Beyond the Noise and Whispers: Front-Line Nonprofits Speak Up for Communities

Beyond the Noise and Whispers: Front-Line Nonprofits Speak Up for Communities

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Supercommittee members, tasked with cobbling a deal to shrink the federal deficit by at least $1.2 trillion, have heard three waves of influencers. First, protesting noisily, Tea Partiers have shouted and the Occupy movement has marched. Meanwhile, economists and think tanks have spouted their number-based theories. And lobbyists for Wall Street and defense contractors have whispered – assertively as campaign fundraisers – asking for favors.

Beyond all that noise and whispering, however, are the voices of people who work every day to improve lives and strengthen communities across America.

Believing that their elected officials want to hear the truth, leaders of more than 4,000 nonprofit organizations – in a sector that employs 10% of America’s workforce – delivered to Supercommittee members a Nonprofit Community Letter that speaks up for the hundreds of millions of people that nonprofits serve in all 50 states.

These community-based nonprofits spoke from their hearts, providing real-world context that cannot be ignored: Congress must protect, not weaken, the charitable giving incentive.

The following observations from front-line nonprofits shatter the false assumptions of distant economists and policy experts who crunch numbers in ways that crunch human beings. These insights from community nonprofits grappling daily with the recession give voice about the importance of the charitable giving incentive and how nonprofits impact the lives of constituents.

False Assumption: That budget cuts and changes to tax policy will not hurt people because nonprofits will be able step in to fill the void.

  • “The demand on our services has never been greater than today. Private nonprofits are feeding, housing, and healing those most in need in our community. To take away the tax deductions that make it possible for nonprofits like [our nonprofit food bank in Montana] to exist would break these entities. Please don't throw the hungry and homeless under the bus in the process.”

False Assumption: That nonprofits can take up the slack created by continued government cuts.

  • Nonprofit in Michigan fighting child abuse and neglect: “Do not take away our ability to effectively raise resources and then expect us to fill the social service holes you create with program cuts!"
  • "With nonprofits taking on more and more of the roles that state and federal agencies used to do, we need to ensure they can operate at their greatest capacity.  To cut the tax deduction [for human services nonprofit in South Carolina] would increase state and government costs in the long run."

False Assumption: That foundation grants and corporate giving can fill the void of spending cuts.

  • “With dollars declining from government, foundations and corporations, our [nonprofit domestic violence shelter in Texas] depends on individuals' generosity to ensure we can protect abused women and children with shelter and other services that create contributing members to a healthy community."

False Assumption: That the charitable deduction does not really motivate people to give more than they otherwise would.

  • Nonprofit shelter in Massachusetts: “If you believe that people give out of the goodness of their hearts, think again and come see the donations that we receive in December with ‘year-end tax donation’ written out on the check. If you hurt nonprofits, you hurt the poor people they serve."

False Assumption: That curtailing charitable giving will have no effect on the economy.

  • “If nonprofits are unable to function, what will Congress do to take care of all the needs that nonprofits currently do for low-income families? Additionally, our [faith-based nonprofit in Michigan] creates revenue for local businesses through local purchases made that are donated to our programs. Without charitable tax incentives those local businesses will lose out as well.  If Congress does not protect the charitable giving tax incentives there will be a ripple effect that will devastate our Nation at a time when we cannot afford to reduce the number of social service programs that meet basic human service needs.”

Americans providing needed services in their local communities have lifted their voices, telling the Supercommittee that nonprofits cannot withstand any weakening of the charitable giving incentive, and that governments at all levels cannot continue to cut public programs and expect nonprofits to fill in their gaps and pick up their slack.

Those nonprofit leaders – and the more than 13 million Americans employed by nonprofits and the tens of millions who depend on nonprofit services every day – will now stand back to listen: Will the Supercommittee speak out for communities with a clear statement in support of the charitable deduction so it is dislodged it from any proposals to cap or reduce the value of itemized deductions?

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