Sunday, November 11, 2012

Thinking Bigger—and Beyond—the Charitable Tax Deduction

I'm in San Francisco at the Independent Sector conference listening to Jonathan Greenblatt, director of President Obama’s Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation; John Bridgeland, president and CEO of Civic Enterprises and former assistant to President Bush; Diana Aviv, president of Independent Sector; and Ralph Everett, president and CEO of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

They’re discussing the Washington agenda following the U.S. elections, the future of our society and the work that needs to be done to rebuild it. One of the panelists likened it to the labors of Sisyphus, pushing a boulder up a mountain only to have it roll down again every time.

I don't believe that. I know we have the resources to build a world fit for generations to come. It’s not a question of resources, but of will and belief. We will only succeed if we are prepared to think afresh, create new insights, build new partnerships and—most of all—take risks.

On December 4th and 5th AFP will be participating in a lobby day on the hill with our partners in the Charitable Giving Coalition. If you’re in Washington, DC, those days, I strongly encourage you to participate!

To have pulled this coalition together is a formidable achievement and one that we should be proud of. But let's look at the nature and focus of that lobby and more particularly, its timing.

Because we are going into battle—again—for the charitable tax deduction. And we all believe that there has never been a more important time to maintain the levels of investment in the work that we do. We take on more and more as a direct consequence of cutbacks in state and federal funding. That work is critical to growth in our communities and society as a whole.

But we have to be rigorous with ourselves and recognize that philanthropy alone is not enough to create long-term solutions. The investment of money we can make is a drop in the bucket without co-investment from government and business. So we need to talk about leverage between all investors to achieve those outcomes. We need to be honest about the impact of the current structure and whether it is the best one to achieve what we need.

We can use the charitable tax deduction, but we have to recognize it as an instrument to get us to the table with all the key stakeholders to talk about the total investment that has to be made. It's a policy tool, not necessarily an end in itself.

I believe that we need to seize this opportunity to broaden the debate and to recognize that we all have the same end in sight: rebuilding our communities and reinvigorating our society.

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