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Nonprofit news roundup – Week of 12.10.07

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* Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama says he will make public service “a cause of my presidency,” the Chicago Tribune reported Dec. 5. Drawing comparisons to John F. Kennedy, Obama promises to expand AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps, create a nationwide online volunteer network, encourage community service by students as early as middle school and offer tax credits to students engaging in community service.

* “Ivy Plus” schools are shrinking class sizes, “gold-plating” new dorms, revamping already state-of-the-art research facilities, and stealing top-notch talent and research grants from even their most prestigious public peers, BusinessWeek reported Nov. 29. Meanwhile the wealth gap is increasing, with 10 schools accounting for half the growth in donations to all U.S. colleges and universities last year.

* Many are placing their hopes on nonprofit organizations in the battle to respond to the mortgage crisis, The Washington Post reported Dec. 4. Consumer counselors at nonprofit groups have taken such a high-profile role in aiding struggling homeowners that the U.S. government is considering sending $200 million in funding their way.

* Facing toy recalls that took millions of toys off the shelf this year, charities throughout the U.S. either are refusing holiday donations or struggling to screen them, the Associated Press reported Dec. 4.

* Nonprofit groups focusing on issues-based lobbying and public education have taken a prominent role in the U.S. presidential primaries, The Washington Post reported Dec. 5. Federal regulators say they are keeping a close eye on these 501(c)4 groups, which pay no taxes on gifts from donors who need not identify themselves but will not receive federal tax deductions for their contributions.

* Hedge funds may be catching the social-responsibility fever, as several funds-of-funds have sprung up in recent months to cater to socially conscious investors, The Wall Street Journal reported Nov. 27. Though the number of socially-screened hedge funds still tops out at 10 to 15 worldwide, these groups, which refuse to invest in certain types of companies, such as those with poor environmental or human-rights records and producers of alcohol, tobacco, weapons or oil, are attracting more big investors.

* The InnerChange Freedom Initiative, a nonprofit prison ministry, no longer can receive state funding thanks to the decision of a federal appeals panel, The New York Times reported Dec. 4. The ruling against InnerChange, which runs nine programs in the U.S. and has been accused of coercing conversions to evangelical Christianity by offering prisoners extra privileges, has been seen by some as a setback for faith-based initiatives nationwide.

* The dispute between Tennessee and Mississippi over the Maddox Foundation has been settled, with $54 million of the foundation’s more than $100 million in assets going to the Dan and Margaret Maddox Charitable Trust in Nashville, The New York Times reported Dec. 1. The remaining assets will stay in Mississippi under the direction of foundation head Robin Costa, who has been the center of the controversy that erupted over alleged lavish spending and her decision to move the foundation from Tennessee to Mississippi.

* The University of Pittsburg Medical Center will contribute up to $100 million to college scholarships for students graduating from the city’s public schools through a 10-year challenge grant, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Dec. 5. The effort expects to generate as much as $225 million to provide every student with at least a 2.0 grade-point average up to $20,000 in college aid, yet donations have been slow, and the medical center, along with other wealthy Pittsburg nonprofits, still faces controversy over the gap between its revenues and its taxes.

* Brad Pitt and philanthropist Steve Bing have launched the Make It Right initiative to construct no fewer than 150 affordable, eco-friendly houses in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, nola.com reported Dec. 3. The fundraising effort, currently at $12 million, urges corporations, foundations and other groups to “adopt a block,” one of 300 giant pink blocks of an art installation at the project site that cost $150,000 each.

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