The 18th century composer Johann Sebastian Bach would have been too politically correct to comment on the so-called fiscal cliff debate. But his ominous, even chilling, Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565 says plenty. You may know this classic from any number of high-energy, tension-packed films -- from Gremlins 2 to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, to the classic 1940 Fantasia, that media and technology landmark which reached millions.
Even if you're hearing it for the first time, you can see why I think Bach's bold anthem could easily be the soundtrack of the fiscal cliff hanger, especially as it relates to American charitable organizations -- from hospitals to homeless shelters, community senior centers and health clinics to programs for returning wounded war veterans.
I will proudly be among the thousands of diverse nonprofit leaders taking our case to Congress for Protect Giving - DC (#ProtectGiving) in my capacity as head of the League of American Orchestras and on behalf of our more than 800 member orchestras from across the country. We are appearing in harmony, united to endorse a tax structure that promotes the individual philanthropy that supports the work done by all of our organizations and, therefore, benefits the common good.
Our partnership with the broader nonprofit sector on the policy front echoes the alliances local arts organizations create in service to communities nationwide. America's orchestras have increasingly broadened their scope to partner with countless nonprofit colleagues, including schools and music education programs at all grade levels, social service groups, senior service centers, and others to strengthen communities through the powerful and profound infusion of orchestral music.
I would be less than candid if I did not admit that I am very concerned about the potential outcome of the fiscal cliff drama. By nature I am an optimist. But my fears this time are well founded as our industry, and the entire nonprofit sector, has struggled in the aftermath of the Great Recession of 2008. The vast majority of America's orchestras have managed to hold their own, many successfully re-inventing themselves against long odds. Among the many reasons for their progress has been an ability to build stronger community-based relationships with aligned nonprofits and to continually demonstrate their civic value to donors, many of them individuals.
Despite the foreboding Bach in the background, I am hopeful that Congress will do the right thing by America's nonprofits and for the American people and reject attempts to limit individual, tax-deductible contributions to charitable organizations. Charitable giving incentives do not increase the wealth of individual donors; they are an essential investment in the public good.
We strongly agree with the experts who predict that if deductions are limited or capped, taxpayers -- and not just those in the highest tax brackets -- will make their own cuts and likely reduce their charitable giving. Independent Sector, a broad-based coalition of nonprofits including the League, conservatively estimates that the administration's most recent plan to cap the deductibility of contributions at 28 percent would lead to $1.7 billion to $7 billion less a year in giving. And, a proposal to cap all itemized deductions at a dollar amount would essentially eliminate the tax incentive to give more to charity. No nonprofit would be immune from the consequences of such a large-scale reduction
(Here's an infographic that lays out those consequences.)
I am hopeful that over the remaining weeks of 2012 a compromise can be reached that advances the cause of national economic stability without inflicting needless pain on our nation's nonprofits and, most importantly, the people that depend on and benefit from our integrated services. While Bach's Toccata may be the appropriate accompaniment at this stage of deliberations, there is still a chance that by working together something more along the lines of John Adams' Short Ride in a Fast Machine will be on the congressional playlist.
How can you help? Please tell your elected officials to protect the charitable deduction here.