News and analysis
November 07, 2012

Nonprofit Leaders' Advice to the President

How Obama Can Ensure a Healthy Nonprofit Environment

Nonprofit leaders have lots of ideas for President Obama in his second term. Today and over the next few days, we'll offer some of their views and encourage you to join in with your own ideas in the comments section.

Angel A. Aloma

Preserve the charitable deduction and nonprofit postal rates.

Treat us with respect and protect us from government initiatives that would create hardship for our sector, such as diminishing the tax deduction for charitable gifts or reducing nonprofit postal discounts. Both of these measures would create financial havoc for charities, drastically reducing our ability to fulfill our missions and leaving the financial burden on government to fill the resulting gigantic social vacuum.

Respect cannot be demanded; it has to be earned. The charitable sector has earned it with sweat, blood, and tears. We devote our lives to protecting the invisible, the voiceless, and the disadvantaged, whether human, animal, or environmental.

—Angel A. Aloma, executive director, Food for the Poor; chairman, Government Affairs Committee, Direct Marketing Association Nonprofit Federation

Adam Meyerson

Urge Americans to give more.

Challenge Americans to increase charitable giving from 2 percent to 3 percent of gross domestic product—an additional $150-billion a year.

Federal safety-net programs have dramatically reduced hunger, homelessness, and other forms of material poverty. Unfortunately, millions of Americans now feel trapped at the bottom of the economic ladder. There is not much government can do to repair the social fabric, put families back together, or restore optimism in the American Dream. That is primarily the work of cultural institutions and civil society: religious congregations, mentoring programs, microfinance lenders, character-teaching programs such as youth sports and scouting. A new infusion of philanthropy could make a huge difference.

One of the greatest success stories of charitable giving in our times is the growth of charter-school and religious-school networks where low-income children excel academically. But we don’t have enough of them. Increases in private giving could increase these success stories and help public-school systems replicate their success.

—Adam Meyerson, president, Philanthropy Roundtable

Ellen Moir

Help us spread our programs more broadly.

America’s social sector operates as an engine of innovation to address our most pressing needs. Too often, these solutions are applied narrowly, in one location, with one population, and have only a fraction of the potential impact.

While the federal government’s capacity to get these ideas adopted more broadly may be limited, the president must encourage nonprofits, the private sector, and government to work collectively toward greater outcomes. The Social Innovation Fund should continue. Through a modest federal investment, it attracts private dollars and helps high-impact nonprofits expand their work. The expertise of social entrepreneurs and nonprofit organizations should be tapped to shape public policy, inform decisions that affect a broader population, and actively partner with public-sector institutions to start and implement research-based programs.

—Ellen Moir, founder, New Teacher Center

Larry Kramer

Do more to help us with overhead and sharing information.

Require that funding for social programs be evidence-based, or do more to ensure that government support adequately covers overhead. How about fixing the grotesquely inadequate system for sharing information about nonprofits? (Seriously, does anyone find the Form 990 tax document helpful?)

But in the current political environment, it may be enough—and is, sadly, a lot—to ask the president simply to follow the principle of primum non nocere, “first do no harm.” That means preserving the charitable deduction and avoiding burdensome new regulations that soak up scarce resources for no good reason. Better still, the president could remind people that what Alexis de Tocqueville said about civil society in 1840 is no less true today: The independent sector is an essential part of American democracy. We need nonprofits to tackle problems that government and business either cannot or will not, and we count on them to test new methods and try new approaches to solving persistent social challenges.

Political stalemate may impede an affirmative agenda, but the president can and should at the very least safeguard this precious asset.

—Larry Kramer, president, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

More ideas from this series

Promote a Strong Future for Citizens Around the World

Foster America's Economic Might

Help the Vulnerable