Monday, December 28, 2020

Embracing Gratitude in Coronavirus Times

 2020 has been a tough year for nonprofits. Even now, when it feels like there may be an end in sight with our new administration plus vaccines on the way, shelter in place orders keep expanding throughout the country. 

Yet we all have much to be grateful for: 


Connecting virtually: The miracle of Zoom has made it possible for to stay in touch with clients, colleagues, donors, and volunteers. Zoom is a tool that you can and should continue to use strategically – for staff meetings or donor calls, for instance - even when it becomes possible for people to meet in person again.


Expanding your reach: Zoom has also allowed nonprofits to connect with lots of new folks. You should be thinking now about how you can continue to maintain and strengthen these contacts and relationships in the future.


New rules for charitable deductions:The renewed stimulus bill continues to allow folks who do not itemize deductions to deduct up to $300 (single/joint filers) and $250 (married filing separately) in 2021. As well, folks who do not itemize can deduct up to $300 (single/join filers), and $250 (married filing separately). Those who do itemize can deduct contributions up to 100% of their gross income (previous limit was 60%). Be sure to let your members, donors, and supporters know about this.


Stimulus Bill support:The bill includes a renewed PPE loan program that expands eligibility for nonprofits (two tips: get on this right away, and avoid big corporate banks who favor big corporate clients). There is also a specific provision for entertainment and cultural institutions/venues, with $3 billion designated for nonprofits.


Fundraising in new ways: More and more folks are paying and donating online, through Venmo, Paypal, and other vehicles. You should continue to make this easy and to offer options, both for program payments and for donations. 


Re-focusing mission: These challenging times present an opportunity to focus on your core purpose and how you will continue supporting your communities while furthering your non-profit cause. Think about what you have done that is new and different, not just in terms of tools, but also in terms of programming and content. Look at what has worked, and what hasn’t; what has touched people, what has helped people. 


2020 was hard year for the nonprofit world. It’s already been a long haul, and there are more pandemic months to come. Here’s hoping for a new and better year ahead.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Nonprofits Behaving Badly: Paycheck Protection Program Recipients

 More questionable behavior from big nonprofits is in the news lately, centering around millions of dollars received through the Paycheck Protection Program.

Let's start with the Catholic Church, which used a specially crafted and unprecedented exemption from federal rules - customarily churches and faith-based nonprofits promoting religious beliefs aren't eligible for SBA dollars - to land more than $3.5 billion in coronavirus aid. Much of this money went to dioceses that were required to pay huge settlements and/or applied for bankruptcy protection because of sexual abuse scandals. The Conference of Catholic Bishops lobbied vigorously to be included in the program, and for waivers from standard SBA rules:
  • A West Virginia diocese, where an investigation last year revealed that the Bishop had embezzled funds and made sexual advances to young priests, received a log of $2 million.
  • Saint Luke Institute, a treatment center for priests accused of sexual abuse, received a loan of close to $1 million.
  • The New York Archdiocese received a special waiver from the 500-employee cap specified in the Paycheck protection Program in order to receive its funding.
  • Four dioceses in bankruptcy proceedings due to mounting sexual abuse claims received loans, despite standing SBA rules prohibiting loans to applicants in bankruptcy.

And then there are the public charter schools, which downplayed their public status to grab some cash. In Chicago, numerous public charter schools received PPP money - despite the fact that all of these schools were already fully funded for the school year, and were slotted to receive extra funding through the CARES Act designated to help offset the pandemic's extraordinary costs. Recipients included wealthy charter school networks like Summit, which has assets of $43 million, a substantial endowment, a CEO whose salary is $500,000 -- and received recent donations from Michael Bloomberg, Bill and Melinda Gates, and the Bezos Foundation.

But this one was the topper for me: the Ayn Rand Institute, a think tank focusing on exalting capitalism, rejection of any kind of social welfare program, and dedicated to the proposition that we are not our brother's keepers, received $1 million.

These well-heeled nonprofits, which by law are supposed to be dedicated to charitable and ethical purposes, managed to manipulate the political system to get public funding that should have been used to help small grassroots organizations that actually make a difference in the world. Let's hope the next round of funding is done with more oversight, less rule-bending, and a true focus on helping essential small nonprofits that are struggling to continue to do important work during this pandemic.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Coping With the Impact of Coronavirus

As shelter in place orders keep expanding, with no real end in sight, every nonprofit in the country has needed to completely re-think their work, their staffing, and how to navigate this crisis. 

Here are a few things you should know:

IRS Form 990 deadline extended: The deadline for filing your 2019 form is now July 15. You still have to file, but you have more time to pull it all together.

The stimulus bill includes nonprofits: This includes the Paycheck Protection Program, Economic Injury Disaster Loans, payroll tax deferral, and an employee retention credit.  But…the process has been chaotic and problematic. 

Resources for assistance with stimulus bill programs: Check the SBA website for detailed information at as well as the SBDC (Small Business Development Center) in your area. Consider reaching out to community banks that have been more receptive. And do not hesitate to ask for help and assistance from district staff for your Member of Congress.

Charitable tax deductions: The stimulus bill expands the charitable deduction to all taxpayers for one year.  It will allow non-itemizers to deduct up to $300 in cash giving for the 2020 tax year. For itemizers, the bill lifts the cap on annual giving from 60% to 100% of adjusted gross income. 

Here are some things you should be doing:

Stay in touch: Check in with your members, donors, and clients via phone, Zoom, email, and mail to see how they are doing. Let them know both how much you value their support and how you are managing the crisis.

Connect virtually: Send weekly enewsletters with updates as well as virtual connections including on-line classes, videos of performances, and any funny messages/jokes you can find. Right now folks need every opportunity they can get for connection, music, song, art, and laughter.

Connect your work to the pandemic: Are you helping out with food drives, distributing masks, providing books or learning opportunities for kids and seniors? Let folks know, and invite them to help out in any way possible – making soup, sewing masks, calling isolated seniors.

Update your website: Make sure your website has current information about closures, ways to connect virtually, and ways to help out.

Give people the opportunity to give back: If you have cancelled events and programs, give folks the choice of donating the fees back to support your organization. And don't hesitate to gently ask folks for basic charitable donations; history tells us people continue to be generous during crises like these. 

Participate in Giving Tuesday on May 5: You’ve probably already been doing this around Thanksgiving; there’s a new campaign aiming to support nonprofits right now. 

Diversify your funding: If your income is heavily weighted towards grants, either from foundation or government grants, start working now to broaden your funding base. These nonprofit income streams are going to decrease substantially, just as they did 2008.

Encourage your members and clients to fill out their U.S. census forms: Data from the census determines how much government funding will come to your city, county, and state to support nonprofits, local governments, and schools (not to mention defining how many representatives you have in Congress). It’s easy and essential; do it now at

None of this is easy - it's heartbreaking to cancel programs, close facilities, worry all the time about your nonprofit's future, and lose personal connections. It's going to a long haul - but we will get through it together with grace, a sense of humor, and hope for a better new world.