Sunday, March 10, 2019

Fundraising: The New American Pastime

It's too bad that the tax laws changed right around the time that everyone became a fundraiser.

It was crazy enough when anyone could start their own 501 c 3. That at least required some knowledge, planning and goals.  But now, you too can become an Instant Fundraiser by creating a page on Kick-starter or GoFundMe, or some other platform from a fast growing list. Even my elderly relatives are raising money for a cause on Facebook.  Last week, I read that Instagram is getting a donate button.


I started out this post intending to complain about how hard nonprofit fundraising already is without every single person old enough to get on social media as competition. But then I got a Timehop notification of an old tweet asking why couldn't we give bigger tax breaks for donations that reduce the tax burden?

So I thought maybe I'd write instead about a new charitable taxing system that factors in average citizens as fundraisers.

Right now, all I have are questions.  Does it make sense to stagger tax benefits around what cause a donation goes to? For example, would it make any sense for a donor to get a bigger tax break if he/she gave money to a cause the government has to pay for? So, if you donated to a food bank, you would get a bigger tax break than if you gave to the symphony. Not that I have anything against the symphony, but I don't see anyone complaining about how many tax dollars are being spent on the symphony. The idea here would be to utilize the American desire to support a cause as tax relief.

Or take it even further, and say that a donation to a "teach a man to fish" effort got a bigger tax break than a "give a man a fish" effort, because prevention has a better ROI than intervention and warrants a larger tax break.  Or maybe, only donations that go towards charities that directly relieve government social programming are even eligible for a tax break.

As many as 87% of Americans donate according to this Gallup poll. Nearly everyone does, according to this report.  Combine that with American's "profound yearning to change the world," according to this great TED talk, and we might be on to something.

Americans hate paying taxes. They hate the IRS and they hate the idea that someone is cheating on their taxes or paying less taxes than they are, or both.  But they don't hate all taxes. Obviously, the majority of Americans understand the need for taxes to pay for things we collectively need and benefit from.  Where we get into trouble, is having to pay taxes for things things like social services.

Charitable deductions were established form the beginning in part as a way to to relieve taxes and help nonprofits. But faith in the system has damaged the efficacy of that plan. It's time for a reboot. Although there is evidence that nonprofits do a better job of providing social services than the government does, it's also a fact that the general public is as distrustful of the nonprofit sector as it is of the government. It's no wonder we struggle with proving value, producing outcomes.

I'm not saying that nonprofits should replace government, just that nonprofits that develop expertise in social service delivery are more likely to be effective than government at actually solving problems. Just like in the private sector. And further incentives to support those nonprofits could be a really good thing. 

I know little to nothing about taxes, other than how to how to fill in boxes on Turbo Tax and pay it to file for me. But I know a lot about nonprofits and social services and fundraising.  Fragmentation of funding has been eroding the effectiveness of social services for years.  This trend where everyone's a fundraiser is only going to lead to more problems with the stability and sustainability of critical nonprofit services.

I know a lot of people who’d be even more incentivized to raise money on social media if they knew they were reducing taxes and solving problems. It’s time to evolve the system.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Our kids need a break 

There’s something very wrong with kids being stressed out by extracurricular activities to the point they aren’t enjoying them.

A few weeks ago my 16 year old daughter, Zoe, was on her way to a choir competition. On the way there I asked her how she was feeling:

"I’m too busy. I need more time to do nothing," she said.  This made me worried, and a little sad. 

There’s been a lot of attention over the last decade or so around the over-scheduling of our children. If you think about it, it starts before they’re even born:  reading to them and choosing their schools while they’re still in utero and such. I’m not saying we shouldn’t do those things, but the foreshadowing might warrant caution. 

I never did much as a kid other than going to school, reading books and playing with my friends. We usually went on a vacation in August before school started back up. My siblings and I did nothing but play all summer and it was pretty glorious. We might have been bored at times, but then we found things to do, which, of course, helped develop things like resourcefulness, initiative taking, and creativity .

We also had chores, a lost art these days. In my house it’s a chore for me to wait for a time when Zoe's home to unload the dishwasher, pretty much her only household responsibility.

My parents might have put us in a bunch of programs if they’d thought about it, or could even afford it. I remember being briefly in the Girl Scouts at school, which mainly reinforced my love of reading. I got to go to summer camp for a week once, too, which was cool. I think my younger siblings did more things because my parents were more experienced by then, but I don't remember any over-scheduling.

I wonder about all this frenzied activity today, and who it’s for. In my 30 years of parenting, I’ve seen a lot of stressed out, resentful kids along the way, on soccer fields, in gyms and cafeterias, and on stages. They have so much pressure on them already to perform academically. And we heap on more responsibility all the time. Why?

I read an article recently that kids with "hyper-involved parents have more anxiety and less satisfaction with life."  I know these parents mean well, but it can’t be good to fill up every minute of our kid’s time.  The article goes on to say that "when children play unsupervised, they build social skills, emotional maturity and executive function."

Last year Zoe found out she was accepted into the National Honor Society. My initial feeling of pride quickly morphed into dismay because I know what a pain in the ass the required "volunteer hours" were going to be on top of school, theater and choir. But what kind of mom tells her kid she can’t be in the national honor society?

I know I sound ancient, harkening back to my school days, but I was in the honor society and I never had to do one second of volunteer work for it. It was something I was awarded because of all the hard work I’d ALREADY done to be such a stellar student. (Thank you very much.) It’s got to be confusing to tell a kid nowadays that they’re such a great student that they get to go do more work. "Hey kids, how’d you like to do more work that will in no way assist in improving your schoolwork, and may even end up interfering with your schoolwork at some point? Here, let me sign your form."

My daughter also feels like she doesn’t have enough time to be with friends. She has to schedule her friends, another thing that didn’t happen in my childhood. And she is more resentful than any normal teenager should have to be about spending time with family during school breaks. 

Which by the way, when did School Breaks stop being school breaks?

During pretty much any school holiday these days, I guarantee there is a practice or a rehearsal or a volunteer obligation on the schedule.  Sunday is the only day Zoe gets off from theater rehearsal, and they’ve even had a few of those along the way. I just can’t imagine my parents putting up with this. 

The high-jacking of school breaks is particularly egregious once kids get to high school. Over the last three years, Zoe’s father and I have had to come to terms with the fact that Zoe no longer has any free time for us to force her to endure family traditions to the degree that we tortured her much older sisters.

It sucks more for her dad than me, mostly because he does a lot more stuff. I’m kind of over-scheduled at a job that has things going on days and nights and weekends. I’m just grateful I can fit in all the chauffeur duties I’m required to perform for Zoe's activities. I can’t wait til she drives herself next year even though that means I will probably see her even less.  

It’s not that I think Zoe hates all her extracurricular activities. I know she loves performing in plays. I know she’d rather be at rehearsal than going to the lake for spring break. She’s told me so many times over the last couple of weeks. I just hope she’s becoming a more rounded person from all of it because I can see that she’s exhausted.  And I resent that school breaks are not school breaks anymore. Kids need time to recharge and rest their brains.