Friday, August 17, 2012

Make the Common Good a Common Conversation

For almost a decade now, I have become increasingly aware of how the voters’ perceptions of taxes influences who gets elected, who in turn influence voters.  Each year of this century, the United States has moved to a more and anti-tax, anti-government stand except for taxes that pay for the military or Social Security and Medicare.  (And now, with Paul Ryan on the Republican ticket, the latter are in serious danger of both privatized and cut.) 

 For the first five years of the 21st century, I puzzled over what I could do to have any influence on a such a huge topic.  With the help of many other people, I decided on a course of action which has been very successful.   Through the Building Movement Project and CompassPoint Nonprofit Services,  two colleagues and I created “Nonprofits Talking Taxes.”  We reasoned that 1) we had access to nonprofits and 2) nonprofit staff and board are probably not completely anti-tax since our ability to exist at all depends on the tax structure,  3)  many nonprofits rely on government grants to do our work, and 4) we knew how to create fun and interesting training on a topic that many people immediately think will be boring.

 We also looked at the math of how many people vote in any given election, particularly on specific tax issues (millages, bonds, property tax increases, sales tax increases and the like) and found that the actual number was very low, often lower than the number of people who worked for nonprofits.  Clearly, nonprofit staff were voting at the same low rate as the public at large.  And why?  We believe one big reason is that we never take the time to really have a robust and civil conversation about taxes:  about what should be funded publicly and what should be funded by foundations, corporations or individuals.   About the role of government in taking care of people who can’t fully take care of themselves.  In short we don’t talk deeply and honestly about the common good.   Our tagline, “Make the Common Good a Common Conversation” reflects our point of view.

 In doing some research about how other organizations were approaching this topic, we discovered a range of excellent popular education materials and a lot of information telling nonprofit staff and board that they should vote and why, generally aimed at federal tax policy.  We decided to limit ourselves to our state, California, which also happens to be the world’s 8th largest economy. 

 Since we started the project we have reached almost 3000 people through workshops, webinars, and social media.  I have given keynotes on the topic and we are more and more stressing the need for nonprofits to take our place as stewards and promoters of the common good.  We encourage people to check out the video below giving a short demonstration of the training and to visit our website for more information.  If you live in California, you can request a training.  If you live in another state, maybe you want to do something similar and we are happy to help.

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