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Improving the Fundraising Environment: AFP’s Public Policy Program

July 28, 2008

(July 28, 2008) The lobbying and advocacy process may be somewhat complicated, but the bottom line of AFP’s public policy program is simple: improving and enhancing the environment for fundraising.

AFP’s government relations department examines hundreds of bills, regulations and other public policy initiatives annually, many of them proposing obscure changes that could have significant impact on the profession. Much of the department’s work focuses on sifting through the minutiae and determining how the proposal will affect fundraising and the charitable sector.

“Whether it involves modifications to the U.S. Form 990 or the creation of new fundraising cost guidelines in Canada, our ultimate goal is to ensure that any public policy change has the best interests of fundraisers and the charitable sector at heart,” said Andrew Watt, chief programming officer for AFP. “Often this means fighting for new giving and volunteer incentives, but we’re also dedicated to supporting policy that cracks down on illegitimate fundraisers and lessens the administrative and regulatory burden on legitimate practitioners.”

AFP’s representation of the fundraising profession before government bodies is a critical aspect of its mission and is a benefit for every member made possible by regular membership dues.

Membership Sends Message to Government

With many legislators and regulators taking an increased interest in the fundraising profession, AFP has redoubled its efforts to educate Congress, Parliament and policy makers around the world about the importance of philanthropy and the critical role of fundraisers.

The profession raises hundreds of billions every year and involves the work of hundreds of thousands of staff and volunteers. Those figures are gaining the watchful attention of members of Congress, who want to be responsive to the needs of this growing and important aspect of society, but want to be sure the growth is regulated and abuse is avoided and eliminated.

Which is why, according Watt, that membership in AFP is extreme critical in dealing with legislative bodies. Legislators look at professions and see how they’re composed, he says. If there is agreement and unity around a code of ethics, established standards and other items, they are more likely to work with the profession and develop appropriate legislative measures or rely on industry self-regulations. But if that profession lacks that sort of coordination and structure, legislators will not hesitate to act to fill the void.

“In and of itself, membership in AFP sends a strong message to Congress, Parliament and others that the profession is established, that we do believe in a code of ethics and we are committed to serving the needs of our donors and our organizations,” says Watt. “That we have 30,000 members united around our code of ethics and the highest standards of service shows Congress that fundraisers take these issues very seriously and that we are dedicated to the ethical, long-term expansion of philanthropy and charity.”

Using Fundraising Techniques Breeds Success

AFP’s public policy initiatives and lobbying programs look very similar to a typical fundraising program: create your case for support, identify supporters and develop partnerships for the long-term.

“The lobbying process is very similar to the fundraising process, and we have taken some key aspects of fundraising and incorporated those into our public policy program,” said Jason Lee, AFP’s director of government relations. “Using all aspects of our government relations practice—direct lobbying, grassroots contacts, and in the U.S., our political action committee—we’ve developed some very strong relationships with key government officials who understand the importance of fundraising.”

These relationships, and the work of AFP members to contact their legislators and regulators, have resulted in numerous successes recently, including:

  • Passage of the IRA Rollover tax incentive in the United States;
  • Elimination of the capital gains tax on gifts of appreciated securities in Canada
  • Changes to the new Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Form 990, the annual charity reporting form in the United States
  • Defeat of numerous bills on the federal and state/provincial level that would create overly burdensome administrative requirements for fundraisers and charities

Currently, AFP is working to have the IRA rollover provision reinstated into law in the United States, and to extend the elimination of the capital gains tax to gifts of land in Canada. AFP has also developed strong relationships with the IRS and the Canada Revenue Agency and works with those two bodies on fundraising regulation, such as the CRA's recently proposed fundraising cost guidelines.

Questions about AFP’s public policy initiatives can be sent to paffairs@afpnet.org.



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