Sharing Great Data, Stories & Impact Are Highlights Of This Year’s Foundations On the Hill Visit

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Mike Gallagher, Correspondent

Michigan foundation leaders couldn’t have picked a better time to make their annual Foundations on the Hill visit with their federal lawmakers in Washington D.C.  (March 18-19) as important legislation is currently before Congress that will impact the IRA Charitable Rollover and the excise tax on private foundations.

Thirty-four members of the Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF) – representing family, corporate, community and private foundations – came armed with energy, determination and informative data from CMF and The Urban Institute - to share with their congressional leaders.

Items important to the philanthropic community in Michigan and across the U.S. have been actively debated and presented on Capitol Hill in the past three months with the House passing on February 12, H.R. 644.  Known as the “America Gives More Act”, if passed by the Senate and signed into law by the president, this would make permanent the IRA charitable rollover, the enhanced deductions for donations of food and land conservation easements, and also simplify the excise tax on private foundations.

Noting the success of this year’s Foundations on the Hill visits, CMF President Rob Collier said, “We heard strong support from both our senators for the America Gives More Act which is so important for philanthropy in Michigan.”

“Making the IRA Charitable Rollover permanent and of course simplifying the excise tax on private foundations are among our top priorities,” he added. We were able to share new data from a national survey we commissioned the Urban Institute to do on IRA gifts received by community foundations. The survey confirms that the IRA Charitable Rollover is a middle class giving tool.  It is the middle class that provide the most IRA gifts averaging less than $25,000.

“We had very good meetings with the new members of the Michigan delegation such as Congressman John Moolonaar (MI-4); Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence (M-14); Congressman Dave Trott (MI-14); and Congressman Mike Bishop (MI-8). Of course, (Congresswoman) Debbie Dingell (MI-12) has known us forever. These meetings were encouraging.”

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Michigan’s congressional representatives praised the “well-informed” CMF delegation for bringing them important stories of foundation successes in their respective districts along with up-to-date giving data they could use – and share - with colleagues.

U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow said, “It is always a pleasure to have Rob and the Michigan foundation representatives visit with us to both keep us informed about the important work they do and also how many jobs the nonprofit sector provides. It is important for us to know that information.”

Congressman Bishop added, “It is important we in Congress support the great work that foundations do in Michigan and around the country. Being kept apprised of the number of people that are impacted by philanthropy, and the many facets of our community that rely on them for help, keeps us knowledgeable and informed. Information is the key to good decision making.”

CMF attendees of this year’s Foundations on the Hill (FOTH) visit said they came away with a greater appreciation of the workings of Congress and the need for grantmakers to make their voices heard.

Holly Johnson, president of the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation, said, “This was my first time on (FOTH) and I thought it was terrific. I think we made a great impact.

“I spoke generally on the need to protect the IRA Charitable Rollover and not having mandatory payout of donor-advised funds, along with simplifying the excise tax for private foundations. Most legislators had a good grasp as to the role of foundations and what we do.”

Another first time FOTH attendee was Erica May Scherzer of the Scherzer Family Fund, who called the trip “an absolutely amazing experience.

“To get to go in and talk about tax policies and other charitable-related issues and help give our senators and representatives our perspective on them and why they are so important, and to get their feedback, made me feel we were really helping our (foundation) sector in Michigan,” said Scherzer.

Brenda L. Hunt, president/CEO of the Battle Creek Community Foundation, said overall she was “well pleased” with the responses received from the visited legislators.

“I believe it is only getting more important (to share the word about the philanthropic sector) with our national leaders,” noted Hunt. “We can never underestimate the need for education and information and real stories that need to be provided our elected officials. They have so many issues in front of them that we need to keep our philanthropic sector on their radar screens.”

Margaret “Peg” Talburtt, chief executive of the Lovelight Foundation, said, “Our focus is around sex trafficking and we were able to attend meetings with people at the (Department of Health & Human Services) and I think it was extremely productive. (FOTH) is an important event for everyone to attend.”

Diana Tarpoff, president of the R.E. Olds Foundation, added, “I believe it’s important for foundation leaders to sit down collectively with their congressional delegates and bring the important key issues that foundations and philanthropy are working on in Michigan. The personal stories and outcomes regarding our grant-making make a compelling case to work together with our representatives in the laws that they pass.”

Eileen Curtis, president/CEO of the Bay Area Community Foundation agreed.

“We had representatives from many foundations with us…and it painted a collaborative picture for when we went in to talk with the representatives and senators and were able to say, ‘This is philanthropy. This is what it looks like. And this is how we all collaborate,” said Curtis.

It wasn’t all trekking around the corridors of Congress, sharing philanthropic data and cajoling Michigan’s legislative leaders during the CMF-sponsored visit.

Johnson said she had a secondary mission while strolling the hallways and walkways of the nation’s capitol.

“I did have my eye out for Prince Charles and Camilla because they were in town at the same time we were, but unfortunately no royal spottings!”


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