Telling the Story of Philanthropy and Nonprofits: Donors Forum on The Hill

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

HillblogpicWebReady In early March, a group of foundation leaders, advisors, and Donors Forum staff  travelled to Washington D.C. for the annual Foundations on the Hill conference and lobby day, co-sponsored by Council of Foundations and The Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers.  Over two whirlwind days, the Donors Forum team met with nearly all members of the Illinois Congressional delegation.  As with previous trips to the Hill, the two days  offered a unique opportunity to help  Congressional leaders understand the value and contributions of nonprofits and philanthropy in Illinois and, just as importantly, build relationships with new members of Congress.

It was also an opportunity to educate lawmakers on the current focus of Donors Forum ‘s public policy work: helping to solve the fiscal problems that affect the philanthropic and nonprofit community in Illinois. While the nonprofit community is directly affected by budget and policy decisions at the State level,  decisions made at the Federal level could have unintended consequences on nonprofit providers and the grantmakers who fund them; the necessity for more dialogue about the value of the sector, our concerns, and our solutions grows more urgent.

Key messages to members of Congress emphasized philanthropy as a critical repository of innovation, independence, and investment in communities in all legislative districts. Toward this end, the delegation shared examples of innovative projects that Donors Forum's Members support, such as the Bloomingdale Trail in Chicago, protecting the Great Lakes from Asian Carp, addressing food deserts, and the role of community foundations in encouraging local community philanthropy.

As more than one speaker said to grantmakers from all over the country, during the first day’s Legislative Update session, ‘If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.’

At the top of the policy agenda this year were several important legislative issues that affect the charitable sector.  Simplifying the private foundation excise tax became the lead “ask,”  but the delegation also asked lawmakers to:


When asked about the possibility of comprehensive tax policy reform in this session, congressional staffers estimated that significant movement would probably not occur until 2013. Policy interests from congressional offices varied but one thing was clear: they wanted to hear more about philanthropy and nonprofits and how they affect their districts.

Communicating with legislslators about the value of the sector has already had a measurable impact. Following Foundations on the Hill, two pieces of legislation on the policy agenda were introduced in the Senate:

  • Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) introduced the Public Good IRA Charitable Rollover Act (S. 557) that would extend the IRA Charitable Rollover beyond 2011; broaden its scope to allow for gifts made to donor-advised funds, supporting organizations, and private foundations to benefit from the incentives; lift the $100,000 cap on distributions; and allow for planned gifts beginning at age 59 and a half.
  • Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) introduced a bill to simplify the excise tax.  The legislation (S. 593) would reduce the excise tax on investment income from 2 percent to 1.39 percent.

The Donors Forum team was made up of Bob Glaves, The Chicago Bar Foundation and Chair of the Donors Forum Board of Directors; Paul Botts, Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation; Ed Miller, The Joyce Foundation;  Jim Parsons, The Brinson Foundation; Janice Rodgers, Quarles & Brady LLC; Dan Templin, DeKalb County Community Foundation; and Sylvia Zaldivar-Sykes, Lake County Community Foundation.

Donors Forum staff members who attended included Valerie S. Lies, President and CEO; Laurel O’Sullivan, Vice President , Public Policy; and Delia Coleman, Manager, Public Policy Communications/Outreach.

-- Delia Coleman, Public Policy Manager, Communications and Outreach