The New Year Brings Far Less Optimism for Nonprofits than the Past

OpEd by Marnie Taylor, President and CEO

Typically, each new year brings a sense of optimism for charitable nonprofits. This year will be different. At the end of 2017, Congress passed a sweeping overhaul of our tax structure that could leave the nonprofit sector out in the cold. As the Center for Nonprofits has communicated, the reforms could cost the sector nearly $20 billion in charitable giving decreases because of the doubling of the standard deduction. Worse yet, a recent study from George Washington University estimated that this will result in a loss of more than 220,000 nonprofit sector jobs.

Not included in the tax reform package was language that would have weakened the Johnson Amendment and allowed nonprofits to endorse political candidates. Unfortunately, this remains a threat, as this language will certainly make its way into other packages or in a stand-alone bill. This would be a devastating blow to the sector should it pass.

More worrisome are potential budgetary cuts in domestic spending – particularly to programs that help children, the elderly and the disabled. Congress will most likely resume an examination of the nation’s budget and cut spending to programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, CHIP and other programs that support the budgets of hundreds of thousands of nonprofits nationwide that deliver those services. Individuals could lose lifelines to basic needs should the budget’s domestic spending line items be slashed.

And in Oklahoma, we are gearing up for another legislative session that will most likely be challenging as we attempt to erase budget gaps and find sources of revenue to support the basic needs of Oklahomans.

If you haven’t started the conversation, now is the time to have frank dialogue among all nonprofit stakeholders – board members, staff, volunteers, donors and consumers. Organizations must be prepared to analyze their respective situations and communicate upcoming risks to mitigate the changes that will affect the sector. Oklahoma relies heavily on its nonprofits to do the heavy lifting in our communities. What would it look like if there were a 10 or even 20 percent cut to services and funding in the future?

This year, nonprofits must engage in public policy matters that could affect your mission. From tax reform that will affect our charitable contributions and our bottom lines to funding cuts at both the federal and state levels that could potentially and radically change our business models, nonprofits should prepare now for an uncertain future.

We say repeatedly, “if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,” and we follow that by saying “if they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring your own folding chair.” Nonprofits have to get themselves to the table. This is the year to build strong relationships with your policy makers at the local, state and federal levels. Utilize your board connections. And most importantly, use your advocacy voice. Policy makers need to hear from us now more than ever.

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