Moms on the Move
The Million Mom March Foundation has come under fire for occupying government office space—rent free—for the past two years. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, a gun rights activist found out about the cozy arrangement and lodged a protest with the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, which expressed “concern” about the group’s use of city property. The group, whose financial woes have forced them to fire 31 of 35 staff members this year, is now moving out of the city-owned offices.
Bugging for a Tax Deduction
Think you had a hectic time getting a year’s worth of receipts ready for tax time? Then pity the University of Georgia’s Cecil Smith, who had to work through boxes full of dead bugs, catalog them, and then offer an expert appraisal on their value as charitable deductions. About a dozen donors a year offer to donate their insect collections to charity, and they call Smith to find out what the collections are worth. “If it comes in as just a dead bug, it’s worth a nickel,” Smith says. “You’re not going to get rich that way.” According to CNN, an exotic specimen adds 55 cents to the value of your donation while labeling it properly tacks on an extra $1.15 and mounting it on a slide can up the ante to $7. Even greater deductions are available to the less squeamish. “Some of the beetles, you have to pull out the genitals” in order to properly classify them, Smith said. “That adds another dollar or two.”
The Price of Advocacy?
The Rainforest Action Network is an environmentalist group that proudly uses aggressive tactics against corporations it thinks are despoiling forests. Now a pro-market group, Frontiers of Freedom, has asked the IRS to investigate whether RAN’s activities square with its nonprofit status. Apparently forgetting that liberal activist groups successfully filed similar requests against conservative groups during the Clinton administration, the Sierra Club’s Carl Pope sputtered that the request was “outrageous.” He contends that “by the standard Frontiers of Freedom is trying to apply, the NAACP and other civil rights groups would have lost their tax exemptions because members participated in protests . . . . If it goes through, we’ll have very strong evidence that the Bush administration has politicized the IRS.” In their complaint, Frontiers of Freedom argues that “while people have every right to form groups and forcefully express their opinions, RAN’s founders chose to organize RAN as a nonprofit dedicated solely to educational purposes in order to have access to tax-deductible contributions . . . . For taxpayers who are footing the bill for advocacy activities they may not support, this is an unacceptable arrangement. It is also clearly prohibited by law.”
Biking for Bucks
To most people, a charity walk or bike ride sounds like the best of both worlds—get out in the sun and do some good. But some observers are beginning to question whether these activities really do much to help the intended cause. For example, the fund raising firm Pallotta TeamWorks, which organizes a number of fun runs and walkathons for charity, takes a hefty 40 percent commission from events it manages. According to the Washington Post, “the private moneymaking enterprise charges $182,000 to $398,000 to produce each event. Its standard contract gives Pallotta control of ‘all aspects’ of producing the event, from media interviews to pledge parties. Donations go into bank accounts controlled by the charities, which pay the bills when Pallotta produces receipts and invoices.” Some critics are alarmed by the hefty cut the group takes, but others dispute the value of the events themselves. “If you want to give money for AIDS, get on a bike and ride it over to your local AIDS service organization and write a check,” said Wayne Turner of ACT UP. Pallotta calls such critics cynics, and, according to the Post, “believes the focus should be on the $88 million that has been netted for AIDS efforts, not on the $76 million in expenses.”
Charity Ball Less Festive . . .
The party might not be entirely over, but the lights are on, the bar is closed, and the clean-up crew is gathering at the door. In recent years, the Silicon Valley Charity Ball has been the social event of the season, but this year the swank soiree struggled just to keep its charitable pledges. The San Jose Mercury News reports that “with ticket sales down about 30 percent from last year, the fundraiser could fall short of making its $1.5 million commitment to 61 nonprofit organizations.” According to the Mercury News, such a predicament “seemed unfathomable” just a year ago. As one of the ball’s organizers concedes, this year fewer companies are sending employees to the ball to network. “If you are laying off people at your business, it’s hard to justify paying to go to a party. That does not look good.”
. . . As Are Silicon Valley Realtors
More from the “What goes up . . . ” department: remember a year or so ago when there was a flood of stories from the Bay Area about the crisis of affordable office space for charities? Well, that’s not a problem anymore. Just months after demonstrators representing nonprofits and arts groups stormed San Francisco’s city hall insisting that special subsidies were needed to prevent nonprofits from being wiped out by rising rents, the bottom has fallen out of the local commercial real estate market. According to the Associated Press, with dot-coms imploding all over the city, the amount of available office space has doubled in the past quarter. “The market has dived, and I’ve seen a bloodbath,” says a local real estate expert. “We’re running out of people to go broke.”
But Some Handle It Well
Well, it’s better than a pink slip. According to the San Jose Mercury News, tech giant Cisco Systems “made a modest proposal to the 8,500 workers” it recently laid off: Cisco will pay one-third of their salary and provide health benefits and stock options if they commit to working for a nonprofit for one year. What’s more, if the “reduced” Cisco worker stays at the nonprofit for a year, he or she will receive rehiring priority if and when the high-tech giant begins hiring again. But Cisco won’t subsidize loafers: the “loaners” are being told to “make a difference” at their chosen nonprofit or else “they’re out.” Needless to say, local charity leaders are thrilled with the arrangement. “This is too good to be true,” said the local Catholic Charities chief executive.
The Motor Home of Love
One of the unanticipated sticking points for the faith-based initiative has been the problem of support for programs run by non-mainstream religious groups. Many such programs exist, and some are quite effective and inspiring. The Los Angeles Times tells the story of a group of California Buddhists who run the “Great Love Mobile Clinic, a 35-foot RV transformed into a state-of-the-art dental facility at a cost of $250,000. The vehicle is equipped with two dental exam chairs, X-ray machines, and cupboards full of supplies.” They motor into blighted neighborhoods and provide free dental and medical services to poor people—many of whom have never seen a dentist before. “It’s impressive. They do it with so much compassion and joy,” said one beneficiary.
Watch and Learn
Better living through soap operas? That’s what some nonprofits are banking on, as they weave messages about AIDS awareness, economic inequality, and the role of women into the scripts of soap operas that are beamed around the world. The Los Angeles Times reports that “Soap Operas for Social Change is a multinational mission aimed at lacing entertainment with role models whose trials and tribulations mirror the everyday lives of listeners and viewers in developing nations.” The international program, which ties Western philanthropists to writers and producers from wildly popular developing world soap operas, is supported by a number of German groups. The head of the German Foundation for World Population explains that “With hundreds of millions of people in the world living in trauma—forced [female] circumcisions, war, discrimination against women, AIDS—there will never be enough resources to provide individual therapies, which is why television presents such a great opportunity to convey an important message.” And a German television executive opines, “Television in the developing world isn’t only for entertainment . . . . It’s seen as an engine for social change and development.” Interestingly, none of the people quoted in the Times story seem to find this practice at all creepy.
The New New New Thing
College fashion is of course fickle, but according to the Los Angeles Times, one of the coolest things for today’s students to do is . . . start a nonprofit. “At a time in their lives when party-party-party and me-me-me are the expected norms, [students] say they find a sense of connection through their unpaid efforts. Unlike an earlier generation that looked to the public sector for change, many students express frustration with government and more established philanthropies.” University of Indiana professor Leslie Lenkowsky, who was recently nominated by President Bush to serve as the chief executive of the Corporation for National Service, suggests that this new breed of student activism is focused more on local and hands-on results rather than the change-the-system politicking of previous generations. “It is tied to a kind of anti-government feeling,” he said. “There is a sense that government has limits.”
More Charity from the Motor City Madman
Rocker Ted Nugent’s charitable enterprises continue to give animal rights supporters fits. The latest flap involves Nugent’s Kamp for Kids, a summer camp that takes kids from urban and drug-blighted neighborhoods and introduces them to the joys of bow-hunting. A supporter of the camp is raising money by auctioning off an Alaskan wolf hunting trip on eBay. According to the Anchorage Daily News, friends of the wolves are unhappy with the innovative fund raising ploy: “We find this kind of offer sickening, and a poor reflection on eBay,” wrote the author of a petition against the hunt. “We ask that eBay do the right thing and make a public press release stating that it will no longer allow animal hunts to be auctioned on its site.”