Nonprofit news roundup – Week of 12.03.07

* The IRS is gearing up to crack down on 2007 charitable transactions, thanks to an “ugly mood” in Congress and the incriminating results of recent investigations, such as the nearly $1.8 billion in undocumented non-cash gifts turned up by an IRS internal audit this year, Barron’s reported Nov. 26. The article offers advice for staying within the bounds of new IRS rules and suspicions.

* American Red Cross President Mark Everson has been forced to resign after just six months on the job due to an alleged affair with a subordinate, reported Nov. 27. The scandal has re-ignited debate over the charity’s historic governance problems and failures in both disaster relief and blood donations, according to a New York Times analysis.

* The Smithsonian Institution will undertake a major capital campaign to raise the $2.5 billion needed for museum building repairs and renovations, a significant turn to private donors by an organization that typically receives 70 percent of its $1 billion budget from the government, The New York Times reported Nov. 20. That may be tough for an organization new to such hefty private fundraising – totals this fiscal year are only $166 million – and given the Institute’s slew of recent scandals, including resignations of top officials, publicly rejected donations, and alleged alterations of exhibits to pander to politics.

* U.S. nonprofit sector leaders, including Bill Gates and representatives of New Hampshire’s Nonprofit Primary Project and Washington D.C. soup kitchens, are trying to ramp up their campaign voices in the coming year’s presidential elections, Time magazine reported Nov. 20. Many are pushing candidates to delineate clear platforms on certain issues, while others are successfully extracting explicit dollar-amount pledges to be fulfilled during would-be presidential terms, yet these groups may risk running afoul of the IRS, which limits political activism by tax-exempt groups.

* In the wake of alleged mismanagement by former Oral Roberts University President Richard Roberts, who left the university $52 million in debt, the school has received a pledge of $70 million from Hobby Lobby heir Mart Green, Tulsa World reported Nov. 28. Roberts, son of televangelist Oral Roberts, has resigned as president and the school’s regents have voted to separate the university legally and financially from the Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association; Green has delivered $8 million and the remaining $62 million will be received after a 90-day governance review.

* Tithing, a common Christian practice of giving 10 percent of one’s income to the church, increasingly is being challenged as coercive and a misreading of the Bible, The Wall Street Journal reported Nov. 23 [subscription only]. Though many churches have stepped up their efforts to encourage tithing, including setting up “giving kiosks” at chapel doors that accept credit cards and offering courses on maintaining tithing for debt-ridden churchgoers, others have dropped the practice in response to parishioner discontent.

* Goldman Sachs is starting a donor-driven philanthropy fund that aims to reach $1 billion over the next several years through employee donations, taking advantage of this year’s record profits as one of the few investment banks largely untouched by the sub-prime mortgage crisis, The New York Times reported Nov. 21. The effort is part of a growing trend amongst investment banks to encourage workplace philanthropy.

* Some small businesses are finding that incorporating regular cash or in-kind charitable donations into their business plans buys customer and employee loyalty, and sets them apart in a global market of nearly identical products and services, Wall Street Journal columnist Raymund Flandez wrote Nov. 20 [subscription only]. But some must pay out of their personal pockets to honor their commitments when times get lean.

* The Heinz Endowments has hired former Davidson College President Robert Vagt as its next president, the Pittsburg Post-Gazette reported Nov. 20. Vagt, an ordained minister noted for his “folksy” lack of pretense, says he plans no major changes for the Pittsburgh-based philanthropy, which has $1.6 billion in assets and gives away $80 million annually.

* The endowments at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton are among a handful of co-defendants in a suit that accuses them of backing a loan with 42 percent interest, Bloomberg News reported Nov. 22. The suit targets limited partners of Realty Financial Partners V LP, including three other colleges and two prominent foundations, and highlights the increasing presence of alternative investments in university endowment profiles, as well as a potentially expanded legal view of liability in the wake of the sub-prime mortgage crisis.

* Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, ruler of Dubai, has contributed $464 million of his personal fortune to the Dubai Cares campaign, a charity drive to educate children in the world’s poorest countries, pushing totals for the effort to almost $1 billion, Agence France-Presse reported Nov. 25. In May, the sheikh announced a $10 billion dollar education fund to bridge the “knowledge gap” between the Middle East and the developed world.

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