I was in Washington DC for several reasons last week, starting with the National Council of Nonprofits board meeting on Tuesday. We meet in person just twice a year and address not only what’s happening with the Council of Nonprofits but also pressing issues and trends in the larger nonprofit sector. During these meetings I have the benefit of bringing Montana’s perspective to the table while learning what other associations are thinking about and doing. My notes from last week include information about Nebraska’s online assessment tool, Michigan and Alaska’s work on Census 2020, Utah’s approach to public policy, and Hawaii’s perspective on the intersect between challenge and opportunity. It’s a remarkable board that works hard on behalf of the Council of Nonprofits and the larger sector. And we’re friends, partly because of the unique connection we have through our work. There are only forty-one state associations in the country so we don’t have many peers!
Montana Coffee on Wednesday morning included brief visits with all three of our congressmen. Those visits, as well as appointments scheduled later in the week focused on four areas:
- Funding Census 2020. This is especially important in Montana where face to face communication is so critical and access to internet is limited or non-existent in some of the hardest to count communities. We need full funding.
- Repealing the Transportation Tax on nonprofits. One of the outcomes of tax reform was a tax on nonprofits that is almost too baffling to put into words. In short, if your organization pays for any kind of transportation like parking garage passes, or if you have the benefit of employee parking in a hospital or church-owned parking lot – there is now a tax on that expense. I know. It’s ridiculous. And everyone knows it but so far now one has fixed it. Senator Daines co-sponsored legislation to have it repealed, but so far to no avail.
- Monitoring the doubling of the standard deduction for non-itemizers. We don’t have great data yet, but what we have shows that smaller nonprofits (budgets of less than $1M) are the losers in charitable giving as a result of the changes to the standard deduction. Our delegation is interested in tracking this but we won’t have much Montana-specific data until early 2020.
- Politicizing charitable nonprofits. We are concerned at both the state and federal levels that nonprofits are gaining a reputation for being vehicles for partisan political activity. We brought this concern forward and asked for information about what’s driving the narrative. We’ll keep you posted, but we’re connecting the dots between the increase in dark money and the hijacking of the nonprofit brand and reputation. This is a serious threat to the sector and we need to get out in front of it and change the trajectory.
I switched gears on Thursday and Friday and attended the annual state association “confab.” Leslie Krutchfield, co-author of Forces for Good and author of a new book, How Change Happens, was the opening keynote. I loved meeting her, in part because she is our opening keynote for this year’s MNA Conference and it was nice to have the chance to connect even briefly. But I also loved what she had to say about movements. I tend to think of a movement as big fancy complex system, out of reach. But one of her points is that change begins when organizations prioritize both direct service and advocacy. There is making a difference, and then there is change. Both are mission-critical for nonprofits, but change requires advocacy.
And then Friday. Friday’s closing plenary was one of the best I’ve ever heard. Dr. Atyia Martin of All Aces, Inc. spoke on race equity in a way that quite honestly rattled my cage. I need some time to put my thoughts together but for now I’ll say this. I came away with a different perspective on the downstream consequences of my remaining unaware: unaware of my own blind spots and unaware of systemic barriers to equity for people of color. I like my comfort zone quite a bit, thank you very much, and on Friday it shifted on me. More to come on that, but for now – both Leslie and Atyia reminded me in such compelling ways that change and movements and systems aren’t something out there, big and inaccessible. They are made up of people including me. That’s a powerful message, and it was the right time for me to hear it.
Throughout last week, from the board meeting to conversations with our congressional delegates and the two-day confab with colleagues I was supported, led, and moved by the work of the National Council of Nonprofits. Tim Delaney and his team represent the largest nonprofit network in the nation with a staff the size of MNA’s. Last week was stellar for me and a gain for Montana’s nonprofits, so I’ll close by saying thanks to Tim, Amy, David, Allison, Tiffany, and Rick. Good to see you and job well done.