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Philanthropy posse rides again

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By Todd Cohen

Nonprofit leaders talk about “the sector” as if it were unified.

Far from it: The nonprofit sector is a sprawling, fragmented, poorly regulated marketplace, a kind of frontier town with a weak sheriff.

Ruling the streets are rich foundations and their hired guns, a self-selected posse of trade groups and consultants.

Answering to philanthropic wealth, the posse seems to believe it speaks for all charities.

It does not.

Consider the fight in Congress over plans to spur charitable giving and toughen charitable policing, reported in The New York Times.

Groups like the Council on Foundations and United Way of America favor the plans.

But conservative foundations, saying the posse kowtows to powerful lawmakers, oppose proposals to subject more types of foundation investments to an excise tax.

Independent Sector chief Diana Aviv complains conservatives are dividing the nonprofit sector by pushing their own interests.

Yet the Independent Sector-led Panel on the Nonprofit Sector fiercely opposes separate proposals to make foundations distribute more of their assets.

If it truly wants to strengthen “the sector,” the posse should stop pandering to powerful foundations and lawmakers, and instead push for stronger policing and greater philanthropic investment in nonprofit operations, programs and policy work.


Todd Cohen is the Editor and Publisher of the Philanthropy Journal.

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