Tuesday, April 14, 2015

"Your Gift is Tax Deductible"

“Your Gift is Tax-deductible”

With this phrase—“Your gift is tax-deductible”—many novice fundraisers hope they have put forward the final unassailable argument for making a donation.  “Your gift is tax deductible” falls right after “We do good work” and “We help people” in the lexicon of not very useful arguments in favor of donating.

There are three problems with this phrase, and here they are in ascending order:

1) Your gift to any of the now 783,000 public charities (with 501(c)3 tax designation) that currently exist in the United States is tax deductible.  Tax deductibility does not make any one organization particularly special.
2) Your deduction is based on your tax bracket, so the higher the bracket the more you can deduct.  Seventy percent of Americans file a short form and, thus, do not get to deduct their donations.  That promise is simply not true for most of your donors.
3) Suggesting that a benefit of giving away money is that the government has less money should not be attractive except to anti-government ideologues.

The charitable deduction grew up alongside the introduction of income tax, which itself was first put into place to help pay for the Civil War.  The first income tax (2% on income greater than $4,000) was instituted in 1861 but a year later was ruled unconstitutional.  Years later, in 1913, the 16th Amendment was passed which gave Congress the legal authority to collect income taxes. The highest rate was set at 7%, and only the top 10% of wealthy Americans had to pay. In 1917, to pay for the cost of World War I, the top tax rate was raised to 77% and shortly after that, the charitable deduction was introduced to help the war effort by encouraging people to make donations to the War Chest and to the Red Cross.  Until 1944, everyone could take advantage of the charitable tax deduction, but to pay for World War Two (are you starting to see a pattern?) income tax was expanded and the highest tax bracket was set at 94%. However, only that portion of a person’s earnings above $400,000 were taxed at that rate.  

About 70% of all Americans had to pay some income tax and could deduct their charitable giving, but to simplify filing taxes, in 1944 Congress created the “standard deduction” which essentially gave all taxpayers a fixed amount they can deduct from their taxes. Currently, only about 30% of taxpayers are able to deduct more than the standard deduction of $6,200, and they are the only ones that actually receive any direct tax benefit for their donations.  In recent years, the highest tax bracket is only 35%, so even the very rich have far bigger and better loopholes for avoiding taxes than the charitable tax deduction.

All this helps to illustrate why I am most concerned about the point I raise in Problem #3: that taking money out of the tax stream and giving it to a non-profit should be seen as a positive action.  Let’s face it: any human being who lives in the United States and, from time to time, walks on the sidewalk, drives on a road, eats in a clean restaurant, takes the escalator instead of the stairs, or drinks clean water from a faucet, is the recipient of some of the good that taxes do. There is a giant infrastructure that makes life in this country possible, from ambulances to fire departments to public schools to national parks and more—all made possible by taxes.  Taxes are not perfect and they are certainly not perfectly levied.  No one agrees with all of the things taxes pay for and none of us are happy when some people (including corporate persons) don’t pay their share.  But imagine a country without taxes and think about the quality of life you would have there.

We who work and volunteer for nonprofit organizations have a particular stake in any tax discussion.  Many economists will tell you that they can predict how many homeless people a town will have, how good their schools will be, how thriving their arts and culture will be, even how well lit their streets will be, just by looking at their tax structure.  Taxes are a mirror of community values. Poor schools, inadequate health care, a degraded environment are all reflections on our current tax and budget structure.

The nonprofit sector is asked to pick up the pieces caused by poor tax policy.  Cuts in food stamps?  No problem—the food pantries will take care of that.  Terrible public schools?  No problem—PTAs will raise money for art program, music and libraries.  A minimum wage that does not keep you out of poverty?  That’s ok.  Nonprofits will fill in the gaps.

We have been asked to do more and more with less and less for decades.  We need to stop doing that.  We need to teach ourselves and our constituents what fair and just tax policy would look like, to think about what taxes could pay for that foundation grants and grassroots fundraising will never be able to cover, and we need to encourage people to be proud of the taxes we pay.

So this April 15, help a donor understand that the common good, the society we all want, requires appropriate taxation, and say with pride, “I LOVE TAXES.”   

Resources for this article and a lot more very helpful information:
http://ihearttaxes.org/hooraytaxes, www.compasspoint.org/nonprofitstalkingtaxes, www.nationalpriorities.org/,//toomuchonline.org/  

Thursday, April 2, 2015

A Commons View of a College Education
       I teach part time at UC Berkeley, and my classes are my favorite part of the week. So when I learned that the White House is proposing a program called “America’s College Promise,” where students could go tuition free for two years to community college, I was delighted.   But I have to question the reasons behind this important program, which have to do with earning power.
        The Pew Research Center has published a study showing the effect of a college education on salary. Their research shows that the median income for full time workers, ages 25-32, with a bachelor’s degree or higher is $45,500; with a two year degree or some college, $30,000; and for high school graduates, $28,000. Millenials with only a high school education are four times more likely to be unemployed than their college educated counterparts, and far more likely to be living in poverty (21.8% of millenials with a high school diploma live at or below the poverty line, compared to 5.8% of college graduates.)  www.pewsocialtrends.org/2014/02/11/the-rising-cost-of-not-going-to-college/sdt-higher-education-02-11-2014-0-01/)
       Since having a bachelor’s degree seems to make a great deal of difference in the financial quality of your life, it seems logical that getting as many young people into colleges and universities makes sense. A college degree is a commodity and a person who has one becomes more valuable than someone who does not.
From a commons point of view, there are three things wrong with this frame:
1) People should go to college because they want to learn things that can be learned there. Making a BA a ticket to higher pay means also that some majors (i.e. Business, Engineering) will be worth more than others (i.e. History, Comparative Literature). Many universities embrace this, requiring each major to be its own cost center which means that unless enough students major in that subject, it will not be taught. I majored in Religion and Classics—two areas of study no longer available at the college I attended because they didn’t generate enough money. Making a college degree a commodity undermines the very function of a higher education which, to paraphrase John Henry Newman, is to impart the tools to live a principled, significant and meaningful life and thereby to ultimately and collectively improve our society. A broad general education cultivates respect for the variety of different disciplinary approaches to the same questions.
     Simply speaking, we don’t want everyone majoring in hammers and seeing every problem as a nail.
2) There are hundreds of thousands of necessary jobs that do not require a college education, and the people that work in these jobs are often paid very poorly.  Further, there are many technical and vocational careers that require training and lead to certification that are not available from a college or university.  To maintain the commons, someone has to clean the public bathrooms and someone has to sweep the streets.  To maintain infrastructure, both private and public, someone has to understand plumbing and electricity. Contractors, roofers, gardeners, janitors, clerks, waiters, housekeepers:  this is all work that has to get done and someone is going to have to do it.
        The United States has fetishized a college degree as the path out of poverty and trained a generation of young people to go to college no matter the cost, the debt, or even the desire.  This will not provide a path out of poverty for all college graduates and it avoids the question of guaranteeing adequate compensation for other kinds of work.
3)  Not everyone wants to go to college. Some of my students have confided in me that they don’t want to be in college.  One said he wanted to be a plumber but he was the first in his immigrant family to be able to go to college and so he felt he had to.  Another said she liked the freedom of being a waitress and being able to pursue her art that way, but her parents did not see this as a legitimate choice.
       What I would rather see as America’s Promise is this:  anyone should be able to go to college who wants to and all young people should be encouraged to do so.  However income should not be based on education.   People should be able to make good money, with good benefits by doing work that needs to get done whether it requires a college education or not, (a lesson unions taught us years ago) and respect should be accorded to everyone who works to maintain, restore or improve our collective commons and our quality of life.  



Wednesday, March 18, 2015

How Howling Reminded me of Commons Values


     When I have writing or very focused work to do, I work from a studio behind my house.  Generally it is quiet and I have the added benefit of being able to take breaks and sit in my backyard.  Recently I started to hear a dog howling,  as if in great psychological pain or loneliness.  He would start with a low mournful howland gradually progress up the scale to a full throated cry of anxiety.  This would give way to a few actual barks, then he would settle down to moan.  This went on all day and sometimes into the evening.   I began to not be able to concentrate because I was so upset for this poor dog.
     Back up:  My partner and I had a dog for almost 17 years.  Brooklyn would bark incessantly and mindlessly if left outside and we faced neighbor complaints more than once.  I knew that Brooklyn was not being mistreated or neglected.  She loved to bark and we tried many methods to get her to stop. Ultimately we left her inside when we were gone so at least her barking would be muffled by the walls of the house.
      So I have a lot of sympathy with dog owners and I like dogs.  I also know that I tend to make up stories about what animals are feeling and thinking based on their behavior.  “Your cat just wants to sit on the couch and look out the window.” Or “Your dog is so sad you are going on vacation and didn’t pick a place you could take her.”  This drives people around me crazy and I do my best to keep my stories to myself.
    Coming back to the howling dog:   I knew that I could be making up a story that the dog was lonely although all the neighbors who heard him came to the same conclusion. I also concluded he was neglected, which led me to conclude his owners were terrible people.  Fortunately I live with someone who challenges me on my big leaps from one opinion to another.  “Maybe they work all day and don’t know that he howls,” she said. “Remember Brooklyn?”
I knocked on their door a couple of times but never found them home. I thought of calling the authorities.   I decided to write them a letter.  Channeling my partner and remembering the rule I have for myself (not strictly enforced),  “assume good intent,” I wrote a very nice letter and asked them to call or e-mail me with their response.
An e-mail came very soon.  “The dog belongs to our son and his wife, who is in the hospital.  I am attaching a video to show that the dog moans and whines even when he is with us.  He simply misses his owners and he has to stay with us until she is out of the hospital.  I am so sorry he is bothering you.”
I felt a wave of relief and shame.  I had a made an entire movie starring a noble dog living with self-absorbed narcissistic creeps rescued by yours truly, the hero.  I resolved (again) to follow a rule of a commons based life:  “Do unto others…”  





Thursday, February 26, 2015

Seeking a New Meaning of "Independent"


     If you are around my age (61) and having a living parent or parents, you are probably spending a lot of time dealing with the issues they are having  which is very different from simply visiting with them.
     My mother is 88 and lives on her own.  She manages with the help of a part time caregiver and very good health care provided by Medicare and Kaiser.  (I can be critical of both of these systems but overall they work well for her.)  She can’t hear very well and has gradually lost most of her sight to macular degeneration.  Certainly she cannot read or see anything in print that is less than a large thick headline.  She is unsteady on her feet, having broken her hip last summer and has some heart problems.  But she eats well, enjoys company, follows Downton Abbey closely and watches the PBS NewsHour. 
      I have one sibling and neither of us lives near my mother.  We visit almost every other month and sometimes spend considerable time with her.  One of us and often both of us talk to her every day and sometimes several times.  My sister also handles a lot of other arrangements for her.    
     What bugs me most about my mother’s situation is the way that people say, “She was so independent before.  It is so sad that she is so reliant on others.”  Or, “Your poor mother has lost her freedom and now has to ask people to help her.  How awful.” 
      I feel it is the essence of individualism and one of the many toxic consequences of capitalism, that independence and freedom is equated with not having to ask for things.  The notion that my mother or any person in the world is not reliant on others is a joke. We rely on others every minute of every day—I rely on people to obey traffic laws, to keep their dogs on leashes or under voice control, to hold the door for me when I am carrying too many things.  I panic when my internet goes down for 20 minutes and I can’t reach the IT person.  I believe that what I buy at the Farmer’s Market is organic because they say it is, and that the electrician who fixed the wiring under my house did so because he said he did.  I rely on my knowledge that I have good friends and that my partner loves me.  I rely on access to air and to clean water in order to even have a life in which I can rely on my cat to make me laugh.  My life is only possible because of a other people, nature and systems. 
My mother has always relied on others.  And others have relied on her.  For example, my mother knows everything about how city planning and zoning laws work in her community.  Her neighbors rely on that knowledge and to this day, some of the people who come to visit are coming for advice.
     The reason that individualism and capitalism want my mother to be seen as “losing her independence” is so that she can become a commodity—part of the “aging market.”  She can then be sold many things:  security systems, annuities, all kinds of living options for prices that can reach stratospheric levels, medicine, therapies, and more and more products designed for elderly people.  To be sure, many of these are helpful but even the helpful products (like a lightweight walker) is marketed to my mother as an individual so she can get places without asking for help.
      As I watch my mother age, I realize than an essential element of creating  a commons based society  has to be the willingness of each person to ask for what they need (or to meet needs without being asked.)   The act of asking is an expression of freedom and independence.  Our refusal to be turned into a commodity will be sorely tested in the next 20-30 years as Baby Boomers age.  We can use our aging process to really promote a commons based society—where everyone recognizes what they need and what they can offer: or as David Bollier puts it, “as communities with shared, long term, non market interests.”  Or we can become a commodity to be bought and sold in a very and profitable market. 
(This is an interesting article which touches on the latter: www.inc.com/christina-desmarais/6-companies-profiting-from-an-aging-population.htm).


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Fatty On the Commons

Note from Kim Klein: 
     This week I am very pleased to introduce a guest blogger, Amy Benson.  Amy is Project Coordinator at CompassPoint Nonprofit Services and I got to know her because she was an early adapter of the idea of talking about the commons in the context of nonprofit work.  She is a friend and colleague and a very strong ally with my pet project, Nonprofits Talking Taxes.  Amy provided a lot of thought guidance for that project as well as an enormous amount of technical support.  Among other things, she asked me to consider the impact of a common nickname I was using for a proposed tax on soda.  The nickname was ‘the obesity tax.’   Thanks to her we stopped using it and came to see how this discussion belongs squarely in the commons.

Fatty On the Commons
Hi, my name is Amy, and I’m fat.  I’m also attractive, nice, and funny (and humble!), and if you were standing here with me right now, odds are, you would try to argue with my opening sentence.  People hear the word “fat” and all kinds of unflattering assumptions come to mind.  I suspect that’s why people argue with me when I try to state a very basic fact, saying “no, you’re not fat! Don’t say that about yourself!”  It’s absurd.  I’m 5’7” and I weigh about 275 lbs.  I’m fat.

If you’re uncomfortable saying or even hearing that word, then we have some talking to do.

I assume you're here "on the commons" because you're interested in co-creating a space that's welcoming to all people.  You wouldn't want the commons to be hostile or uncomfortable for fat people, right?  As a person who's navigated plenty of fat shame in my life, and as a person who's been Fat Activist for the last 15 years or so, I have some tips and ideas for our work together to make sure the commons is welcoming to people of all shapes and sizes.

1. Don't medicalize fat.  Words like "overweight" and "obese" assume fatness is a medical problem.  Do you assume fat people are unhealthy?  That is a very common myth!  Many many resources* exist to debunk that notion, so we’re not getting into it here (because the commons should actually be available to people regardless of how much wellness they’ve got, right?).  Your choice of words can be tricky, though, since a lot of fat people don’t embrace the word “fat”.  Other possibilities include thick, curvy, chubby, chunky, fluffy, voluptuous, big, BBW/BHM, or something else that doesn't imply there's such a thing as a "normal" weight.  In a fat positive perspective, the word “overweight” doesn’t make any more sense than “overheight” as a synonym for tall.  Weight diversity is a normal part of human diversity.

2. Challenge your assumptions about fat people.  Think of the stereotypes you hold about fat and fat people.  What if you had to say them out loud to a fat person you know?   Consider that you may be unconsciously communicating those biases to the people around you.  We can tell (sometimes) when you're silently judging us.  It's okay, don't get lost in a shame spiral.  We've all been affected by fat phobic messages.  Start noticing when you're making assumptions about fat bodies or using fat-negative language, and ask yourself to stop.
This can be extremely difficult when it comes to our own bodies, especially if you're fat.  Seek out fat community, fat-positive photography and fashion, fat-affirming books**.  Notice the diversity of bodies around you in the world!
*Note, as you take this journey, and start challenging stereotypes in your mind, it's normal to want to talk about your transformation.  Please do not tell a fat person about how you used to stereotype them or people who look like them!  Those gory details are hurtful.  If you must discuss, tell a thin person who understands the changes you’re trying to make but hasn’t been as impacted by weight oppression.

3. Use your positions of influence and power to hire fat people, promote fat people, introduce fat people to influential people in your field, invite fat people to serve on boards, use fat people in your advertising in respectful ways (no headless fatties! hyperlink: http://charlottecooper.net/publishing/digital/headless-fatties-01-07/), go see fat dancers and actors and performers, elect fat people...and make sure you have chairs and bathrooms to accommodate us!

4 - Incorporate an intersectional approach in creating a space free from size hostility
Fat oppression affects people differently depending on race, class, age, gender, ability and disability.  As you reflect on your biases and notice the structural advantages and disadvantages in the world around you, notice how these factors interact.  Systems of oppression enforce the idea that one type of body is better than another one.  We must challenge and dismantle all these heirarchies if we ever hope to take advantage of the full brilliant potential of the commons.

There's a lot to be gained for people of all sizes by changing the way we think and feel about fat.  We could get better health care, if our medical professionals weren’t invested in blaming any and all problems on fat.  We could stop competing with each other in a beauty culture where there is just one (thin, white, young) beauty ideal, and start appreciating the diversity of human beauty that’s around us all the time.  We could start living our lives more fully!  I know far too many people who won’t take a vacation or a dance class or a date until they lose some weight.

When I picture the commons, fat people are there and we’re smiling.  We’re smiling because we know the commons is a safe place for fat people, and that no one will try to take away our humanity by reducing us to a stereotype.  What do you picture?

* Resources about health and weight:
http://thisisthinprivilege.tumblr.com/post/34585445513/a-reminder-about-the-bmi
http://www.haescommunity.org/
http://kateharding.net/faq/but-dont-you-realize-fat-is-unhealthy/
http://redefiningbodyimage.tumblr.com/post/17770763679/big-fat-list-of-myth-defying-health-resources

**Some of my favorite fat-positive resources:
http://thebodyisnotanapology.com/
http://nolose.org/
http://adipositivity.com/
http://www.virgietovar.com/

Thursday, February 5, 2015

"The Needs of the Many Outweigh the Needs of the Few"

Vaccination and the Common Good:  The Limits of Individual Rights

I start with two facts and a belief: 
1) I do not have children.
2) I have been vaccinated. 
 3)    The measles vaccine is safe and very effective.    
     The recent measles outbreak which started at Disneyland and is spreading daily to more and more states, brings back a disease declared almost eliminated in 2000 in the United States.  It is so rare that many health professionals don’t know how to recognize it.   
        Several Republican presidential candidates have jumped on this issue, pandering to their anti-government base, by saying this is an issue of individual and  parental rights. Chris Christie first said, “parents should have some measure of choice about vaccination” although later came out in favor of vaccination.  Rand Paul claims to know many normal children who “wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.” Is he referring to his Republican colleagues?  Seriously,  they want to let people make their own decisions about vaccination but not about abortion.  Sometimes I wonder if they even listen to themselves.       
       There was no vaccine for measles when I was a child.  Getting measles, mumps and chickenpox was part of childhood. It was better to get these diseases as kids and then be immune to them as adults.  Measles was particularly scary because it is so contagious and can be quite dangerous.  When I was nine, I wound up having measles and chickenpox at the same time.  I lay in my bed for many days, taking baths in oatmeal to soothe the itching from the chicken pox (I can still hear my mother say, “don’t scratch or you will be scarred for LIFE!”).  The doctor came to our house and made clucking noises.  There was nothing to do but live through it.   And I did!   The measles vaccine was introduced the following year, in 1963. 
       Wikipedia says,  “The benefit of measles vaccination in preventing illness, disability, and death has been well documented. The first 20 years of licensed measles vaccination in the U.S. prevented an estimated 52 million cases of the disease and 5,200 deaths. During 1999–2004, a strategy led by the World Health Organization and UNICEF led to improvements in measles vaccination coverage that averted an estimated 1.4 million measles deaths worldwide.”  
You get vaccinated for two reasons: 
1) to prevent getting the disease yourself;
2) to help prevent others from getting it, particularly those people who cannot be vaccinated.
     The first reason falls clearly into the camp of individual choice—I can get vaccinated or not, or I can make this decision on behalf of my children who cannot make it for themselves.  

        The second is about the common good.  If you have decided not to get vaccinated and you catch a disease that is preventable by a vaccine, you live with the decision you made. Your choice, and none of my business.  But the problem is that you put everyone around you who cannot get vaccinated (babies, people with suppressed immune systems, the elderly) at risk of catching the disease from you.   When the vast majority of people are vaccinated, it creates what is called a “community” or “herd” immunity.  According to Dr. Robert Siegal, a professor immunology at Stanford, herd immunity brought about by large scale vaccination contains the spread of an infectious pathogen to one or two people.  It is essentially a firewall.  When one person gets sick with measles, the virus bumps harmlessly off those who are vaccinated.   This is particularly important with infectious diseases that can be symptomless.  For example, most people infected with the polio virus have no signs of illness and are never aware that they have been infected. These symptomless people carry the virus in their intestines and can unknowingly spread the infection to thousands of others before the first case of polio paralysis emerges. This is why even one case of polio is considered an epidemic.(http://www.polioeradication.org/Polioandprevention)  Because of the Salk vaccine, we have not had a case of polio in the United States since 1979. (http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd-vac/polio/dis-faqs.html) 
     From a commons point of view, the limits of individual rights are very clear in the arena of public health.  A person acting alone cannot achieve hygiene and sanitation, clean air and surface water, uncontaminated food and drinking water, safe roads and products, and control of infectious disease.  And yet, everyone needs these.   Each of these collective goods, and many more, are achievable only by organized and sustained community activities. 
     Or, as Spock says in Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.  Or the one.”  

Friday, January 23, 2015

How Income Inequality Affects Fundraising


        Income inequality has been in the news quite a bit for the last several years, and during that time, it has only grown worse.  The United States has the dubious distinction of being the most unequal developed country in the world and our inequality even surpasses many less developed countries.  The situation is so bad that Janet Yellen, head of the Federal Reserve Bank, (not an institution known for its socialist tendencies), said in a major speech, “I think it is appropriate to ask whether this trend (inequality) is compatible with values rooted in our nation’s history, among them the high value Americans have traditionally placed on equality of opportunity.” She noted that income and wealth disparity are near the highest levels in 100 years and probably much higher than for much of American history before then.  Sadly, she offered few solutions, but that she even spoke about it is striking.
To give you a sense of just what this means, look at these startling facts:
--From 2009, the beginning of the so-called recovery, until now, 95% of all the national income gains went to the top 1%  (from economist Emmanual Saez (reported in Poverty and Race, Vol 23, #2, April 2014):
--The bottom 80% of Americans have seen an income drop of about 30% since the 1970’s.  (http://currydemocrats.org/american-pie/)
--Half of the US population lives in or near poverty.  (Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Income_inequality_in_the_United_States)
And the facts go on and on.  Follow any of these links, and you will read even more depressing statistics.
       For people who work in nonprofits, income inequality has another consequence, which is that our donors are also increasingly unequal in their ability to give, regardless of their desire to help.
For organizations that rely on foundation grants, the news is mixed.  As long as the market holds, foundation funding will be available, although since foundation funding is only 15% of the total money given in the private sector, that is not enough to fund even a fraction of the number of organizations that will be applying. If the market corrects (a good thing and generally temporary) or if it crashes again (the market goes down and investors begin to flee, generally leading to a recession), foundation giving will once again go down. Because grantmaking is tied to market returns on endowment investments, foundation giving goes up when organizations need it least (when the economy is on an upswing) and down when they need it most (when the economy is doing poorly).
         However, for the thousands of nonprofits that rely, even in part, on a broad base of donors, income inequality is a big problem. Already many of my clients are reporting that while their donors are still giving, they are shaving down the size of their gifts. So $50 donors are giving $40, $35 are giving $25, and so on.  The bottom 90% will continue to give, and will give as generously as they always have, but their giving will reflect that they have less money than they used to.  John Havens, associate director of the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College, notes, “the average household donation of the middle class and poor has declined from $1,156 in 2006 to $977 in 2012. These folks really have not recovered from the recession.”  Other studies show that the poor and middle class gave a bigger share of their income to charity in 2012 than in 2006, however, that does not show up as an increase because their income fell during that period. On the other hand, wealthy people decreased the share of their income that went to charity but their overall giving increased by $4.6 billion because their income surged so much.  (CSM  Weekly, ‘Giving Rates Reveal US Income Gap’ Nov 24, 2014, pg 34)
           Inequality affects younger donors even more.  An Urban Institute study from March 2013 reported that while the net worth of those people 47 and older is roughly double that of someone the same age 27 years earlier, today’s adults in the mid-30s or younger have accumulated no more wealth than their counterparts 27 years ago. Specifically, those ages 29 to 37 actually lost significant ground; they saw their average net worth drop 21% between 1983 and 2010. The study’s authors blame stagnant wages, diminishing job opportunities and lost home values during the great Recession, which hit the younger generation the hardest.
        We also know that income inequality causes a psychological reaction in a donor’s willingness to give.  When people for whom $100 or $250 is a large gift are surrounded by stories of mega gifts ($1 million donations are now common), they begin to feel that their donations are not worth making, particularly when they have less money than they used to.  
       So given all this cheerful news, what should your organization do to address the effects of income inequality on fundraising?
1) Learn what fair and just tax policy would look like. We must reverse the redistribution of wealth that is placing the majority of wealth in the hands of the fewest people, and the only way to do that is through progressive tax policies.  Yet most of us don’t really have a lot of opinions about what and how much any person or corporation should pay in taxes.
2) Make sure you thank all your donors and that you truly value all gifts.  This requires focusing on donors and not just donations.  Tell stories of how smaller gifts have made a difference in your work, and how aggregating small donations leads to big change.   Consider not putting your biggest donor’s names in big print and your smaller donors in small print, but rather listing them all in alphabetical order.  (You will have far fewer anonymous donors if you do this.)
3) Focus a lot of attention on your monthly or recurring donors.  People who can’t afford $200 all at once often can afford $20/month.
4) Make sure that common ordinary people feel invited to donate to your organization.  If your newsletters and reports just focus on foundation funding or your corporate sponsors, ordinary people will not think, “I could be a donor.”
        Many social scientists and economists believe that income inequality is one of the most corrosive problems a society can face.  Nonprofits are already being called on to handle the poverty, health, education and environmental problems caused or exacerbated by the widening gap between rich and poor.  We must also show leadership in proposing lasting structural change that will close this gap.  For too long, fundraising programs have simply tried to adapt to whatever was going on in the economy, but now we have to lead the way out of this unequal society—engaging our organizations, our donors, and our sector to agitate and advocate  for real change.
(This blog post is similar to an article I just published in the Klein and Roth e-newsletter:  www.kleinandroth.com/newsletters)