Moderated by Tom Sabulis
Commenting is open below.
By Alicia Philipp
In the midst of the rancorous debate over the federal budget and sequestration, whether or not Senator Hagel will be the next secretary of defense, or if, and where, the new Falcons stadium will be built, I want to know why the most important debate is not happening. Where is the civil discussion on what we, as individuals and members of our larger communities, need our community to be? Where are the reasoned voices, including ideas from those whose voices are less often heard — children, elderly, mentally ill, homeless and others?
This discussion requires the acknowledgement of facts. Governments and the nonprofit sector are inextricably linked as we try to address the needs of our communities. The supportive role of governments to the work of nonprofits is critical. According to Lester Salamon in his recent book, “The State of Nonprofit America,” nonprofit organizations receive 38 percent of their support from government grants and contracts. The largest amount, 52 percent, comes from client fees and charges. Only 10 percent comes from private philanthropy.
There is a theory that private funding will make up the difference when government funding is cut. If it is only 10 percent now, that seems a steep hill to climb. The threat of sequestration and the resulting cuts in public programs, such as school-based meals, will place increased service demands on local nonprofits. These increased demands will come at a time the same nonprofits will experience less public support. It’s a list of stellar organizations: the Atlanta Community Food Bank, AID Gwinnett, Children’s Healthcare of Georgia, Families First, Senior Connections and more. The list is long. The need is great.
The metro Atlanta region is generous with its time and treasure. It has built strong institutions like The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta. We are a permanent philanthropic resource for our region. In 2012, our assets reached $755 million, including $104 million in new assets. We made grants of $95 million to nonprofits from more than 1,100 funds. In addition, Atlanta has a strong United Way, numerous private foundations and thousands of individual philanthropists. But this will never be enough to provide the vital support needed to help our communities.
At the same critical moment, the charitable tax deduction is under fire as a way to increase revenue for the federal government. While the deduction is not the principal reason people give, it does, from my 37 years of experience, affect the size of contributions made. We need every tool in the toolbox to increase private philanthropy now, not to inhibit it.
Change needs to happen. A different balance between government and private support will emerge. But, if we are not careful and don’t pay attention, it will happen piecemeal, program by program, without thoughtful discussion of what is actually needed, how to finance those needs and how to design programs that work well. This is not just for us and our families, but for our entire community. This challenging conversation can make our neighborhoods, our people and our region stronger. I am hoping this discussion will happen soon.
Alicia Philipp is president of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta.