Taking that Step Off the Curb

March 13, 2013

Earlier this month, the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers took a significant step in the policy and government relations arena – a first in our 15 year history. We submitted testimony to the House of Representatives Ways & Means Committee in support of maintaining an incentive for charitable giving. Not only was this the first time we have submitted testimony but it also marks the first time the CNJG Board of Trustees has taken a formal position on an issue.

The idea of taking a position is an uncomfortable thought for many organizations.  I once heard journalist Linda Ellerbee speak about her decision to put aside her neutral, objective reporter’s hat on one issue that she cared deeply about it. She described it as “stepping off the curb” to join the others who were marching.  The world has changed and as the tax reform discussion begins to take shape, the Council felt it was important to add our voice to the conversation.

This is not something CNJG does regularly or lightly, and we are an organization of members that bring many perspectives to the table. Engaging at this level as advocates requires clear consideration.

As the tax reform discussion began to take shape, the Council’s Leadership & Policy Committee felt it was important to add our voice to the conversation.  Following our recently adopted procedure, the issue was thoroughly and methodically reviewed by the Committee before the recommendation was made to the Board.  The central principle of our position is that any changes made to the tax code must continue to include an incentive for charitable giving. As I pointed out in my testimony to the Ways & Means Committee, in New Jersey, the federal deduction is the only tax incentive for individuals to direct their assets toward their charitable gifts. Especially in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, it is critical that this incentive not be diminished. Indeed, we are also in good company, as 15 of the 34 regional associations that comprise the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers have taken a similar position.

This represents an expansion in how the Council promotes and supports the work of our members.  And more importantly, how the philanthropic sector begins to engage at a policy level.  While the charitable giving incentive may not directly impact the philanthropic sector, giving by individuals is strengthened and leveraged with grantmaker giving.  This issue will now be a key talking point when we meet with our Representatives in Washington later this month during Foundations on the Hill.

Nina Stack is President of the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers, the statewide association of more than 120 funding organizations working in New Jersey. She also serves as Chair of the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers, a 34-member network serving more than 4,000 foundations, corporations and other donors across the country.