Thursday, June 26, 2008

Giving USA 2008 Highlights Are Now Available

On Monday (6/23), Giving USA issued a press release providing an overview of this year’s annual survey. The report is based on a survey of 366 charities conducted by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. It is considered the authoritative resource on this subject. Since it has been conducted annually in a consistent manner it also provides excellent data about trends in giving.

The biggest finding is that charitable giving in the United States exceeded $300 billion in 2007 for the first time in history and that giving increased in every subsector studied. Giving USA 2008 suggests that a strong start to the economy in 2007 helped lift giving but there is concern among charities that such issues as rising prices and the housing and mortgage crises will affect 2008 giving.

One interesting finding is that giving by living individuals increased 2.7 percent in 2007, and at $229 Billion, represents nearly three-quarters of all giving in the U.S. But, charitable bequests are estimated to be $23.15 billion - a much higher increase of 6.9 percent. This would seem to indicate the growing interest by charities in planned giving, including wills, designated annuities and other creative ideas is taking traction.

Unfortunately the full report is pricey with various options including hard copy book, ebook, presentation only, CD of presentation, newsletter, etc. The price range is about $70 - $270 depending on what you sign up for.

In the interest of transparency I must say that this blog post is based on the press release and other news reports. I have not read the full report – I am just providing an overview here. You can visit their website for purchase details.

Giving USA

Marion Conway Consulting

Monday, June 23, 2008

Visionary Leadership and the Critical Skill of Listening

Recently Philanthropy Journal issued a Special Report on professional development for nonprofits and covered three topics:

Fundraising: Basics, training and mentoring
Leadership: The art of listening and explaining
Management: Understanding the nuts and bolts
Philanthropy Journal Professional Development Article

The report inspired me to write about Leadership and Listening. Gene Tempel, executive director of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University is quoted “Leading is not just having a vision and pulling people in a certain direction. It involves a lot of listening, as well as explaining….. When people articulate a vision and it works, it's because it resonates with those who hear it. That means you've listened carefully to a lot of people and they see themselves in there."

These comments dovetail well with my favorite author on leadership and nonprofits, Burt Nanus, who said that “Good leaders are good askers as well as great listeners." In ”Leaders Who Make a Difference” he discusses the importance of shared vision and says: “The right vision will reflect the distinctive character and culture of the organization and will leverage its history and network of connections.”

I firmly believe that listening skills are essential for a visionary leader and critical for weaving the right tone into a shared vision. It isn’t always evident that a visionary leader has great listening skills because listening skills are “quiet” and don’t jump out at us like being a good speaker does.

Here are a couple of exercises that can help develop listening skills:

1. Don’t multitask when listening. I know that this is hard to do and I am personally a serious multi-tasker. But I do know that if I am checking email when on a conference call I am not listening at the level I should be.

2. Acknowledge the person speaking to you with a nod of a head or “I see.” You can also summarize your understanding of what has been said.

3. Ask clarifying questions.

4. Don’t feel that you have to fill up a momentary silence when someone pauses to think for a moment.

These cues signal that you are listening and interested will encourage the speaker and help you stay “tuned in.”
Marion Conway Consulting

Monday, June 16, 2008

Advisory Board Weighs in on New 990 - A Must Read for Those Interested in Nonprofit Finance and Governance Issues

By now everyone knows that the IRS has adopted a new 990 Form. It has a series of questions that pertains to governance issues that are not legal requirements. The IRS went through an exhaustive process in developing the new form and maintained a website for months where anyone could post their comments. You can check out my post in August 2007 on this topic or my Fall 2007 Newsletter for more details.

Marion Conway Consulting Newsletters

The Advisory Committee on Tax Exempt and Government Entities (ACT) which has a formal advisory role to the IRS has weighed in on the new 990 in a 112 page report:
Advisory Committee on Tax Exempt and Government Entities Report

Please note that this is the second of several reports included in this pdf file and begins on page 83 of the file. The report is entitled “The Appropriate Role of the IRS with Respect to Tax-Exempt Organization Good Governance Issues.” Here are some highlights:

ACT acknowledges the IRS’s legitimate interest in governance issues as they relate to compliance with the law and applauds the transparent and open process used to develop the new form. But it expressed concern and urged the IRS to approach governance with caution. First of all ACT recognizes that the same set of governance standards cannot be a one size fits all applicable equally to a small food pantry and large hospital yet the same questions apply to both. ACT challenges the premise that having specific governance practices results in greater compliance with tax laws. Some highlights of the recommendations include:
•The IRS should continue to work collaboratively with the tax exempt community in connection with its governance initiatives. Specific governance practices should be mandated only in limited circumstances.
•The closer the nexus to tax compliance, the more appropriate the governance inquiry or recommendation.
•The IRS should explain the specific relationship between tax compliance and each governance practice about which it is inquiring or which it is addressing.
•Consistency and fair treatment is critical.
•Education, implemented thoughtfully, is more appropriate than pressuring change.

The report makes it clear that ACT thinks that the attitude of responsibility and accountability in regard to governance is more important than complying with a list of practices.

The report acknowledges that governance is an appropriate issue in five points of contact with the IRS and provides commentary on each point of contact:
1.Creating standards for exemption
2.Determination of exemption
3.Examination or other compliance initiatives
4.990 reporting
5.Education and outreach

The report has extensive references including an IRS educational publication about the new 990 and the Independent Sector 2007 landmark report on good governance in 2007.
I may cover this in more detail in a newsletter later this summer but that enough for now. Whew!
Independent Sector

Marion Conway Consulting