100 Years of Encouraging Philanthropy

By Sally J. Ehrenfried 

When your country is 240 years old, using July 4, 1776 as its birthdate, 100 years makes up almost 42 percent of its lifetime. A lot can happen in 100 years.

Since 1917, women have earned the right to vote. Prohibition was instituted and repealed. And the country experienced the Great Depression and the Great Recession. We saw the creation of programs like Social Security and Medicare, put a man on the moon, lauded the passage of the Civil Rights Act, held multiple local, state and federal elections, and much more.

But what is the significance of 100 years in 2017? 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the charitable tax deduction for individuals.

How did it come to be? The individual income tax was made permanent in 1913, and taxes were raised in 1917 to assist the United States in paying for its involvement in World War I. The charitable tax deduction was created to alleviate concerns that the higher tax rate would discourage private charity.

By instituting this new approach, Congress intended to encourage private philanthropy of individuals, and it has done just that for the past 100 years.

Fast forward to the present day, and the United States has a robust nonprofit and foundation sector working day-in and day-out to provide basic human needs, strengthen communities through the arts, fund research to alleviate and cure disease, care for abandoned and neglected animals, provide education, and more.

Individual charitable donations provide nonprofit organizations and foundations with the funding they need to achieve their missions and be agents for good. For the past 60+ years, Giving USA’s Annual Report on Philanthropy in America has tracked and reported trends in charitable giving. In June 2016, Giving USA reported that charitable giving in 2015 once again reached record levels. Individual giving alone totaled $264.58 billion, an increase of 3.8 percent, which makes up 71 percent of total giving in the United States.

A side note: While I’m focusing mainly on charitable giving of individuals in this blog, I don’t want us to lose sight that businesses became eligible for the charitable tax deduction in 1935, in part to reduce the burden of tax increases put in place to provide services for those impacted the by the Great Depression. Last year, Giving USA reported that business gave $18.45 billion in 2015, an increase of 3.9 percent, making up 5 percent of total giving in the United States.

Although we all know there are many reasons why individuals give to organizations and causes, we can’t overlook the impact that the charitable tax deduction has had on the nonprofit and foundation sector.

However, over the past eight years, the charitable tax deduction has seen its share of challenges as cash strapped governments have taken a look at all potential sources of revenue. Various federal proposals have called for instituting caps or floors on what individuals could deduct, and states have reviewed and revised their tax codes.

It is important that the charitable tax deduction be preserved and that charitable giving, in general, be encouraged. It is a way for our nation to support and encourage the generous spirit of its people and ensure that funding continues to flow to organizations that offer a tremendous return on this charitable investment.

The Charitable Giving Coalition has organized a fly-in this week in Washington, D.C. to meet with members of Congress and their teams to educate and advocate for strong charitable giving incentives, including the charitable tax deduction.

As Congress and the president take action on tax reform, please stay up to date and informed on the impact their work will have on the sector and our communities.

Image credit: Pixabay

Sally J. Ehrenfried leads Philanthropy and Volunteer Engagement at Blackbaud, Inc. (NASDAQ: BLKB), headquartered in Charleston, South Carolina, and is responsible for the company’s global community relations, corporate giving, and volunteerism portfolios. She also manages the company’s public policy efforts by working with local, state and federal groups to advocate for policies that benefit the nonprofit community. Sally spent 13 years in the United States Senate as an aide to Senators George J. Mitchell (D-Maine), William S. Cohen (R-Maine) and Ronald L. Wyden (D-Oregon), serving in a variety of committee and leadership staff roles.

Currently, Sally is Co-Chair of Giving Institute’s Public Policy Committee and is a member of the Leadership Faculty for the Corporate Institute, a Points of Light enterprise. She is a member of AFP’s SC Lowcountry Chapter where she served in a variety of committee and board roles to include National Philanthropy Day, Programs, Awards, Scholarships, and Governance. Sally served AFP International as a member of its PAC Board and Chair of its US Government Relations Committee, playing a key role in developing its government relations strategy. As immediate Past Chair of the US Government Relations committee, she remains an active member.

Sally is a graduate of Bates College in Lewiston, ME, and received a master’s degree in Business Administration from the Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina.

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One response

  1. The phase out of deductions for higher earners means that I have zero charitable deduction. This has impacted my giving since it costs me more to give. Congress should review this change that Obama wrought. I would definitely give more if a deduction returned.

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