in need, they turn to charitable nonprofits for help – yet nonprofits have been stretched beyond capacity the last several years since the Great Recession due to higher demands for help and reduced revenues.

State and Local Issues 

Dealing with the Federal Government Shutdown at the State Level

The National Governors Association has made clear that state governors oppose the federal government shutdown and are concerned about whether and how the states will backfill reduced federal support, especially if the political impasse goes on for long. “We will not be acting as the federal government's bank,” said Michigan Budget Director John Nixon, suggesting that individuals will have to turn elsewhere for help. Arizona took it a step further, cutting off welfare assistance to the very poor. To avert additional pressures on nonprofits and their communities, State Associations across the country are working to prepare nonprofits for the range of effects the government shutdown could have on their work and the people they serve:

Nonprofits Prepare for 2014 State Tax Reform Discussions

Tax reform discussions for the 2014 legislative sessions are already underway across the country. Last week New York Governor Cuomo announced the creation of a new tax reform committee tasked with reducing sales taxes for individuals and businesses. The new tax committee must submit its report to the Governor by December 6, 2013. The Nebraska Legislature’s Tax Modernization Committee kicked off a series of tax reform hearings in September that seek to gather input from the public on tax reform topics. The Committee has until December 15 to submit its recommendations to the Legislature. The Nonprofit Association of the Midlands is working to engage local nonprofits in the state tax reform dialogue to ensure the organizations have a seat at the table on tax changes that could negatively affect their work in communities. Vermont policymakers during their 2014 session are also expected to discuss a tax reform proposal that would cap all itemized deductions, including the charitable giving incentive, at 2.5 times the standard deduction. Common Good Vermont and several other nonprofits in the state have already voiced concerns about the proposed change.

Taxes, Fees, PILOTs

  • Property Tax Exemptions: The New Jersey Supreme Court ended a decade-long battle over property taxes, ruling that nonprofit organizations that provide housing and other services to mentally ill and disabled persons do not owe property taxes on their residential facilities. The Court’s unanimous decision stressed the importance of protecting nonprofits’ tax-exempt status because it decreases the demands on government. The case represents a crucial precedent in New Jersey, where the state and local governments have tried on several other occasions in recent years to levy taxes, fees, or PILOTs on charitable nonprofits.
  • Property Tax Exemptions: The Ohio Tax Commission ruled that a hospital must be reimbursed for more than $1 million in property taxes assessed by a local school district. The nonprofit hospital had been paying property taxes for five years despite having applied for tax-exempt status in 2008. The Commission ruled that the hospital is classified as a nonprofit organization and, therefore, should have been exempt from property taxes during this period.
  • Business Taxes: A New Hampshire State Representative is considering submitting a bill that would apply the state’s Business Enterprise Tax to nonprofit colleges and hospitals. The tax currently charges businesses above a certain size a 0.75 percent fee on interest, dividends, and compensation, but exempts charitable nonprofits. Some nonprofits in New Hampshire are pushing back against the idea: “They provide a public good, which is why they’re exempt from the Business Enterprise Tax and generally exempt from taxes,” a nonprofit representative said. “It would be a direct challenge to their tax-exempt status.”

Government-Nonprofit Contracting News
Illinois Implements Reforms that Benefit Nonprofits and Taxpayers

Illinois taxpayers, individuals receiving vital services, and nonprofit service providers are the beneficiaries of ongoing contracting reform efforts. Key areas of progress include creation of an electronic document repository, reduction of nonprofit monitoring from annual reviews to once every three-to-five years, and adoption of a common contract agreement template that five separate state agencies can use, according to a report to the Illinois General Assembly from the Management Improvement Initiative Committee (MIIC). The Centralized Repository Vault (CRV) is generating savings by allowing nonprofits to electronically upload standard documents like an organization’s articles of incorporation and IRS Form 990 only once, when previously they were required to submit as hard copies to each state agency multiple times – thus saving taxpayers the costs of storage and retrieval. The MIIC is also working on a process for accepting deemed status of service providers to reduce regulatory burdens on nonprofits and a new standardized billing system and reporting format. MIIC was created in 2011 by the General Assembly to improve government-nonprofit contracting practices and procedures across Illinois’ five human services agencies

Denver Strengthens Partnership with Nonprofit Contractors

Nonprofits in Denver are seeing positive results from the City’s efforts to improve contracting and partnerships. The Denver Office of Strategic Partnerships (DOSP), which serves as a liaison between the City and local charitable nonprofit service providers, last week began posting a listing of funding opportunities on DOSP’s website and expanding its newsletter to highlight City funding opportunities for their nonprofit partners. The Office also released a guide for City agencies on the selection process for nonprofit funding streams to support efforts to structure a clear and transparent selection process, and is providing training to City employees on working effectively with nonprofits. Denver’s commitment to streamlining contracting processes is demonstrated by DOSP Executive Director, Dace West: “As a City, we elect to work with the nonprofit community to complement and support services already provided by City agencies or to meet needs that the City does not have the capacity, resources or expertise to address. As a result, the City is able to more effectively and efficiently execute its vision of creating a world-class city where everyone matters.”

Additional State and Local Issues

Advocacy in Action

Nonprofits Take to Advocacy to Avoid Another Round of Sequestration

Nonprofits nationwide are actively engaging with policymakers in efforts to prevent a second round of sequestration cuts from taking effect in January of 2014. The Maine Association of Nonprofits is hosting a discussion with Senator Angus King to end sequestration and demonstrate how the arbitrary and across-the-board cuts are limiting the ability of nonprofits to serve their communities. Similarly, the National Head Start Association held a rally on October 2nd at the US Capitol to demonstrate the adverse effects of current and future sequester cuts. Those cuts have already forced Head Start programs nationally to drop 57,000 children from their early education programs in addition to firing teachers, cutting schedules and reducing transportation for low-income families. The advocacy efforts of nonprofits like these are essential for ensuring that policymakers and the public see the true cost of these arbitrary cuts and recognize the impact they have on charitable nonprofits and the communities they serve. Readers can share stories about how sequestration has affected their communities and read others, from every state, at www.GiveVoice.org.

Worth Reading

Business as Usual: A Tale of Two Sectors,” by Tim Delaney, Huffington Post, September 30, 2013.

When Government Shuts Down, the Nonprofit Community Pays,” by Tim Delaney, Foundation Center, October 4, 2013.

Charitable Giving Tied to State Tax Deduction Decisions,” Stateline, September 24, 2013, analyzing the consequences of actions by legislatures to reconsider and largely to retain charitable giving incentives in Hawai’i, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, and Vermont.

Worth Quoting

“Due to the absence of either an FY 2014 appropriation or Continuing Resolution for the [federal agency], I am out of the office on furlough and I am not able to read or respond to your message.” Automatic reply message from a federal employee.