Congress is back to work and, candidly, the nonprofit sector is nervous.
In addition to calls to cut spending and reduce the deficit, the Obama administration is pushing a tax code overhaul over the next two years. Both efforts could have a negative impact on nonprofit organizations and the people they serve.
And, with many new members of Congress, there has never been a more important time to educate elected representatives about the role of nonprofit organizations and philanthropy in society.
According to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, the nonprofit sector can expect a number of possible challenges in 2011.
First, there may be less understanding of how much the federal government relies on local nonprofits to deliver public services. The House of Representatives has 93 new members, the largest freshman class in years.
Second, many legislators campaigned for office last year promising to reduce spending. In times like this, grants to safety-net programs and social services are especially vulnerable.
Third, specific federal programs scheduled for expansion, such as AmeriCorps and the Social Innovation Fund, are unlikely to grow. These programs support volunteerism and expansion of promising solutions to our most pressing social problems.
Fourth, new leadership in Congress may bring greater scrutiny of the nonprofit sector.
Finally, efforts to raise revenue and overhaul the tax code may touch upon the sacred benefits of nonprofit status — tax-exemption and the tax deduction for charitable giving.
Getting the word out
Many groups knowledgeable about nonprofits and philanthropy will need to educate newly elected officials as well as keep returning policymakers up to date with the latest information.
Nationally, groups like Independent Sector and the Council on Foundations are already at work to advance a number of issues on behalf of the sector.
Locally, Maryland Nonprofits acts as a strong voice for nonprofits. Its Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute studies state government fiscal policy to understand how it affects vulnerable populations and community programs.
As the voice of philanthropy in Central Maryland, the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers works with our members to bring the ideas and insights of the philanthropic sector to local, state, and national public policy discussions.
What we have most in common with other associations is a keen understanding of the old adage that all politics is local. That is one reason we devote so much time and energy to sharing stories about the great work of local grant makers and helping our members communicate their impact in the community.
The 2011 Congress may bring about changes affecting the nonprofit sector and philanthropy in a variety of ways, and we are fortunate to have regional and national efforts under way to focus on the value that the sector brings to our quality of life.
But we also need to have others sharing that story too. It is a story all nonprofit organizations can tell and should be telling — especially now.
Betsy Nelson, president of the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers, writes every other week for The Daily Record. She can be reached at 410-727-1205 or firstname.lastname@example.org.