Nonprofit news roundup for Dec. 30, 2008

Nonprofit reproached for wasteful spending

A nonprofit set up by Congress to help veterans launch their own businesses is drawing fire in the Senate for lavish spending, The New York Times reported Dec. 29 (see spending story). The National Veterans Business Development Corporation, which has received $17 million from the federal government since 2001, has spent a yearly average of only 15 percent of that amount to fund operations. A Senate report faulted the organization for spending federal funds on expensive meals, luxury hotels, high salaries and programs that were not part of the group’s original mission.

U.S. billionaires have mixed views on philanthropy

Though most American billionaires expect the economy to bounce back late next year, they have different opinions about the recession’s impact on philanthropy, Forbes reported Dec. 26. While some said they are giving more as the economic crisis takes its toll on the needy, others are being more cautious in their giving, focusing their donations on social needs rather than cultural organizations.

Website allows users to rate nonprofits

A group of students at Stanford University has created, a website that allows users to rate their experiences with different charities, The San Francisco Chronicle reported Dec. 26 (see website story). Among the one million nonprofits in the website’s database, 400 have been reviewed since the site’s June launch. Since most donors give to their churches first and alma maters second, the website aims to build the same level of familiarity and trust for other nonprofits, says website founder Perla Ni.

Homelessness programs out in the cold

The economic crisis has derailed efforts to reduce homelessness in many large metropolitan areas, the Associated Press reported Dec. 29. Budget cuts and dwindling donations have made it more difficult for nonprofits to fund housing programs, while mortgage and credit problems continue to drive more people onto the streets.

Public schools turn to parents for handouts

U.S. public schools, battered by state budget cuts, are turning to parents for financial support, The Wall Street Journal reported Dec. 29 (see school story). Though nonprofits often ask parents for help funding class trips and school dances, schools are now depending on parents’ generosity to fund teacher salaries and purchase classroom supplies.

Cash-strapped companies find ways to give

About a third of U.S. companies cut charitable giving last year as the economy slowed, and signs point to even more reductions this year, says a survey by the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy, the Associated Press reported Dec. 25. However, even corporations that are battling their own financial hardships are finding new ways to give this year, such as diverting funds for year-end bonuses and holiday parties to charity.

In Brief:

* In selecting a new chairman for the National Endowment for the Arts, President-elect Barack Obama should consider art’s vital role in effecting change, says opera director Thor Steingraber in an opinion column in The Boston Globe Dec. 26.

* Many Sacramento nonprofits that braced for sparse donations at the beginning of the holiday season were surprised to see their end-of-year campaigns surpass expectations, The Sacramento Bee reported Dec. 30.

* The public’s expectation of saintliness and selflessness from nonprofits may be hurting their ability to do their jobs effectively, says Nicholas Kristof in an opinion column in The New York Times Dec. 24.

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