Nonprofit leaders need to find the sector's ch'i before they can defend against assault by regulators and legislators who seek to amend or eliminate the charitable deduction.
The human body has eight points of balance. Two of the points are very stable, nearly immoveable without sustained force. Four of the points range from slightly less stable to much weaker. There are two points at which the body's balance is softened to the level of being indefensible to the weakest assault.
Sector leaders have been mounting a defense by going after legislators at their two most stable positions -- Congressional hearings and public forums where there is talk but little action that sways in favor of the deduction. Winning this fight to save the deduction will require knocking the offenders over from a more vulnerable position. In this case, that means taking it to the weakest balance points -- their home districts and various local media.
The campaigns for Congressional seats are heating up and sector leaders need to be, if you'll excuse the phrase, community organizers. Nonprofit leaders must rally members, constituents and activists to let elected officials know that re-election is not on sure footing if the deduction is attacked.
According to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), a United States Senator must raise $14,351 a day for re-election efforts. A member of the U.S. House of Representatives must raise $2,315 per day. Just imagine how those numbers can be shoved off balance with a little aggressive footwork from local advocates who demand to know why the representative opposes the deduction that helps to fund local charities. It's a loaded question. There are no good answers to it.
Knowing when to hit first is another element of self-defense. There is a safe green zone where an aggressor can't be touched -- that again would be in hearings or other orchestrated events. There is a yellow zone where the aggressor is a step or step and one-half within striking distance. Evasive action can be taken at that distance to avoid a confrontation. That situation might be illustrated by a private meeting where a lively discussion could be mounted but heard by a limited number of people.
Finally, there is the red zone. This is where the aggressor is too close and the intention is so clear that you must strike first. It appears that the nonprofit sector has an aggressor in its red zone and just might need to strike.
Some call what is being discussed a cap on what can be deducted. Others are pushing for a "floor" that the deduction cannot go below. Neither is acceptable for this sector.
The argument can be made that the deduction is pro-business, given all of the studies that show philanthropic people are more likely to buy the products of like-minded businesses and with the deduction they'll have more to pump into the economy. It's an argument the government will understand since billions of dollars are pumped into the economy each month by the federal government.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently affirmed the idea that money is free speech. So, when members of Congress make no moves to limit campaign contributions and deposits to Section 527 "causes," local advocates should get to work. They should shine a spotlight on the elected officials who vote to cut funding for programs that then must be picked up by a nonprofit sector that was pushed off balance and had its legs swept from under it.