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Letters Needed Now on Finance Committee Proposals!

(Sept. 6, 2005) Numerous charitable giving tax incentives are at stake. It is critical that members take action now and contact their U.S. senators!

After nearly two years of work, the Senate Finance Committee is expected to introduce legislation that will make a number of changes to tax laws regarding charitable giving and charity operations and accountability.

While it is unclear what exactly will be in the legislation, AFP has reviewed some of the giving changes and accountability proposals that are most likely to be included. Members can writer letters to their U.S. senators based on this analysis.

There are a few proposals AFP supports because some areas need additional scrutiny and investigation. However, AFP opposes most of the provisions recommended by those documents because they will simply make it more difficult for legitimate charities to operate on a daily basis while doing little to root out fraudulent organizations.

What You Can Do

There are several activities that members and chapters can undertake this fall. Lobbying efforts should focus on your two U.S. senators for now, although letters can also be sent to members of the House of Representatives.

  1. Personalize and then fax a sample letter to your two U.S. senators. Personalization is critical because congressional offices are increasingly wary of form letters. Faxing is important because offices receive too many emails and letters (especially those sent to Washington, D.C.) can take too long to arrive. AFP recommends that after personalizing your letter (or better yet, writing your own), fax it to the senator's state offices, as this may show the issue will have a local impact. If you don't know who your U.S. senators are, or need contact information, click here. If a fax number is not listed, call the office and someone will be happy to provide one for a constituent letter.
  2. Forward on this week's eWire to colleagues, board members, key supporters and others and ask them to send in their own letters. An official letter from your organization or its board of directors is also appropriate.
  3. During your chapter's next meeting, you can print out letters and ask all members in attendance to sign one. Members can then fax them when they return to their offices, or you can collect the signed letters and fax them together. Be aware that this method may create more letters overall, but the letters will not be personalized. Alternately, hand out sample letters and encourage members to write their own letters and fax them when they return to their offices.
  4. You can try to organize a meeting with the district office staffs of one or both of your U.S. senators in your local community. The AFP Chapter Government Relations Manual has detailed information on how to arrange and prepare for such a meeting. If the legislator is not available, meetings with legislative staff also will be beneficial. No more than a handful of members (maximum of six or so) should attend the meeting. It is helpful if participating members represent a variety of different charities.
  5. You also could visit with the editorial boards of local newspapers. The media continue to focus on a few bad stories and controversies while missing the large point that the vast majority of charities are legitimate and that these proposals will do far more harm than good. Encourage media outlets to run stories and editorials about the damage the proposals will do to local charities.
  6. Letters sent to your U.S. senators should also be sent to your U.S. representative to lay the groundwork for future advocacy on this issue. Information on the House of Representatives can be found here.

Key Messages

In any type of communication or meeting, there are some key messages that you should highlight:

  1. The controversies and incidents reported in many media stories represent less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the million charitable organizations in the United States.
  2. Many of these incidents could have been avoided if the Internal Revenue Service had the resources to better regulate the sector.
  3. The proposals coming out of the Senate Finance Committee represent a complete overreaction to the incidents and will dramatically and detrimentally affect legitimate charities and charitable giving. Since a huge majority of charities are not engaged in any sort of wrongdoing, these proposals effectively 'throw the baby out with the bath water.'
  4. Senate Finance Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) has indicated that part of the reason for these proposals is to increase federal revenues. While the charitable sector is happy to do its part, these proposals will only reduce giving to charities, thus requiring them to spend more on fundraising, government grants, etc. In addition, certain services and programs might have to be suspended, altered, delayed or terminated, so the overall impact of these proposals on charities is extensive.
  5. Charities are accountable, and a recent study has shown that charities are indeed responding to calls for additional accountability measures and safeguards.
  6. Many organizations abide by AFP's Code of Ethical Principles and Standards of Professional Practice and A Donor Bill of Rights, as well as other documents. AFP exists to advance ethical fundraising and maintain high ethical standards in the profession.

The provision of services is critical for any charity, but at times advocacy also becomes a key activity. The proposals being considered by the Senate Finance Committee could dramatically decrease giving, which in turn could have a huge impact on the ability of our organizations to provide services and programs.

Congress must be educated as to why these proposals are unnecessary and harmful to both the sector and the country. Please take action now!

If you have any questions about the proposals and these suggested activities, contact Jason Lee, director, government relations (jlee@afpnet.org) or Michael Nilsen, director, public affairs (mnilsen@afpnet.org).

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