Why Should Nonprofits Care About Tax Policy and Reform?

By guest blogger Kim Klein, Building Movement Project

“Taxes, after all, are dues that we pay for the privileges of membership in an organized society.” Franklin D. Roosevelt

I teach nonprofits how to raise money, and every day I get calls from various kinds of good causes needing more funding.  In the last ten years, way too many of those calls have been from organizations that should be funded by taxes, but have suffered from the budget cuts that are the result of unjust tax policies all over the country.  Public schools, public parks, arts and culture, and an enormous range of human service agencies providing food, shelter, job training and health care have to raise more and more money every year to keep up with budget cuts and the increased numbers of people needing services.

Most nonprofits have not fought these cuts, and we certainly have not fought them together as a sector.  Schools fight for education funding, health care for health funding, and arts for art funding. But for the most part, the staff and boards of nonprofits seem to feel there is little they can do to affect tax and budget policy.  Further, in my experience, most staff really don’t have many opinions about how taxes should be structured, who should pay what, and what is fair or not fair in our current structure.  In fact, most of the time when I say “Do you think taxes should pay for this?” I get a blank look and the person has no opinion at all.  We have to change this.

The nonprofit sector is huge and is made possible by taxes—not just government grants, but also the numerous tax benefits we enjoy in the form of tax exemption.  Further nonprofits employ 10% of the workforce.  We are an enormous economic driver.

I believe the non-profit sector has a critical role to play in creating and maintaining a democratic society, and that a progressive tax structure, including accountability for the use of tax funding, is fundamental to building healthy communities.  I have found a number of people who agree with me and we have formed a loose coalition called “Nonprofit Voices.”  Our goal is to reach out to nonprofit staff all over California with a presentation called “Show Me the Money:  Changing the Inequalities in California’s Tax Policy.”  We believe that ordinary people, with a little information, can understand enough about tax policy to make good choices when they vote, and to advocate for a tax structure that works for everyone.

The leaders in this coalition are the California Pan Ethnic Health Network, CompassPoint Nonprofit Services, and the Building Movement Project.  Our goal is to reach 25,000 or more nonprofit staff in the next year with this presentation and to simply ask nonprofit staff to talk about taxes and to explore what kind of tax structure will more closely mirror our values than the one we have.

“Taxes, after all, are dues that we pay for the privileges of membership in an organized society.” Franklin D. Roosevelt

If you would like more information about this project or would like to be part of it, contact me:  kim@kleinandroth.com.

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