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Nonprofit news roundup for May 15, 2008

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United Way changes direction

United Way of America announced it will direct its giving over the next decade to ambitious goals in education, income inequality and health care, seeking to cut in half the number of high-school dropouts and the number of families struggling financially, and to increase by a third the number of healthy Americans, The Washington Post reported May 15. Although the national group sets the agenda for its affiliates, it does not have the power to dictate grantmaking at local branches.

Christian leaders question Senate probe

Nearly two-dozen Christian leaders signed a letter to the U.S. Senate Finance Committee questioning the investigation of six mega-churches that preach a gospel of prosperity, The Associated Press reported May 10. The signees argue the investigation falls short of the high bar the IRS sets for justifying church investigations, and say the true target is a certain “branch of evangelicalism” and the ministers’ support of conservative public-policy positions. A Grassley spokeswoman says the Senate committee is not concerned with church doctrine, but with the adequacy of tax-exemption laws that have not been significantly altered since 1968.

Negative campaigning could hurt Clinton ‘brand’

Negative campaigning by both Hillary and Bill Clinton in support of her bid for the presidency may be damaging the Clinton “brand” and the former president’s “delicate flower” of a philanthropic enterprise, The Clinton Foundation, which depends on sponsors and celebrities for support, Chris Stephen said in a column in The Scotsman May 11. The Clinton Foundation says it has impacted the lives of 200 million poor with the Clinton Global Initiative alone, a project that gathers business, nonprofit and government leaders at its annual philanthropic summit with the goal of eliciting commitments to education, climate, health and poverty alleviation, Reuters reported May 2.

Cities fight panhandling with parking meters

San Francisco has joined a growing list of cities that have retooled old parking meters to collect the spare change tourists and residents might otherwise give directly to homeless people, The San Francisco Chronicle reported May 13. Homeless advocates have criticized the move, which redistributes the earnings among area charities, as ineffective, “mean-spirited” and a “political stunt.” Similar programs in other cities have raised little money but seem to reduce panhandling, The San Francisco Chronicle reported May 13.

Aid flowing in for victims in Myanmar

Aid agencies say that despite difficulties in putting relief funds to work, donations are flowing in for humanitarian efforts in Myanmar, though not as quickly as after the tsunami in the Indian Ocean in 2004, The Wall Street Journal reported May 15. The U.N. has received $29 million, World Vision $4 million, and Save the Children $3 million.

‘Voluntourism’ is about choosing wisely

“Voluntourism” is picking up as a popular vacation option and spawning an “unregulated hodgepodge of for-profit and nonprofit enterprises” offering a bit of do-gooding to customers who come to relax in exotic locales, Dorinda Elliott said in a column in the May issue of Condé Nast Traveler. Though a few days of volunteering are unlikely to change local inhabitants’ lives, choosing programs wisely and asking a lot of questions can lead to a rewarding experience for all, says Elliott.

In Brief:

* The largest U.S. arts philanthropy, the J. Paul Getty Trust, cut 114 positions, most through attrition, and some programs to achieve a 25 percent increase in core arts-program funding, The Los Angeles Times reported May 14.

* U.S. Rep. Peter F. Welch proposed restricting IRA rollover contributions to colleges that don’t use their endowments to help lower- and middle-income students pay for college, The Chronicle of Higher Education said in a blog May 13.

* The University of Chicago will raise a $200-million endowment to support a new center for economics honoring Nobel Prize winner Milton Friedman, The Wall Street Journal reported May 15.

* Jeff Swanagan, the Georgia Aquarium’s first director, is leaving to assume the directorship of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported May 13.

* Foreigners are flocking to Britain to file libel suits against nonprofits over research reports they don’t like, drawn by the country’s “claimant-friendly” courts, The Times of London reported May 13.

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