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National Council of Nonprofits works with state associations

The National Council of Nonprofits' succinct tagline — "National voice. State focus. Local impact." — describes how the council serves nonprofits through its network of state associations across the country, says Tim Delaney, the council's president and CEO.

"We have an extended network of nonprofit organizations that sees and hears what's happening on the ground. By exchanging and sharing information, our network is learning together from coast to coast and border to border," he said.

"The national council also gets that information out to other nonprofits, the public and elected officials. That way, when legislators vote on issues affecting nonprofits they can make informed decisions."

The council is an example of the nonprofit infrastructure organizations the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation funds through its Civil Society Program.

The council, based in Washington, D.C., has been a Mott grantee since 1990. To date, the foundation has supported the council's work with 22 grants. The majority were general-purposes grants, but six were earmarked for specific projects. All together, the grants totaled $2.5 million.

Delaney, who has led the national organization since July 2008, says being bold and nimble has kept the council relevant.

In May 2010 — just before the Internal Revenue Service planned to release a list of more than 350,000 nonprofit organizations nationwide that would lose their tax-exempt status because they had failed to file their required annual federal tax returns — council staff issued a massive alert through its members and the media, Delaney says.

The council's quick action helped nonprofits and funders save — and keep in their local communities — more than $10 million they otherwise would have sent to the federal government in late filing fees, he says.

The council is the country's largest network of nonprofit organizations with more than 25,000 members. While other national nonprofit membership organizations focus almost exclusively on federal government issues, Delaney says, the council's niche is to identify issues that affect nonprofit organizations at the state and local levels.

As a former partner in a law firm and as Arizona's former chief deputy attorney general, Delaney has gone from fighting crime and corruption to serving as an educator, cheerleader and myth-buster for the nonprofit sector.

A few of the myths he is determined to dispel:

  • Employees of nonprofit organizations don't pay taxes. ("I'm always surprised by the number of people who believe this as fact.")
  • Nonprofit organizations are not allowed to advocate for specific policy changes or comment on pending legislation. ("Attorneys, academics and accountants too often muzzle nonprofits with bad advice: In 1976 Congress made the law very clear that nonprofits can engage in advocacy.")
  • Public and private foundations can fill the funding void created when the federal, state and local governments reduce the amount of money they spend on public programs and services. ("Even if all donated money was combined, there is still not enough to meet the needs.")

In addition to educating the public about the roles and realities of the nonprofit sector, the council also helps equip and empower state associations to think and speak collectively, says Kyle Caldwell, president and CEO of the Michigan Nonprofit Association, a council member.

"When we look to make changes in Michigan's economy, we see that it hinges on having a vibrant nonprofit sector to help make those transitions possible, especially for a state going from a strong manufacturing base to one being led by health-care institutions and colleges and universities," he said.

A current hot-button state issue on the council's radar screen is Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT), whereby local governments seek payments from tax-exempt nonprofits to help balance government budgets, Delaney says.

Truly voluntary PILOTS have been around for decades, he says, but after the city of Boston sent its first round of PILOT "requests" in the form of simulated tax bills to the city's largest 40 nonprofit organizations in April, the practice "started spreading like wildfire" to other municipalities in several states.

In response, the council's staff and network members shared information through conference calls, advocacy newsletters and speeches — whatever ways they could to counteract what Delaney sees as a "troubling trend."

"An important factor frequently doesn't get figured into this PILOT conversation," he said. "Many state constitutions and statutes exempt nonprofit property from taxation."

But the council isn't a naysayer to new ideas. When proposed projects and programs are proven successful for the nonprofit sector in one state, Delaney says, his organization often promotes its replication elsewhere.

He cites the state of Connecticut as an example. In February 2011, the governor appointed a former state representative to serve in a cabinet-level post as the state's — and the nation's — first "nonprofit liaison." The official's public-funded job is to develop and strengthen partnerships between the state government and Connecticut-based nonprofits, making the relationships easier and more effective for both.

(In 2003, the state of Michigan created the nation's first Office of Foundation Liaison through a joint agreement between Michigan foundations and the governor's office. Like the Connecticut post, Michigan's is a cabinet-level position. Karen Aldridge-Eason, a loaned executive from the Mott Foundation, has led the initiative from the start through both Democratic and Republican administrations.)

"Nonprofits and governments serve the same constituents and the same communities," Delaney said. "We are all looking at common problems to gather common solutions. Anything that can help us do that better is something we want to replicate."

The C.S. Mott Foundation, established in 1926 by an automotive pioneer, is a private philanthropy committed to supporting projects that promote a just, equitable and sustainable society. It supports nonprofit programs throughout the U.S. and, on a limited geographic basis, internationally. Grantmaking is focused in four programs — Civil Society, Environment, Flint Area and Pathways Out of Poverty. Besides Flint, offices are in metropolitan Detroit, Johannesburg (South Africa) and London. The foundation, with 2010 year-end assets of about $2.2 billion, made 492 grants totaling $92.9 million. Visit Mott.org for more information.

(Note: This report is provided as a service to our readers and a service to the group or individual mentioned in the release. Usually, only minor editing is done. The group or individual is responsible for all information provided.)

 

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