Message from Vikki Spruill on Public Policy

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Dear Colleagues,

We are writing today to continue the Council on Foundation's ongoing effort to update you about our work on your behalf. Today's email is part one of a two part message on our public policy and legal affairs work. As part of our ongoing effort to remove a "silo" framework, our Public Policy and Legal Affairs will now house our work on legislative, executive branch, regulatory, and legal issues.

As we mentioned last week, our vision for the Council's transformation starts, but does not end, with providing a more persuasive and clear voice for philanthropy in Washington, D.C.. To that end, we have built a top-notch public policy team of issue experts and political strategists who know how to get the job done. Together with our members and partners, we are reframing how philanthropy is understood as a leader of strategy, innovation, and impact and not only about monetary contributions.

The Charitable Deduction

The Council on Foundations continues to be a vocal champion in support of preserving charitable giving incentives in the tax code. This has been a long and ongoing battle that began over five years ago when President Obama presented his first budget proposal. His proposed budget included a cap on itemized deductions which, of course, includes the charitable deduction. The issue reached a very public and vocal threshold last December during what we all came to know as the "fiscal cliff battle." While the deduction was again spared significant alteration in that skirmish, it remains a key issue in the Congressional debate over tax reform. The Council has worked extensively for the preservation of the charitable deduction, and we fully intend to continue our leadership role in that effort.

The Council continues to work as a leading partner in the Charitable Giving Coalition, which is dedicated to preserving a century-old American tradition that provides a tax deduction for taxpayers who give to charities. The coalition's more than 70 members represent a unified voice to raise awareness among lawmakers in Washington, D.C. about the value of the charitable deduction and its impact throughout America in providing essential community services. The Coalition is a unique effort that brings together a broad, diverse group of both grant making and grant receiving organizations. Last December, the Chronicle of Philanthropy named the Coalition one of the top five organizations that will influence policy in 2013. The Council has been active in debating and evolving coalition message and strategy as the path to protecting the deduction twists and new challenges are presented.

The Texas delegation meets with Congressman Bill Flores (R-TX) during Foundations on the Hill (March 2012)

In March, the Council on Foundations, the Alliance for Charitable Reform, and the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers teamed up to cohost Foundations on the Hill. Two hundred and eighty philanthropic leaders came to Washington, D.C., to speak with one voice and one message:

The charitable deduction is different and it works. It is a unique and effective incentive for individuals to invest in their communities.

This single voice/single message approach was a strong and successful departure from previous years when attendees were asked to pitch a list of priorities in their meetings with Members of Congress and staff. The Council and its cohosts received strong praise (read some thoughts from participants), but we are always looking to our members for new and ever more collaborative partnerships.

L-R: Chris Crothers, Jessie Ball duPont Fund; David Biemesderfer, Florida Philanthropic Network; Congressman Ted Yoho; Kiara Boone, Jessie Ball duPont Fund

At a time when both House and Senate leadership had announced a litany of activity related to comprehensive tax reform, Foundations on the Hill brought hundreds of philanthropic leaders from across the country to make sure elected officials clearly understood the inextricable link between charitable giving and thriving communities—from jobs and economic growth to spurring innovation and improving education, health care, human services, and more. The timing was key as Congress and the president tackle deficit reduction and tax reform.

Politico heralded the event's significance just prior, warning lawmakers that Foundations on the Hill was coming to talk about the charitable deduction:

Have you forgotten how intensely charitable organizations want to protect their favored tax break? Don't worry; they're coming to town to remind you. The Council on Foundations and the Alliance for Charitable Reform will storm D.C. next week to educate lawmakers on the "inextricable link between charitable giving and thriving communities — from jobs and human services." (Politico: The Charities Are Coming, March 15, 2013)

Tax Reform

Leaders of the tax writing committees in both the House and Senate committed last year to tackle comprehensive tax reform. At its very core, they defined tax reform as an effort to simplify the overly complicated, arcane tax code with the tagline goal of "broadening the base and lowering rates." While no one was quite certain what this actually meant, it was made very clear that provisions such as deductions and credits would be on the table. And, with our experience in the charitable deduction battle, the Council was keenly aware that an essential element of its strategy must be to illustrate, loud and clear, that American philanthropy and charity must not be categorized as mere "special interests." In fact, we aim to present a strong case for the philanthropic and charitable sector as being part of the solution to rebuild our nation's economy, not part of the problem.

The Council understood, of course, that the tax reform process would not only address the charitable deduction, it would also bring in a number of other issues that directly impact Council members – just as it has in tax reform efforts of the past. In response, the Council staff and our competent and connected team of consultants have been actively engaged in the process.

Council on Foundations Board Chair Kevin Murphy Testifies on the Importance of the Charitable Deduction

Earlier this spring, the House and Senate launched a number of information gathering activities including a Ways & Means (W&M) Committee hearing and a slate of eleven separate Tax Reform Working Groups charged with investigating specific areas of the code. And, we were part of those. In February, Council Board Chair and President of the Berks County Community Foundation Kevin Murphy testified in front of the Ways & Means Committee about the importance of the philanthropic sector.

Following that hearing, a number of workings groups were created within the W&M Committee to discuss specific parts of the tax code. One working group was specifically assigned to look at charitable and tax exempt organizations.

Committee staff reached out to the Council to identify foundation leaders who could participate in direct conversations with Congressman Reichert (R-Washington) and Congressman John Lewis (D-Georgia), leaders of charitable organizations working group. As a result, two members of the Council were invited to speak to the working group about their work and how specific provisions of the code including the private foundation excise tax affect their work.

And, the Council has been actively engaging with the Senate as it has undertaken education and information gathering in preparation for tax reform. While the Committee did not convene any public forums this past spring, we connected with Members and staff through meetings, letters, and regular communication. Again we amplified our commitment to a number of key issues. Most importantly, we continue to be tapped as a resource for senior committee staff, providing us an opportunity to be part of the ongoing conversation and not just a reactionary player after decisions have been made.

Our work continues this summer. We're engaged with key Senators around the "blank slate" tax reform strategy announced in late June by Chairman Max Baucus (D-Montana) and Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) of the Senate Finance Committee. As part of that strategy, we're again asserting our strong justification for why charitable giving incentives should remain in the tax code and taking the opportunity to highlight other important provisions.

Mr. Baucus and Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Michigan) have announced a Tax Reform Tour, with a series of visits across the nation so the Chairmen can hear directly from Americans about how to spark a more prosperous economy and make today's broken tax code fairer for families and job creators. Although the tour has so far focused on corporate tax reform we have been informed by staff that future stops on the tour will highlight personal income tax. Whether the focus is corporate or personal income tax reform, the Council views this effort as a local opportunity to amplify a national message.

We're collaboratively engaging our Council members in regions around the Tour stops and offering assistance with outreach to Members and the media, emphasizing that this is a great opportunity to place an op-ed or to educate the media on the value of tax provisions that encourage charitable giving. The Tour's first stop was in St. Paul, Minn., and we launched a region-specific email campaign there. We're expanding that email blast campaign next week, in advance of the next scheduled tour stop in Philadelphia and in advance of the next Senate deadline related to the Chairmen's "blank slate" approach. And, we'll also launch a nationwide email blast that aligns with August recess when members of the House and Senate return to their home states for the month, which is also a great time to connect with your Congressional delegation and the media to highlight philanthropic efforts and key issues.

Mobilizing Foundations to Support America's Heroes

Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Addresses the 2010 Annual Conference on Community Support for Veterans

A little over two years ago, the Council was invited to join stakeholder discussions hosted by the Department of Veterans Affairs as their policy leadership grappled with how the fighting forces returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could be successfully reintegrated back into their communities and civilian lives -- a tall order, given the numbers and the diversity of the forces. In responding to the invitation, we began to probe the issue with Council members to identify the level of interest in this policy arena. We found a solid cadre of funders with histories of working on the issues and an interest in exploring new possibilities, particularly in communities with military installations.

With the Obama Administration's promise to end the wars by 2014, close to 1.5 million veterans are returning in a

compressed timeframe, and are likely to overwhelm the government's ability to serve them adequately. We have consistently heard concerns from federal officials about the capacity needed in communities as young veterans increasingly seek services from community providers and not from the federal government. Family needs have multiplied, especially in National Guard families, due to the protracted and multiple deployments of their family members over the past 12 years. Adding to the uniqueness of the times, an unprecedented number of women serving in war zones and an unprecedented number of wounded warriors with brain injuries and limb loss have intensified the challenges to traditional veterans service systems, since they require specialized services and community reintegration support.

Ultimately, the Council determined that community leadership and community support for these returning vets and their families was a "sweet spot" for foundation involvement. We knew that we could work with our members and partners to build thoughtful and strategic partnerships and find valuable roles for philanthropy in new federal initiatives addressing Iraq-Afghanistan veterans' needs.

In some instances, the Council has directly sponsored learning opportunities for federal officials wanting to connect with foundations, like our June 2102 veterans funders meeting with White House and federal VA and DOD officials and at our conferences; other times we have co-hosted with a partner organization, like the March 2103 veterans funders forum with the Philanthropy Roundtable.

We also established a small veterans funders' advisory group that functions as a "kitchen cabinet" to help plan funder learning and networking opportunities and provides a core group to tap for policy responses when those opportunities are identified at the national level, such as discussions with the Obama Administration's Joining Forces initiative or the Defense Department's Wounded Warrior and Family Support community outreach, or the National Guard's Joining Community Forces initiative.

L-R: Bess Bendet Director,
Blue Shield Against Violence;
Kathryn Roth-Douquet, CEO,
Blue Star Families;
Paul Rieckhoff, CEO,
IAVA; Steven Lawrence,
Director of Research,
The Foundation Center;
Nancy Jamison, Executive
Director, San Diego
Grantmakers Address
Annual Conference in 2012

Most of the work the Council has done in this arena can be plotted across three categories:

1. Assisting the White House and policymakers in the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense to identify potential foundations for their outreach purposes or policy input.

2. Responses to NGOs and veterans services organizations that are looking to engage the philanthropic sector as funders and partners in community engagement and direct service provision.

3. Responding to Council member requests to connect with other foundations having experience in the veterans services space or to identify new collaborative efforts.

Over the long term, the Council will be working to solidify a national leadership role for the philanthropic sector in this emergent national priority. We hope to augment this effort through a well networked funders' community of practice.


Our goal is to provide a central platform to facilitate people and organizations to find each other, not to drive a particular partnership or solution. By doing so, we can simultaneously support our public sector partnership objectives by enabling funders and policy makers to connect the dots more effectively around public resource gaps and innovation needs.

Building a More Inclusive Workforce

In the summer of 2012, the Disability Funders Network invited the Council to participate in a Capitol Hill forum for foundations and corporate funders with Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee to address the continuing employment challenges people with disabilities still face many years after the implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Exacerbated by the loss of one million jobs for these workers during the Great Recession of 2008, Senator Harkin expressed a desire to engage the foundation sector around the need for more awareness and creative solutions to this aspect of post-recession unemployment.

Understanding that the issue of economic well-being of vulnerable populations is of great significance to many Council members, we agreed to continue a dialogue with Senator Harkin and helped his staff to gain a greater understanding of the issues of diversity and inclusiveness in foundation governance and grantmaking.

L-R: Gov. Jack Markell (D-Del.), Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) Address Inclusive Workforce Summit

In the fall of 2012, the dialogue was expanded to include the National Governors Association (NGA), The Chicago Community Trust, and the U.S. Business Leadership Network, a corporate nonprofit, representing 5,000 businesses, that helps business drive performance by leveraging disability inclusion in the workplace, supply chain, and marketplace. Governor Jack Markell of Delaware, the 2013 Chair of the NGA, offered his signature initiative of employment of people with disabilities as an organizing framework for future collaborations between States, corporations and businesses, and the foundation sector.

After receiving positive feedback from several disability funders and regional associations, the Council committed:

  1. to work collaboratively toward a national summit on the employment of people with disabilities that would convene government, businesses, and foundations to increase the awareness of the depth of the disability unemployment problem and
  2. to create a venue for foundations to participate in the development of a set of cross-sector common priorities that could advance a renewed national vision of employment success for all people.

L-R: Lt. Col. Daniel Gade, US Army; Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa); Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.); Gov. Jack Markell (D-Del.); Terry Mazany, President and CEO, The Chicago Community Trust; Randy Lewis, Former Senior VP of Supply Chain and Logistics, Walgreens; Judy Woodruff, PBS Newshour

The National Summit on Building an Inclusive Workforce was held in May in Wilmington, Delaware. Led by Governor Jack Markell, the meeting was co-hosted by the Council and the US Business Leadership Network. The unprecedented convening of 170 people included representatives from 46 foundations, 26 corporations, and Administration officials from the US Departments of Education, Labor, Transportation and Defense, as well as the US Office of Personnel Management. The event offered a unique opportunity for foundations to engage with businesses and public sector officials in identifying strategies that would lead to significant positive impact on the workforce participation of people with disabilities in the next three years.

The focal point of the day long discussion was Governor Markell's proposed policy blueprint for states that he plans to disseminate at the NGA summer meeting in August 2013. Interim US Secretary of Labor Seth Harris who also spoke on private sector partnerships, Senator Harkin, and Governor Markell all expressed hope that significant progress could be made by the 25th anniversary of the passage of the ADA in 2015.

For more information on the Summit, see Stephanie Powers' blog post on the Summit here.

In Conclusion
Through our network approach, at the national level we can position the philanthropic sector as a critical stakeholder in emerging policy and federal program design. We can connect the innovative work of funders to national policy initiatives. And importantly, we can facilitate inclusion of foundations in collaborations across sectors that can leverage or align existing investments for greater collective impact in areas such as homelessness, employment, mental health services, community reintegration, family housing, environmental justice, and, of course, much more!

NEXT WEEK: We will send Part 2 of our message on public policy priorities – with a special focus on our global engagement efforts, legal advocacy, regulatory affairs, and federal liaison.


Vikki N. Spruill
President and CEO
Council on Foundations