Nonprofit news roundup for Jan. 12, 2009

Obama upholds estate tax

President-elect Barack Obama and congressional leaders are planning to block the lapse of the estate tax, which was scheduled to expire in 2010, The Wall Street Journal reported Jan. 10 (see tax story). The estate-tax plan outlined during Obama’s campaign would exempt from taxation estates valued at or below $3.5 million, or $7 million for couples, while taxing any value exceeding those limits at 45 percent. Though many small businesses, farmers and affluent families say the so-called “death tax” would deal another blow to the ailing economy, Democrats argue that giving more tax breaks for the rich would go against the purpose of Obama’s economic-recovery plan.

Tanking hedge funds could cost charities

Hedge funds and private-equity firms, which have emerged as some of the most generous donors to charities worldwide, are tightening their belts as sinking returns prompt investors to withdraw their money, Bloomberg reported Jan. 12 (see hedge story). The Children’s Investment Fund, a hedge fund that donated 320 million British pounds, nearly $476 million, to the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, saw its returns plummet by 43 percent last year. Hedge funds also have contributed to the growing trend of demanding measurable results from funded charities.

St. Louis universities shrug off tanking endowments

Though St. Louis universities are seeing staggering drops in their endowments, university officials say they are not worried about major cutbacks, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Jan. 12. Washington University’s endowment has dropped 25 percent, or about $1 billion, since July, while St. Louis University lost $200 million of its $860 million endowment between July and October. But since the schools spend no more than 5 percent of their endowments every year and base their spending rates on a multiple-year average of the market’s performance, the declines have had little effect on budgets, school officials say.

San Diego nonprofits see donations drop

Nearly half of San Diego nonprofits have seen individual donations dwindle since the market meltdown, says a survey from the San Diego Association of Nonprofits, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported Jan. 12 (see donations story). One in four nonprofits said donations have declined between 20 percent and 30 percent since last year, while fewer than one in 10 reported a drop of more than 30 percent, the survey says.

In Brief:

* U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton should use her upcoming confirmation hearing to address concerns that arose when her husband, former President Bill Clinton, released the names of the donors to his charitable foundation, says an editorial in The New York Times Jan. 10.

* The endowment of the Kamehameha Schools, a charity that educates children of native Hawaiian ancestry, plunged by more than 18 percent, or $1.7 billion, between June 30 and Oct. 31 of last year, The Honolulu Advertiser reported Jan. 10.

* Before making contributions, donors should follow certain guidelines to make sure their chosen charities are in good standing, says Jane Bennett Clark in a guest column in Newsday Jan. 11.

* In lieu of charging guests for the upcoming inaugural ball it is sponsoring for President-elect Barack Obama, Google is asking attendees to make contributions to five nonprofits, including the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, The New York Times reported Jan. 11.

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