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Nonprofit news roundup – Week of 05.21.07

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* Defense Department troop-support group “America Supports You” is facing an inspector general’s inquiry, The New York Times reported May 12. The three-year-old Pentagon program, created to encourage grass-roots efforts to help soldiers and their families, may have improperly assisted a private foundation created by Bush appointees, and may have used Pentagon funds intended for other purposes.

* President Bush has signed a Red Cross overhaul bill that will trim and reorganize the charity’s “unwieldy” board of governors in hopes of avoiding future problems that hampered its response to Hurricane Katrina, the Associated Press reported May 11. On May 29, IRS Commissioner Mark Everson will step down to become the new chief executive of the Red Cross.

* Gary M. Beer, the founding chief executive of Smithsonian Business Ventures, has resigned amid internal and congressional inquiries into his management, his expense account and the promotions of a female subordinate, the Washington Post reported May 17. The success of the Smithsonian’s business unit has been hotly debated, and a controversial deal Beer orchestrated with Showtime, which awarded access to the museum’s collections in exchange for potential deal worth $99 billion over 30 years, has been criticized by museum officials.

* Nonprofits may lose a lucrative tax loophole as Congress seeks to capture more than $100 billion in lost tax revenue, The New York Times reported May 16. Many university development offices and large foundations rely heavily on hedge funds and private equity investments that use offshore “buffer” companies to avoid incurring taxes.

* Divestment from companies funding the Sudanese genocide is gathering steam as 42 colleges and universities and eight states begin to sell their Sudan-related investments and 17 additional states consider doing so, the Los Angeles Times reported May 13.

* Christopher Goldsbury, heir by marriage to picante-sauce firm PACE, has given $35 million to the Culinary Institute of America to promote Latin American cuisine in the U.S., and to provide scholarships for Latino food-service, the New York Times reported May 16. The bulk of the gift will be used to fund $23 million in scholarships to a 30-week program at the Center for Foods of the Americas in San Antonio.

* The National Environmental Trust and the Pew Charitable Trust’s environmental program have merged to form Pew Environment Group, the Washington Post reported May 15.  The new group, which will have a budget of $70 million and 80 employees in the U.S. alone, represents a shift in strategy by environmentalists toward more campaign-oriented advocacy efforts.

* The number of religious groups successfully pursuing Congressional earmarks has increased sharply under President Bush’s watch, The New York Times reported May 13. This lobbying strategy, a non-traditional one for faith-based nonprofits, poses constitutional risks and threatens the moral authority such groups have long wielded in Washington, experts say.

* A recent conference at the U.S. Military Academy brought scholars, military officers and wealthy philanthropists together to discuss how private philanthropy can impact national security, the Wall Street Journal reported May 11 [subscription only]. Participants suggested that funding for research on long-term security challenges and funding for groups that bridge military and academic communities, such as West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center, are supports only the private sector can offer.

* Many American MBA programs now are connecting students with nonprofit boards and planting the seeds for community service later in their careers, The Wall Street Journal reported May 8. These competitive board fellowships allow students to develop their skills and contacts while providing nonprofits much-needed expertise.

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