Nonprofit news roundup for March 17, 2009

New York charities seen flouting political-contribution laws

New York charities, including museums, churches and soccer clubs, have made donations to state legislative candidates, a practice banned by federal law, The New York Times reported March 16 (see campaign story). At least 81 charities have contributed to political candidates since 2005, according to a study of campaign-finance documents, and some of those donations were provided to individuals who helped the donating charities get state funding, the newspaper says.

Laid-off professionals flock to volunteer opportunities

The ranks of volunteers are swelling as laid-off professionals seek to do good, fill their time and network, The New York Times reported March 15 (see volunteer story). Search site saw a 30 percent increase in searches in February compared to the same month last year, and Philadelphia’s Big Brothers Big Sisters has received 25 percent more inquiries about volunteering. But while the new help can be a boon for cash-strapped nonprofits, the increase in volunteers can be difficult for smaller groups to manage effectively. Many laid-off workers hope volunteering will help them land a job, or a new career, once the economy turns around, The Wall Street Journal reported March 17 (see laid-off story).

British charities feel recessionary pinch

More than half the nonprofits in England and Wales have been affected by the recession and many are struggling to serve increased demand with decreasing funds, says a survey by the U.K.’s Charity Commission, BBC News reported March 17 (see recession story). While only 2 percent are planning layoffs, 14 percent are cutting costs and 6 percent are tapping into their reserve accounts.

French physicist receives $1.42 million Templeton Prize

Bernard d’Espagnat, a French physicist and philosopher, has received the $1.42 million Templeton Prize for his work in quantum physics to affirm the spiritual dimension of life, Reuters reported March 16 (see Templeton story). d’Espagnat, who formerly was a senior physicist with CERN particle physics lab in Geneva, says quantum physics shows there is an ultimate reality that cannot be described and that points to a reality beyond the reach of science.

Gates Foundation urged to be more open

Despite the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s largesse, including its willingness to increase grantmaking by $500 million this year, the funder should be more accountable to the public, Pablo Eisenberg, senior fellow at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, said in an opinion column in the Seattle Times March 16 (see opinion column). The press should be willing to ask tough questions and the foundation should seek more input from “independent observers,” critics, nonprofits and constituencies not seeking grants.

In Brief:

* In response to investment losses, which total almost $2 billion since the middle of 2007, the J. Paul Getty Trust will cut its operating budget by almost a quarter for the coming year, The Los Angeles Times reported March 16.

* Nonprofits in the Green Bay, Wisc.-area are struggling, with more than half operating at a loss in 2008 and forced to borrow money or tap into emergency reserves, says a study by the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation, The Green Bay Press Gazette reported March 15.

* Nonprofit hospitals in Palm Beach County are reeling from both investment losses and a drop in outpatient visits and surgeries, The Palm Beach Post reported March 15.

* Nonprofit executives in the Boston area may come under increased scrutiny after a review of compensation by the Patriot Ledger newspaper showed the heads of 14 local social-services groups receive more than $100,000 in annual compensation, the newspaper reported March 14.

* The College of William and Mary’s endowment lost almost 20 percent of its value, dropping to $278.9 million by the end of 2008 from $346.7 million at the beginning of the fiscal year, The Daily Press reported March 16.

* Later this year, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will open a London-based European office, which will be led by Geoffrey Lamb, former vice president for World Bank and advisor to the foundation, Kristi Heim wrote in a blog in the Seattle Times March 16.

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