Director’s Column: Candidates at the Conference and More

No matter how the upcoming election comes out, nonprofits will have our work cut out for us in 2019. In addition to a host of issues at the federal level, we will be working with the Montana Legislature in two ways in particular: renewal of the Montana Endowment Tax Credit (METC) and monitoring changes to Montana’s tax code.

First, the MNA Public Policy Council has been working on the renewal of the METC for several months. You might recall the METC expires in 2019, so we will be requesting a six-year renewal. At various times we have considered asking the Legislature to make the Credit permanent. We’ve always opted to ask for a sunset instead, and one of the reasons is it requires us to prove, time and again, the value of the METC, which has helped us move it forward for more than twenty years. With state revenues under duress, we do not believe this is the right time to ask for a permanent Credit; instead, once again we’ll ask for a six-year renewal. We have a sponsor identified and have begun doing the necessary legwork to make the renewal as simple and straightforward as possible. After the election and committee leadership is in place, we’ll amp up our one-on-one efforts.

If your organization has benefitted from gifts associated with the METC, you can help in two ways. First, if you are willing to testify in person or in writing about how the METC has made a difference in your community, please let us know now so that we are all prepared to advocate at the right time. Second, please test the waters now with the donor(s) who used the METC to gift your organization and see if that individual might ever be willing to share their experience of the benefits of the METC. Thank you.

Second issue MNA will be watching: I was recently in Washington D.C. at a board meeting of the National Council of Nonprofits. One of the big issues the Council of Nonprofits is tracking is how federal tax reform will play out at the state level. Every state will be required to re-open their tax code to bring it in compliance and alignment with the new federal code. When that happens, it will create vulnerability for nonprofits because change is almost inevitable. MNA will be monitoring this closely to ensure Montana’s tax code continues to fully support tax exemption for charitable nonprofits. We’ve seen some efforts in other states to seize this opportunity to change the tax code in ways that are detrimental to the nonprofit sector.

The message for us in Montana is clear. We’re a small state, and we know our legislators – which is great. Now is the time to make sure legislators know about our work and the difference we’re making in communities. We don’t want to raise a ruckus, but we want to be vigilant and prepared. Having well-established relationships and a solid value proposition is the best preparation we can do.

One note about the upcoming election. We heard from several Conference goers that the candidate appearances at the Conference were great – a beneficial addition. We also heard from some of you that you were uncomfortable or felt you were part of a sales pitch. To be honest, we don’t have the perfect answer. But I offer this. We don’t necessarily ask candidates to appear because we will learn something new or gain a new understanding of their stance on the issues– although we inevitably do. Nor do we ask because you need to see them in this particular setting. Rather, we ask because they need to see you. They need to be in front of you, a room filled with constituents who are listening to every word. As a group, you get their attention in an impressive way. You remind them that the nonprofit community is a driver – economic and otherwise – in Montana. There may be ways we can manage their appearances at the Conference better, but candidates need to see us and understand they are accountable to us as a sector. They need to be questioned by us and thanked by us in equal measure. This is part of building relationships that allow us as an Association to be influential in the public policy realm. And you saw an example of that at work when the candidates discussed the importance of keeping the Johnson Amendment intact. That issue is a dogfight, and we’re in the fray because they know you, they have heard from you, and they know Montana is watching.

And won’t we all just be so happy to have November 6 behind us? Be well friends! And thank you for the ways you make Montana wonderful.

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