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Our "Adventures in Philanthropy" blog posts are written by our staff and diverse membership and offer a glimpse into the world of philanthropy, presenting current issues and information relevant to funders, policymakers, members of the media, and those interested in current issues and giving trends.


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The Role of Philanthropy in Public Policy: “ABAG Goes to Annapolis”

Posted By Jonalyn Denlinger, Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Updated: Thursday, April 13, 2017

By: Jonalyn Denlinger, Director of Member Engagement

On January 31st, ABAG held its first ever “ABAG Goes to Annapolis” event. Twenty ABAG members and staff met in Annapolis to participate in the legislative session. For many, this was their first time to Annapolis observing the legislative session, for others this was a repeat occurrence. Both seasoned and first-timers commented on the “hurry up to wait” experience of the legislative session, as well as the importance of participating as an active citizen in the decisions made in our state capital. Everyone also agreed that it was a positive experience that exposed members to the legislative process.

This day in Annapolis represents the work of the Association’s Public Policy Committee, which meets quarterly. In 2016, the Public Policy committee, led by chair Kevin Griffin Moreno of the Baltimore Community Foundation, worked together to learn about the various roles our members play in public policy. It was through these conversations and exploration that we learned many of our members had not been to Annapolis, either in their personal life or professional roles. We also learned that our members engage with public officials and policy-related issues in a variety of ways- each unique to the charter and bylaws of their organization. Additionally, we learned that many of our members had hesitations and the need for further clarity about the role philanthropy can play in public policy. As a committee, we wanted to capture the various ways our members both define and act within the context of public policy. Below is our guiding document of definitions:

Public policy advocacy is a means of effecting change in public policy or practice through persuasive communications with elected or appointed public officials.

Advocacy does not equal Lobbying. Public policy advocacy includes a broad range of communications, relationship-building, capacity-building, and other activities. U.S. and federal guidelines limit lobbying to contacting – or urging the public to contact – policymakers for the purpose of: proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation; and/or influencing public policy decisions by Executive Branch employees.

Public policy advocacy includes:

  • Legislative advocacy – aimed at passing, blocking, or changing legislation;
  • Budget advocacy – aimed at affecting the allocation of public resources;
  • Administrative/regulatory advocacy – aimed at affecting the ways that laws are implemented and budgets are spent by public agencies; and
  • Judicial advocacy – aimed at reforming the legal system.

Types of public policy advocacy and potential roles for philanthropy:

  • Capacity Building – grantmaking to advocacy organizations, organizing, leadership development  
  • Coalition Building – mobilizing individuals/organizations around specific policy issues
  • Convening – holding meetings/forming networks around particular issues
  • Education – providing information to public officials and other stakeholders about policy issues
  • Grassroots Organizing – leading organizing efforts around particular issues
  • Litigation – lawsuits, legal representation, etc.
  • Lobbying –direct & grassroots lobbying – includes verbal & written testimony unless formally invited
  • Research – funding and/or disseminating the findings of studies, reports, white papers, etc. for the purpose of effecting policy change
  • Relationship-Building – cross sector relationship building with public, private, and social sector stakeholders
  • Strategic Communications – press releases, interviews, op-ed pieces, blog posts, social media activities, marketing, branding, emails to stakeholders, etc.
  • Funding - direct funding to advocacy organizations to address key issues important to foundation and community

Please join us for continued conversations about the role of philanthropy in public policy at our upcoming Public Policy Committee Meetings:

March 30, 9:00 AM – 10:30 AM

June 19, 2:30 PM – 4:00 PM

September 18, 2:30 PM – 4:00 PM

November 20, 2:30 PM – 4:00 PM 

Tags:  ABAG Members  Adventures in Philanthropy  Philanthropy  policymakers  policyworks  Public Policy 

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National Policy News You Missed While on Summer Vacation

Posted By Adam Donaldson, Tuesday, August 18, 2015
August 18, 2015
By Adam Donaldson, Member Services Director

Charitable Tax Incentives
On July 21, the Senate Finance Committee approved through 2016 a package of 52 expired tax provisions, collectively known as the "extenders package” (because the temporary measures have to be renewed periodically). Included in the bill was the IRA rollover and enhanced deductions for donations of food inventories and conservation easements. The bill does not make the provisions permanent. It also did not include changes to the foundation excise tax. A bill still needs to be brought to the Senate floor – most likely in the fall. During debate on the legislation, Senators Thune (R-SD), Stabenow (D-MI), Schumer (D-NY), and Wyden (D-OR) offered and withdrew an amendment that would have included all of the other components of the America Gives More Act. The purpose of the amendment was to keep on the table the issue of making the charitable incentives permanent during forthcoming reform negotiations.

Nonprofit Votes Count
A new initiative aims to encourage nonprofit staff, board members, and other volunteers to get registered and to vote. Entitled Nonprofit Votes Count, this nonpartisan voter engagement campaign – spearheaded by Independent Sector, National Council of Nonprofits, Nonprofit VOTE, and United Way Worldwide – provides a wealth of resources that make it easy for nonprofits to ensure all the people connected to their work are registered and ready to vote. At, nonprofits and nonprofit networks can sign up and access tools and resources to engage their own staff, board members, and other volunteers.
DOL Proposed Overtime Regulations Debated
The National Council on Nonprofits provides news about the U.S. Department of Labor’s proposed overtime regulations. The draft regulations would increase the minimum salary level that employers must pay their white-collar employees from $23,660 to $50,400 per year to exempt them from time-and-a-half overtime pay. The proposal would also raise the minimum salary level for "highly compensated employees” from $100,000 to over $120,000 per year, and possibly establish a mechanism for automatically raising these salary levels in the future.

The National Council of Nonprofits encourages nonprofits to conduct a mission-based analysis of these proposed regulations. That means answering questions about how the proposed increases in the minimum salary levels would affect operations, resources, and staffing, as well as what impact the draft regulations would have on persons relying on the services and the mission of the nonprofit. Nonprofits should share their answers to those questions with the Department of Labor in the form of comments to the proposed regulations. Comments are due by September 4, 2015. Read the analysis by the National Council of Nonprofits and consider these tips on filing comments.

Tags:  Charitable Tax Deduction  Nonprofits  Policyworks  Public Policy  September 2015 Members' Memo 

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The Right to be Informed – 990 E-Filing

Posted By Adam Donaldson, Monday, July 20, 2015

July 20, 2015

By Adam Donaldson, Member Services Director

On June 16, 2015 Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and co-sponsors John Thune (R-SD) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) introduced the Taxpayer Bill of Rights Enhancement Act of 2015, which was referred to the Committee on Finance. Among other provisions, under Title V – The Right to be Informed, the legislation mandates e-filing of nonprofit 990 tax returns and requires the IRS to make the returns public in machine readable format.

Mandatory e-filing of nonprofit tax records – a good idea?

There has long been interest requiring charitable nonprofits to file their IRS Form 990 annual tax returns electronically rather than submitting them on paper. For several years President Obama has proposed electronic filing. The IRS’s Advisory Committee of Tax Exempt and Government Entities (ACT) recommends mandatory e-filing in its current annual report (FYI Maryland Nonprofits’ Amy Coates Madsen is a member of ACT!).

Advocates say donors would have better information to inform their philanthropy if the IRS required all nonprofits to electronically file AND the information was in a machine readable format. Researchers, watchdog groups and nonprofit leaders would better understand financial health, the nonprofit capacity of communities and more. And besides, BIG data is now cool.

There is concern about the administrative burden to small organizations and to organizations with less technological capacity. The Grassley legislation addresses this directly by giving organizations under $200,000 in gross receipts two additional years to comply with the mandate. Advocates counter argue that e-filing can be simpler and less expensive than traditional paper.

Missing from the media coverage and inevitable march to technocratic transparency has been an overt conversation that private foundations are also nonprofit organizations that file the 990PF. Most likely legislation from Congress would apply to e-filing documents by all variations of tax-exempt organizations.

As a network of philanthropists, this realization resurfaces conversations at the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers about the transparency continuum from Glasspockets to Anonymity. There are strong arguments that transparency increases public trust, wins funding partners to your work and improves grantee relations. It also diminishes personal privacy and undermines the ethic of anonymous giving.

We will be tracking the progress of proposed regulations and preparing our members for what feels like inevitable change.

Mandatory e-filing of nonprofit organizations and private foundation tax records – a good idea?

Tags:  July/August 2015 Members' Memo  Nonprofits  Public Policy 

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Everyone is Watching

Posted By Adam Donaldson, Wednesday, June 10, 2015
Updated: Wednesday, June 10, 2015

June 10, 2015

By Adam Donaldson, ABAG Member Services Director

As a community of grantmakers, we uphold eight governance principles that seek to maximize private philanthropic money for the public good. They were developed by ABAG’s diverse membership with the leadership of an Ethics & Accountability Task Force in 2006 and remain at the center of the resources and programs ABAG delivers on grantmaking practice. The following Guiding Principles reflect aspirations and legal requirements for good governance and stewardship:


1. Serve the public good.

2. Recognize and fulfill all fiduciary and legal responsibilities, and abide by state and federal laws that govern nonprofit and grantmaking organizations.

3. Adhere to the highest standards of professional and ethical behavior.

4. Operate with an active governing body that is responsible for establishing and implementing policies and procedures, and for reviewing and revising them on a regular basis.

5. Establish and follow policies and procedures that support clear, purposeful, and informed grantmaking.

6. Be accessible and open, and make available basic information about grantmaking priorities, programs, funding guidelines, application requirements, and grant monitoring/reporting procedures.

7. Maintain constructive relationships with applicants, grantees, donors, colleagues, and the public based on mutual respect and candor.

8. Support continuous learning and engagement by members of the governing body, staff, and grantees.

Download our Guiding Principles & Implementation Options brochure.


A May 31 op-ed in the New York Times,"Who Will Watch the Charities?,” from David Callahan, founder and editor of Inside Philanthropy,caught the attention of grantmaker associations and charities who quickly responded to the bravado, confusion and errors perpetuated in this major paper. ABAG joins our network of regional associations in highlighting the voluntary systems of accountability and strong ethics of philanthropy. Rather than defeat David Callahan point by point, we want to get back to work strengthening Baltimore and communities across Maryland. In agreement, I would like to share the Forum of Regional Associations response to the New York Times.

To the Editor:

We applaud the state attorneys general and other regulators for cracking down on fraud by four charities highlighted in David Callahan’s May 30 Op-Ed (Who Will Watch the Charities?). The case he cites answers his own question and confirms the oversight process for the charitable sector is working.

Representing 5,500 organizations nationwide, our network of regional philanthropic associations works with state charity officials and nonprofit associations on effective governance, finance, administration and grantmaking for our member foundations and the thousands of nonprofits they support.

Our communities’ needs are great, and while fraud must be exposed and laws enforced, the charitable sector has a long history of effective partnerships with government. Callahan’s over-statement of the problem and confused recommendations are not helpful. Frankly, we believe government should do more to encourage charitable giving.

Americans have the freedom to support charities of their choice, without government determining which are more worthy. We must strengthen that tradition of U.S. philanthropy - not undermine it - to meet the challenges that limit opportunities for all to succeed.

David Biemesderfer, Chair, and Mary O’Neill, Interim Director

Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers

1200 18th Street NW, Suite 700

Washington, DC 20036

(202) 457-8784

 Attached Thumbnails:

Tags:  Advocacy  Forum  Guiding Principles  June 2015 Members' Memo  Public Policy 

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Applications for Tax-Exempt Status Double in 2014

Posted By Adam Donaldson, Wednesday, April 8, 2015

April 8, 2015

By Adam Donaldson, ABAG Member Services Director

The IRS approved more than 110,000 applications for tax-exempt status in 2014, more than doubling the number (44,274) approved the previous fiscal year, according to a new report.

At the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers, we wish we could say that the growth was caused by a spike in philanthropy and the establishment of many new foundations! It could be partly true, but the IRS attributed the spike to both a new Form 1023-EZ used by 20,103 smaller entities and a related almost-automatic approval process for other application forms. To apply for exempt status using Form 1023-EZ, the applying organization must have less than $50,000 income (annual gross receipts) for each of the next three years.

We also wish we could say that the growth in nonprofit public charities was caused by a surge in goodwill and commitment to social services. Perhaps, but the National Council of Nonprofits attributes the spike to lessoning standards and the failure of the IRS to appropriately vet applications to create new nonprofits. The federal Taxpayer Advocate warned Congress that the new approach amounts to the "IRS’s abdication of its responsibility to determine whether an organization is organized and operated for an exempt purpose.”

Funders may welcome innovation, new ideas and new people to nonprofit leadership, but they also remain deeply concerned about unnecessary duplication of effort and the dispersion of charitable resources – both money and people.

One report is not a trend, but the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers will continue to monitor Form 1023-EZ and work with Maryland Nonprofits and the National Council of Nonprofits on IRS policies that work for its members and for our mission to improve communities through effective philanthropy.

Tags:  April 2015 Members' Memo  Charitable Tax Deducation  IRS  Nonprofits  Public Policy  Tax Exempt Status 

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Foundations on the Hill 2015 #FOTH – Keep to the Code

Posted By Adam Donaldson, Friday, March 13, 2015

March 13, 2015

By Adam Donaldson, ABAG Member Services Director

On March 18-19, the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers (ABAG) heads to Washington, DC for Foundations on the Hill (FOTH) to remind Congress of the importance of philanthropy to their communities and the importance of the tax code to philanthropy.

Hosted by the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers, in partnership with the Council on Foundations, FOTH is a two-day event that brings foundation leaders to DC to communicate with Congress about key issues of importance to foundations and philanthropy. This year more than 180 participants are expected from 30 states.

Foundations and their grantee nonprofit organizations are created under the tax code. In return for tax relief, our organizations have pledged to work for a charitable purpose.

As Congress considers both individual changes to the code and comprehensive tax reform, ABAG pays attention. And, Congress has proposed changes to the private foundation excise tax, IRA charitable rollover, donor-advised funds and more. Changes to the tax code can enhance and expand the work of philanthropy. Or, they can hinder philanthropy and consequently, hurt the communities we serve. Congress must consider the implications of changes to the code on philanthropic and charitable organizations.

ABAG encourages members interested in federal policy affecting philanthropy to get connected with our Public Policy Committee; live updates from Foundations on the Hill can be viewed on Twitter using #FOTH15.

Special notice: The language of the Treas. Regulation 53.4945-2(d)(3) confers the self-defense exception to private foundations for communications with a legislative body regarding legislation that affects the "existence of the private foundation, its powers and duties, its tax-exempt status or the deductibility of contributions to such foundation."


Jack Sparrow: I thought you were supposed to keep to the code.

Mr. Gibbs: We figured they were more actual guidelines.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl

Tags:  Charitable Tax Deducation  FOTH  March 2015 Members' Memo  Public Policy 

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ABAG Group Leaders Explore Collaboration Opportunities

Posted By Elisabeth Hyleck, Tuesday, February 17, 2015

February 17, 2015

By Elisabeth Hyleck, ABAG Programs and Initiatives Director

Once again this February, ABAG leaders of Affinity Groups, roundtables and projects gathered together to share their groups’ interests and work for 2015. It is the fifth year we’ve convened our group leaders – those members who volunteer to lead ABAG groups along with the staff who support them. Group leaders, as well as a couple steering committees, help to develop educational programs, guide the group’s activities, and facilitate communication among members.

This year, we also took some time to discuss government relations and policy work. Kevin Griffin-Moreno of the Baltimore Community Foundation and chair of ABAG’s Public Policy Committee led a discussion describing the breadth of activities that can and are taking place by ABAG Affinity Groups and Projects. Adam Donaldson, who staffs ABAG’s Public Policy Committee, introduced a new resource available from PolicyWorks to guide Affinity Groups.

Group leaders were also invited to think about how their group’s issue area might intersect with Civil Legal Aid and participate in a new project ABAG is leading with our member, the Maryland Legal Service Corporation. We are excited about where that might take member learning!

The feedback about the meeting is consistent – the group leaders find value in hearing what others are interested in and exploring synergies and collaboration between groups. We believe this gathering leads to more programming that cuts across multiple issue or explores various sides of an issue.

ABAG is committed to support Affinity Groups and project as forums for members to explore issues, share knowledge and expertise, and to take action to improve community conditions.

Affinity Groups and educational programs are open to all ABAG members and are publicized on our website and through the bi-weekly "ABAG Upcoming Programs” email.

Please let me know if you'd like to be added to an Affinity Group or roundtable list.

Tags:  Affinity Groups  Collaboration  February 2015 Members' Memo  Public Policy 

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Tax Policy Remains on the Congressional Agenda

Posted By Adam Donaldson, Monday, February 9, 2015
Updated: Monday, February 9, 2015

February 9, 2015

By Adam Donaldson, ABAG Member Services Director

Tax policy remains on the Congressional agenda in Washington, DC that will positively impact charitable giving and foundation grants.

On February 4, 2015, the House Ways and Means Committee passed several bills that incentivize giving. The bills include making permanent charitable "tax extenders," such as the IRA charitable rollover and simplifying the private foundation excise tax on investment income to a single rate of 1%. The House of Representatives is likely to bring a bill for a vote as early as Wednesday, February 11, 2015.

The Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers joins other regional associations of grantmakers, the National Council of Nonprofits and Council of Foundations in its support of these policies.

In particular, ABAG believes simplifying the private foundation excise tax is a commonsense policy that should be passed. Private foundations are required to pay an annual excise tax on their net investment income equal to either 2% or 1%. The two-tier, or different rate, system unfortunately creates a disincentive for foundations to give more grants to nonprofits and expends time and money working with accountants rather than communities in need of help.

When ABAG asks its foundation members about the tax, they share an acceptance of a tax, but bemoan the uncertainty and complex calculations that the tier system sparks each year. Their experiences confirm that a tiered tax discourages larger grants in response to emergencies, natural disasters, or great opportunities. The current system also delays funds reaching nonprofit organizations until end of year calculations.

Here is a full list of the charitable bills passed by the Committee:

  • H.R. 637, "To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to make permanent the rule allowing certain tax-free distributions from individual retirement accounts for charitable purposes."
  • H.R. 640, "To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to modify the tax rate for excise tax on investment income of private foundations."
  • H.R. 644, "To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to permanently extend and expand the charitable deduction for contributions of food inventory."
  • H.R. 641, "Conservation Easement Incentive Act of 2015."

Between Republicans and Democrats and the House and the Senate, there will be debate about the cost of the tax expenditures and whether the policies should be considered independently now or part of comprehensive tax reform. These larger debates are important and not to be ignored, but ABAG’s role in the process is to keep promoting good policies that support charitable giving.

Last week, the House Ways and Means Committee agreed in support of charity.

Stay informed on legislation affecting philanthropy and nonprofit organizations via ABAG's Public Policy Updates blog, where ABAG also announces current position statements and policy work undertaken on behalf of members and the philanthropic sector.

Tags:  Charitable Tax Deduction  February 2015 Members' Memo  Public Policy  Tax Policy 

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Maryland Nonprofits 2015 Legislative Preview

Posted By Adam Donaldson, Monday, January 5, 2015
January 5, 2015
By Adam Donaldson, ABAG Member Services Director
Whether you can commit to the whole day or not, this annual event is the best opportunity to demonstrate our collective commitment to the charitable sector and to learn about key issues for nonprofit organizations in the upcoming Maryland General Assembly.
During the special afternoon dialogue on Public Health Equity, I am excited to announce the participation of the Maryland Environmental Health Network, a project housed here at the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers.

Here's a first-hand look at the highlights for the 2015 Legislative Preview on January 12th at the Howard County Conservancy in Woodstock, MD.
Space is limited, You can register here

Tags:  Legislative  Maryland Nonprofits  MdeHN  Public Policy 

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Tax Advocacy for Remaining Days of Congress

Posted By Adam Donaldson, Thursday, December 18, 2014

December 18, 2014

By Adam Donaldson, Member Services Director

Nonprofit and foundation advocates continue outreach to Members of Congress to include the provisions of the America Gives More Act, H.R.4719, in any tax bill that Congress will consider before the end of this year. America Gives More Act previously passed the House of Representatives.

The most likely scenario for these polices to move forward is within general budget or tax legislation. The provisions sought are to:

  1. Permanently extend the IRA charitable rollover.
  2. Allow individuals to claim a charitable deduction for contributions made up to the date their income tax return is due (April 15).
  3. Eliminate the upper tier excise tax and reduce the excise tax on investment income of private foundations from two to one percent.
  4. Make permanent the enhanced deduction for property donated for conservation easements.
  5. Make permanent the enhanced charitable deductions for food inventory.

ABAG’s national network, The Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers, joined the National Council of Nonprofits, Independent Sector, Feeding America, Land Trust Alliance, and Council on Foundations in sending an advocacy letter and meeting with the House and Senate leadership.

Click here to reach the letter from these nonprofit and philanthropic leaders.

Tags:  America Gives More Act  excise-tax  Public Policy 

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Op-Ed Surge Calls for America Gives More Vote - Update

Posted By Adam Donaldson, Wednesday, October 1, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Op-Ed Surge Calls for America Gives More Vote

UPDATE 10/1/2014
By Adam Donaldson, ABAG Member Services Director

The U.S. Senate adjourned for the November elections without passing the America Gives More Act, a bill to promote giving to the work of charitable nonprofits in communities across the country. 

It is essential that individuals who support the work of charitable nonprofits tell Senators and Representatives while they are home for the elections that the America Gives More Act is must-pass legislation that they must enact before the end of the year.

Nonprofit organizations and foundations have united in an advocacy effort to encourage Majority Leader Harry Reid, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and their colleagues to bring H.R. 4719 to a floor vote.  A recent surge in op-eds in local papers, nonprofit magazines, and political journals across the country has added to calls and letter campaigns.

The most recent is by Vikki Spruill, President of the Council on Foundations, Protect giving: A chance for real bipartisanship.

If you are reading this before September 23, please join the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers in asking Senators to support charitable giving.  Read below or click herefor the previous invitation to action.

Tags:  charitable giving  charitable tax deduction  Public Policy 

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Mayor Rawlings-Blake Meets With ABAG Members

Posted By Adam Donaldson, Monday, July 28, 2014
Updated: Monday, July 28, 2014

July 28, 2014

By Adam Donaldson, ABAG Member Services Director 

On Thursday, July 25, 2014, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake joined members of the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers for a recurring conversation on "a shared vision for the city.”

The Mayor named five priorities to achieve her goal to grow Baltimore by 10,000 families "by attracting new residents and making the decision easy for current residents to stay.”

  1. Make Baltimore safer
  2. Get our fiscal house in order
  3. Create jobs and access to jobs
  4. Develop clean and healthy communities
  5. Improve schools

This is the third time ABAG members met with Mayor Rawlings-Blake. ABAG regularly invites public leaders and agents from all levels of government to meet with members as part our public policy work. We think about public policy less often as legislative activity and more often as sharing strategies and aligning work between government and philanthropyto build stronger communities. As the Mayor said Thursday, "We live in a world where we have to be efficient and effective with our resources.” That starts with engaging partners.

In addressing particular areas where philanthropy can help right now through funding and expertise, the Mayor spent time detailing Youth Connection Centers, Job Readiness, and INSPIRE - community engagement in school construction.

Youth Connection Centers 

Under a new curfew law that has supporters and critics, children under 14 must be off the street at 9:00PM. Children 14 to 16 are able to stay out until 10:00PM on school nights and 11 p.m. on weekends and over the summer. Under existing law in place for two decades but not always enforced, all children and teens younger than 17 could stay out until 11:00PM on weeknights and until midnight on weekends. Found children will be escorted to Youth Connection Centers. There are currently two located in East and West Baltimore with plans to create nine. The parents or guardians face a fine of $500, but the fine can be waived if the family participates in social services. The stated goal is not criminal punishment but rather to connect families to needed help. Investments in family services and the Centers are welcome. Read more in this Sun Article

Job Readiness

The Mayor highlighted recent job growth. To access jobs, she emphasized, Baltimore residents from distressed communities need additional support with remedial education, job credentials and certifications, and soft skills (time management, accepting feedback, etc). ABAG projects the Baltimore Workforce Funders Collaborative (BWFC) and Baltimore Integration Partnership (BIP) are among efforts underway in job readiness.


Through the 21st Century School Initiative $1.1 Billion will be invested to renovate or replace approximately 30 Baltimore Schools. The Planning Department has begun developing a planning program for the neighborhoods around each of the new/renovated schools (quarter mile radius). The program is called INSPIRE, which stands for Investing in Neighborhoods and Schools to Promote Improvement, Revitalization, and Excellence. The challenge before the Planning Department is that not all neighborhoods have equal capacity to participate in a planning process. There is need to build and strengthen neighborhood associations and support community organizing.

ABAG members in their turn highlighted priorities through questions to the Mayor. These included exchanges on:

  1. Journey Home Plan and youth homelessness;
  2. Role of anchor hospitals and universities;
  3. Infrastructure improvements including a public advisory group for the newly implemented storm water utility;
  4. Healthy food access;
  5. Vacant lots and Growing Green Initiative;
  6. Affordable housing;
  7. Office of Immigrant and Multicultural Affairs;
  8. and trash.

The number of topics and concerns did feel overwhelming. As time ran out with a dozen raised hands, it also felt great to be surrounded by institutions and people wanting to help. And the Mayor concluded there is "more to do; more to do.”

Tags:  Adventures in Philanthropy  Baltimore Integration Partnership  Baltimore Workforce Funders Collaborative  July/August 2014 Members' Memo  Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake  Public Policy 

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Philanthropy and Public Policy

Posted By Celeste Amato, Monday, May 19, 2014
May 19, 2014

By Celeste Amato, President

I recently had the opportunity to speak to colleagues in Maine regarding Regional Associations of Grantmakers and public policy work. Here at the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers public policy has been a focus of our work that we believe is integral to our mission and goals and the work of our members.

Here’s a few highlights from my remarks:

Before joining the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers, I worked for Baltimore City government for 18 years. I worked in housing, economic development, public works, communications and public policy, and in the Mayor’s office, where I lead a public/private environmental partnership called Cleaner Greener Baltimore.

Every role is a policy advocacy role … whether you mean it to be or not.

So, what exactly does "policy” mean?
Policy is a principle or protocol to guide decisions and achieve rational outcomes.

What does that mean for Regional Associations of Grantmakers?

You … we, are already doing policy work - through our grantmaking. We are collectively working to influence a better way of doing things. At ABAG we have a broad goal of improving our community. We network with each other and share our work. And, individually we fund some amazing people and projects BUT we also have ask ourselves: "How are we leveraging those investments to affect more people?”

Here’s what we know:

• We have to influence each other
• We have to align our grantmaking
• We have to talk to and influence decision makers who wield bigger budgets than we do and touch far more people than our grantees can, and
• We have to advocate for good governance and best practices
So, when we started focusing on public policy, were we ready?
Our strategic plan said that we were, but, we had some work to do. Getting comfortable as an association of diverse members was a deliberative, intentional process. We formed a task force that ultimately became a standing Public Policy Committee of our Board of Directors..

Vocabulary was one of our biggest challenges: "policy,” " advocacy” and "lobbying.” We asked ourselves, what do they each truly mean, and what is appropriate and comfortable for our organization? Policy is what we want to influence; advocacy is how we do it and lobbying is not. We needed to define each of those words and put them in perspective in a way that we hoped would be comfortable for our Board, and our members.

We defined what lobbying really means for ABAG. We trained staff to understand where the line is and not to cross it. We ensured that we had the budget capacity to engage in policy work. And, we decided what role we wanted our association to play.

Finding common ground for an agenda isn’t necessarily all that hard. Like most associations of grantmakers, our members coalesce around shared issues and our funder affinity groups offered us a framework to focus our work.

Associations generally advocate in 3 ways:

1. Our individual members advocate
  • Every funding decision promotes policy and practice.
  • Some members directly fund grantees to engage in advocacy 

2. Our association develops programming and convenings to align members. 

  • Many of our programs are focused on opportunities for collective action.
3. And as an association of collective members aligned around areas of interest
  • We have taken positions on legislation directly impacting philanthropy.
  • We have not lobbied on any issue.
  • We have partners who do, and our issue expertise influences their work.
  • Our Public Policy Committee reviews and approves all advocacy statements we make as an association.
  • And also reviews the advocacy activities of projects housed within our assocation.
So, why should our Regional Associations of Grantmakers engage in policy work?
  • We are unparalleled conveners of expertise in our communities.
  • We are often the best resource in our issue areas - sharing that proactively benefits cities and communities that have lost talent and leadership on critical issues.
  • Policymakers do not always have all the expertise they need to make informed decisions - we can be a go to resource to inform good policy and best practices.
  • We can say and do things in a way that public and elected officials cannot and will not.
  • We can be the brokers of new ideas.
  • We can start conversations.
  • And, we can change conversations.
Visit the Public Policy section of our website to learn more about our efforts here at ABAG.

Tags:  Adventures in Philanthropy  May 2014 Members' Memo  Public Policy  Regional Associations of Grantmakers 

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What is PolicyWorks?

Posted By Buffy Beaudoin-Schwartz, Monday, April 21, 2014

April 2014

ABAG is proud to participate in a national partnership of regional associations of grantmakers which envisions that policymakers will recognize regional associations of grantmakers as among the most valued voices and expert resources on issues critical to philanthropy and society.

For questions about PolicyWorks, please contact ABAG’s liaisons, Member Services Director Adam Donaldson and Board Member Kevin Griffin Moreno.


Policy Works LogoPolicyWorks for Philanthropy is a multi-year initiative that seeks to build the capacity of regional associations of grantmakers’ staff, board and volunteer leaders to engage policymakers in support of a vibrant and effective philanthropic sector.

Our vision is that policymakers will recognize regional associations of grantmakers as among the most valued voices and expert resources on issues critical to philanthropy and society. There are 28 regional associations participating in this initiative.


The PolicyWorks Community is committed to building their individual and collective capacity to achieve the PolicyWorks vision and goals. That commitment is based on the belief that:

  • Policy work is essential to achieving our missions and helping our more than 3,000 foundation members; and
  • As a network serving foundations in 39 states, the PolicyWorks community offers the best and only coordinated national system for building effective relationships with elected and appointed officials at all levels of government.

By "policy work" we meangovernment relations—related to legislation and regulations affecting the work of charitable foundations; andpublic policy engagement—supporting the achievement of charitable foundations’ mission and goals.

Building and maintaining relationships with policymakers is essential to the philanthropic sector’s ability to: educate policymakers about the work, value and impact of foundations; advise policymakers about potential legislation or regulation that could harm the sector and decrease much needed philanthropic dollars; gain policymakers’ support for legislation that could support the growth and effectiveness of philanthropy; and build partnerships with policymakers to achieve policy reforms that improve the quality of life for those foundations seek to serve.


PolicyWorks is designed as a three-stage, multi-year engagement involving regional association executives and senior staff with members of their boards of trustees and volunteer leaders such as committee chairs.

Click here to learn more ...

Tags:  april 2014 Members' memo  forum  policyworks  public policy  regional associations 

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Foundations on the Hill 2014 Begins #FOTH2014

Posted By Adam Donaldson, Wednesday, March 5, 2014
March 5, 2014

By Adam Donaldson, ABAG Member Services Director

This week ABAG participates in Foundations on the Hill, joining regional association colleagues and member philanthropists in Washington, DC to highlight the impact of philanthropy in local communities.

Americans donated an estimated $316.23 billion to charitable causes in 2012; giving by foundations was an estimated $45.74 billion.  Individual Marylanders contributed $4.9 billion and 1,479 Maryland private foundations invested $745 million to address critical community needs and improve our quality of life. 

The charitable sector employs one out of every seven private workers in Maryland.

Meeting with Members of Congress and their staff, I will explain that philanthropy helps communities thrive through:

Grantmakers are more risk-tolerant than public entities and flexible with their funds, enabling them to test new ideas and advance those that are most effective.

Grantmakers are neutral brokers that bring together diverse stakeholders to work on critical community issues such as schools, health and economic development. 

Grantmakers contribute expertise, local relationships, and resources to public-private partnerships to bring successful programs to scale, promote effective policies and work for systemic change.

I will also explain that tax policy matters to philanthropy.  Our philanthropic organizations are created under the tax code, and we want to be consulted on tax reform. The DC meetings take place one week after Congressman Dave Camp introduced a comprehensive tax reform plan that included several proposed changes that concern philanthropy. Click here for details..

Although both Speaker Boehner and Senate Minority Leader McConnell have said tax reform is not on the agenda this year, as the Council on Foundations has stated, “it will provide a critical starting point for comprehensive tax reform conversations in the near future.”

ABAG will always promote a tax code that provides strong incentives for charitable giving and maximizes the use of private money for public good.  While working hard to improve communities in Maryland, we cannot forget the potential harm or benefit from decisions in Congress.  Look for an update next week on what we learn from our Senators and Representatives.

Led by the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers, Foundations on the Hill is part of Philanthropy Week in Washington, March 3-7, an inaugural week-long series of events and activities, including the ACR Summit for Leaders, which highlight the role of philanthropy in our society. Hosted by the Council on Foundations, the week provides an opportunity for philanthropic leaders to spend time on Capitol Hill highlighting the impact of philanthropy in Member’s districts and states. #FOTH2014 #PWDC | #PhilanTHRIVE.

Tags:  Adventures in Philanthropy  Charitable Giving  Charitable Giving Coalition  Charitable Tax Deduction  FOTH  March 2014 Members' Memo  Public Policy 

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2014 ABAG Public Policy Update

Posted By Adam Donaldson, Monday, January 20, 2014
Updated: Thursday, January 23, 2014

January 20, 2014

By Adam Donaldson, ABAG Member Services Director

Maryland’s General Assembly officials, and thus advocates, are busy in Annapolis again. It’s the time of year when we start reading the paper. ABAG members have numerous sources for public policy news, but let us name the big issues of 2014 and policies of particular interest to achieving the missions of some grantmakers.

1.Minimum Wage: An increase of some kind seems certain, but not without debate. Grantmakers should take note of the Sun opinion piece from Laura Howell, Executive Director, of the Maryland Association of Community Services who raises the issue of reimbursement rates in state contracts to nonprofit agencies.

2.Pre-School: Complicated by politics in the Democratic race for governor, nevertheless, the potential is strong for Maryland to support universal voluntary pre-school . The Baltimore Community Foundation is among many grantmakers and nonprofit organizations that support expanded access to pre-kindergarten.

3.Storm water fees: Senate President Thomas Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch have publically vowed not to repeal the storm water fees praised by environmental advocates for bay protection, but there will be attempts to modify this policy.

4.Fracking: Environmental groups will seek legislation banning hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in Maryland. The state commission studying the issue is expected to finish this summer.

5.Estate Tax: Proposals to couple the state estate tax with the federal tax are aimed at keeping wealth in Maryland.Maryland estates worth more than $1 million are taxed by the state at a rate of up to 16 percent, but the federal government exempts the first $5.25 million of estates.

Marijuana legalization,Pit Bulls, and reform of theBaltimore City Jailwill be well covered also in the newspapers. Another proposal, Earned Sick Leave for all workers should be of interest to everyone. In Maryland, more than 700,000 workers must choose to go to work sick or lose their day of pay.

Maryland Nonprofits held a Legislative Preview in Annapolis. The associations’ priorities, as outlined here, are to Protect Vital Services, Assure Health Care Access, Reform Procurement Practices, Provide Fair Housing Access, and Measure Genuine Progress.

There are many more important policy issues that will be debated and voted upon daily in Annapolis. The ABAG Public Policy Committee invites members to share what issues most concern them and their mission.

ABAG Members can contact or register to attend the Public Policy Committee meeting on February 6 from 12:00-1:30PM.

Tags:  Adventures in Philanthropy  January 2014 Members' Memo  legislation  public policy 

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Mikulski Writes ABAG In Support of Charitable Tax Deduction

Posted By Adam Donaldson, Thursday, January 9, 2014

January 9, 2014

By Adam Donaldson, ABAG Member Services Director

On December 12, 2013, U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) expressed her support for the charitable tax deduction in a letter to the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers. Writing that "Taxpayers should have incentives to make charitable contributions,” Senator Mikulski agreed that "Charitable organizations are needed now more than ever. But philanthropy cannot do it alone – you need a government on your side.”

Senator Mikulski joined other Senators in signing a letter to Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-UT) of the Senate Committee on Finance, which began "We write to you to underscore the importance of protecting the full value and scope of the charitable deduction during a comprehensive rewrite of the tax code.”

The Senate remains committed to tax legislation in 2014. Discussion papers and proposals have been released from the Senate Committee on Finance, but to date do not indicate a specific direction for the charitable deduction. The tax administration draft does propose requiring all tax-exempt organizations to electronically file their Form 990s, but gives organizations the ability to request a waiver from this requirement if they lack the technology necessary to e-file.

The Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers has consistently voiced the important role that incentives have in charitable giving and called on Congress to protect the current charitable deduction program.

Tags:  adventures in philanthropy  charitable deduction  policymakers  Protect giving  public policy 

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Government Shutdown Ends After 16 Days

Posted By Adam Donaldson, Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Government Shutdown Ends After 16 Days

October 22. 2013

By Adam Donaldson, ABAG Member Services Director

The partial shutdown of the federal government ended after 16 days in the early morning of October 17 when the President signed a bill funding the government through January 15 and raising the debt ceiling until February 7.

The bill alsocreates a budget conference committee to report out a budget agreement by December 13 and requires that income be verified for people seeking insurance subsidies from the Affordable Care Act healthcare exchanges. It passed with 285-144 in the House and 81-18 in the Senate.While ending the current crisis, it does open the possibility of a similar situation early next year.

The Nonprofit Finance Fund polled over 150 nonprofits during the shutdown to gather data on how it was impacting their operations. It found that more than half of nearly 100 nonprofits that receive federal aid are experienced delayed or stopped payments from the federal government. See all the results.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy has gathered its articles, op-eds, and blog posts about the government shutdown here.

How Us Regionals Responded to the Federal Government Shutdown:


Our thanks to The Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers for compiling this information.

Tags:  Adventures in Philanthropy  Government Shutdown  October 2013 Members' Memo  Public Policy 

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ABAG by the Numbers #9: THE VOICE - 10 Years Participating in Foundations on the Hill

Posted By Adam Donaldson, Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, September 18, 2013


By Adam Donaldson, ABAG Member Services Director

As ABAG celebrates 30 years of philanthropy and seeks to help shape the next 30 years of giving, we've told some of our story through our 30th anniversary infographic, ABAG By the Numbers.

Each week, for 30 weeks, we are briefly highlighting the 30 numbers in this infographic.

AsThe Resource on Grantmaking, The Network for Givers, and The Voice for Philanthropy - this week we are focusing on:


10 Years Participating in Foundations on the Hill

As a membership organization, ABAG works to connect members to policymakers and to be a voice on local, state, and federal public policy issues that promote effective philanthropy and build stronger communities.

Since 2003, ABAG has joined with the Council on Foundations and the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers and others for Foundations on the Hill, an annual opportunity for grantmakers and regional associations to meet with their federal lawmakers in Washington, D.C.

The purpose of Foundations on the Hill is:

Charitable Giving:

  • Inform and educate Congress about philanthropy
  • Create visibility for foundations and philanthropy on Capitol Hill
  • Advocate on issues affecting foundations and charitable giving

Philanthropy with Policymakers:

  • Encourage Congress to view foundations as resources on key public policy issues
  • ABAG’s efforts have deepened to a position on the Government Relations Committee for the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers, helping to plan the event

During Foundations on the Hill, we have participated with trustees, executives and staff of our members to schedule meetings on Capitol Hill to personally discuss their work with members of Congress.

In addition to congressional meetings, our staff and members have attended training sessions, and a public policy conference on current issues impacting philanthropy and nonprofits, and strategies for effectively advancing philanthropy with policymakers.

Click here to learn more about ABAG’s Public Policy efforts.

Celebrating 30 Years of Philanthropy: Shaping the Next 30 Years of Giving

With vision and persistence, a group of leading foundations and corporations founded the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers in 1983 as a forum in which colleagues could address common problems and interests. Today, as we celebrate our 30th anniversary with 145+ members, ABAG is the region's premier resource on philanthropy, dedicated to informing grantmakers and improving our community.


Tags:  ABAG By the Numbers  Adventures in Philanthropy  Foundations on the Hill  Public Policy 

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It's Game Time

Posted By Adam Donaldson, Monday, March 25, 2013
Updated: Monday, April 8, 2013

March 25, 2013

By Adam Donaldson, ABAG Member Services Director 

Last week ABAG participated in Foundations on the Hill, joining nearly 300 foundation representatives to educate Members of Congress on the importance of charitable giving.

For those who have never walked the marbled halls of Congressional office buildings, you would be surprised by the beehive-energy that reverberates around Capitol Hill. Staffers zip from office to office heels clicking and ties swinging. The phones never stop ringing while heavy wood-doors snap open and bang shut with the procession of petitioners. Members of Congress lean thoughtfully into an endless series of ten minute meetings, stand, give thanks, shake hands, repeat.

I appeal to you to erase from your mind the myth of the "do nothing" Congress grid-locked in partisan debate. Action in Congress is not measurable by television press conferences. It is a constant stream of debates and negotiations on issues you care about and critical to the operations of the tax-exempt sector.

·On March 20, Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) and Rep. David Reichert (R-WA) hosted a close-door roundtable to discuss how thetax code impacts private and community foundations, including payout rules and the excise tax. Congressmen Lewis and Reichert co-chair a tax reform working group on charitable organizations for the House Ways and Means Committee.

·On March 21, at the annual Washington Nonprofit Legal and Tax Conference congressional staff reported that the tax reform debate will move beyond incentives for giving to qualifications for exempt status, including organizations pursuing commercial activities, large endowments, the blurring of the lines between public charity and private foundation status, and political activities by exempt organizations (Source Independent Sector).

·On March 21, in an effort to preserve the charitable deduction in the budget process, Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) introduced an amendment that protects the charitable deduction from being cut, capped, or eliminated to pay for new federal spending as part of an overall tax increase.

·Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-UT) announced a series of 10 weekly meetings for Senators and senior staff only on various tax reform topics, including treatment of charities.

ABAG met this week with the offices of Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Representatives Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and John Sarbanes (D-MD) to inform them of current policy debates surrounding the charitable deduction and examples of our members’ impact through funder collaborations. Each office asked for the same thing. More input. They encouraged grantmakers to provide commentary on policy proposals, explaining how current projects underway in Maryland could be affected.

The ABAG Public Policy Committee will continue to monitor these issues in Congress and invites interested members to contact Adam ( or Committee Chair Kevin Griffin Moreno.

As a senior committee staff member stated in reference to college basketball, "it's game time." But the thing is, on Capitol Hill, it is March Madness all year long.

Tags:  FOTH  Legislators  Public Policy  Washington 

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Incentives for Charitable Giving

Posted By Adam Donaldson, Thursday, November 3, 2011

By Adam Donaldson, ABAG Member Services Director

On October 18, 2011, the United States Senate Committee on Finance held a hearing on Incentives for Charitable Giving. Witness testimony focused on the charitable deduction program for tax payers who itemize because several recent legislative proposals have aimed to cap this giving incentive.

And ABAG was watching.

As the voice of philanthropy, engaging in critical dialogue with local, state and national government officials who shape public policy, ABAG monitors news and legislation on the charitable deduction and other policies that promote philanthropy and build stronger communities.

Why is this important for ABAG members?

We believe tax incentives for charitable giving are critical at a time when nonprofit organizations struggle to meet increased demand for their services resulting from the economic downturn, and ABAG has urged Congress to support charitable giving by opposing current proposals to cap the charitable deduction for federal taxpayers. This view was expressed in Betsy’s weekly"Adventures in Philanthropy” column in the Daily Record.

I am excited to announce that the Board of Directors recently approved new protocols for when ABAG will make public statements and engage in public policy strategies on behalf of members, as recommended by the Public Policy Task Force, chaired by Mary Louise Preis. The protocols set criteria and a process that includes the leadership of staff and the Executive Committee.

We appreciate that members are independent entities who may act on their own or hold a variety of opinions regarding policy issues, but affirm ABAG’s critical role in representing your interests.

To learn more about ABAG’s public policy work, I invite you to our new menu of website pages:

·ABAG’s Public Policy Role

·Public Policy Updates

·Grantmaker Resources


In particular, ABAG will use the Public Policy Updates page to share timely information about policies we are tracking. I hope you will contact me with any questions related to ABAG’s public policy work or the issues of the day.

At present, Congress is not moving forward with changes to the charitable deduction program, but it remains ahot topic, and when appropriate ABAG will update members on this and other important policies related to philanthropy.

Tags:  Adventures in Philanthropy  Public Policy 

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Keep Deductions for Charitable Giving

Posted By Betsy Nelson, Thursday, October 20, 2011

October 20, 2011

There is definite irony to the recurring proposals to decrease incentives for charitable giving. Today nonprofit organizations need private support more than ever as they operate under increasing demands for services resulting from a stagnate economy and government budget cuts.

The Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers (ABAG) recently issued a public statement urging policymakers to support charitable giving by opposing legislation to cap the charitable deduction for federal taxpayers at 28%.

As a membership organization of private and community foundations, donor advised funds, and corporations, ABAG’s mission is to maximize the impact of philanthropic giving on community life through a growing network of diverse, informed and effective grantmakers. Fundamental to this work is promoting charitable giving to meet the need of local communities. We believe the charitable deduction is an important tool to encourage more giving.

Americans are the most generous donors in the world, donating more than $290 billion to charitable and philanthropic entities last year. Most of those donations—which provided critical resources at a time of great need—were claimed as deductions by taxpayers who itemized on their returns, a group which in 2009 included more than 50 million filers.

In preparation for a Senate Finance Committee hearing this week, the Joint Committee on Taxation published Present Law and Background Relating to the Federal Tax Treatment of Charitable Contributions, which reported that "empirical studies generally support the proposition that taxpayers respond to tax incentives when making giving decisions.” Analysis by the Center on Philanthropy at the University of Indiana found that a 28% cap would reduce charitable giving by four to nine billion dollars.

For nearly a century, since the Revenue Act of 1917 first created the charitable income tax deduction, our nation’s tax system has strongly encouraged Americans to give back to their communities by providing tax deductions for contributions to charitable organizations. Limiting the value of the charitable deduction would do the exact opposite and fundamentally change a tax structure that has contributed to a cherished tradition of charitable giving that is unmatched in the world.

We join with the Council on Foundations and Independent Sector, the largest representative of private foundations and nonprofits respectively, in urging Congress to reject proposals to limit the value of itemized deductions for charitable donations.

As nonprofit organizations struggle to meet increased demand for services and raise the necessary funds to meet those needs, we should encourage all individuals, regardless of income and wealth, to give more to charitable organizations.

Betsy Nelson is President of the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers. She can be reached at 410-727-1205 or

Tags:  Adventures in Philanthropy  public policy 

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