Category Archives: Philanthropy

My year in contributions, 2016

It’s too late for tax season, but I still encourage you to support the good work that these organizations are doing.

These are the groups and projects to which I gave coin (generally tax-deductible), property, and/or effort in 2016.

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Donations

Applying market-oriented techniques to allocate resources where there is no market: how can we get food bank donations to the charities that need them most? Sendhil Mullainathan summarizes a points-based approach.

Markets report such dispersed information in the form of prices. Feeding America, for example, was surprised to see pasta at one point trading for 116 times the price of fresh vegetables. That was revealing data. In hindsight, it made sense: Vegetables spoil rapidly, which is why food companies donated them freely; pasta, with its longer shelf life, was a rarer commodity, as far as donations go.

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Charities and the IRS: an update

The ill-advised proposal by the Internal Revenue Service to define a mechanism for charities to collect donor tax identification numbers in order to report donations on a standardized form has been withdrawn. North of 38,000 public comments were posted, apparently most of them negative.

American Association of Community Theatre

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My year in contributions, 2015

The last-minute begging e-mails for the end of the year are still streaming in. Yet: please consider giving to one of the organizations below.

These are the groups and projects to which I gave coin (generally tax-deductible), property, and/or effort in 2015.

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And you are asking me this why?

AACT alerted me to a proposed IRS regulation that appears to have little justification. It proposes to provide an optional reporting mechanism for charitable contributions. The current system is simple: you get a letter with your name and how much you gave. The proposal on the table is for the charity to report your information on the Form 990 that it submits to the IRS. What’s the catch? To do that, the charity would have to collect and store your social security number.

The opportunities for identity theft and fraud are too scary to me.

Tim Delaney of the National Council of Nonprofits has the talking points.

The proposed regulation, Substantiation Requirement for Certain Contributions, is part of the Federal Register. Public comments are being solicited, but take note that the deadline for comments is next Wednesday, 16 December.

The Council of Nonprofits has guidelines for making effective public comments, as does regulations.gov.

Here is the comment that I posted:

I am writing as a small-dollar donor to many charitable organizations. On average, I give $50-100/year to each of about 50 organizations, with one larger donation each year in the $250-1000 range. I perform volunteer service for several nonprofit organizations. I am also a board member for a nonprofit; however, I am not writing today as a representative of that nonprofit.

The proposed regulation strikes me as unjustified; indeed, “The present CWA system works effectively, with minimal burden on donors and donees, and the Treasury Department and the IRS have received few requests since the issuance of TD 8690 to implement a donee reporting system.” The present system works for me, and I receive letters of acknowledgement from almost all the organizations to which I donate. I question the motivations and reasoning of the taxpayers referred to as “under examination for their claimed charitable contribution deductions” who argue in favor of the proposed amended Form 990. Surely someone with the financial wherewithal to make regular $250+ contributions can be expected to show due diligence and follow up with a donee organization to get timely CWA documentation.

I am troubled by the opportunities for identity theft and fraud that the proposed regulation would introduce. In my judgment, the requirement to securely transmit and store taxpayer identification numbers would be a burden on most smaller nonprofits. And to the extent that fears of identity theft would have a small, but real, chilling effect on the size and frequency of donations to nonprofits, I am deeply concerned.

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Give it up

Washington City Paper‘s annual guide to giving back in 2015.

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Heroes

Nicholas Kristof’s gift suggestions for the upcoming holiday season: none of them require a trip to the mall on Black Friday.

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Navigation

My idea of a good Christmas Eve tradition: The Morning News’s annual roundup of worthy charities.

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My year in contributions: 2014

Here’s the first of my year-end roundup posts.

The spirit of Giving Tuesday doesn’t have to die at the end of November. These are the organizations and projects to which I gave coin (generally tax-deductible), property, and/or effort in 2014. Please join me in supporting their work.

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Some links: 71

Catching up on a lot of bookmarks, so this will be a bit of a link dump.

  • Reduced-meat or meatless diets (Mediterranean, pescetarian, vegetarian) are both better for your health and more sustainable for the environment, as David Tilman and Michael Clark find in a recent paper, and as Elke Stehfest summarizes.
  • I am loving Nature‘s new sharing tools. Susannah Locke explains the journal’s move toward more open access.
  • Emily Dreyfuss signed up to give Wikipedia six bucks a month.

    …Wikipedia is the best approximation of a complete account of knowledge we’ve ever seen.

    It’s also the most robust. The most easily accessed. And the safest. It exists on servers around the world so, unlike the library at Alexandria, it can’t be burned down.

    You should chip in, too. kottke.org

  • The Biodiversity Heritage Library has opened an online exhibit dedicated to women in science who began working before 1922. Some of my recent subjects are there, including Florence Merriam Bailey and Mabel Osgood Wright.
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Mitchell the mensch

I was asked to complete an online survey by one of the environmental/educational organizations that I support. Most of the questions were routine, but I was struck by this free-answer question:

If you can recall it, what is the story or situation that inspired your first philanthropic gift?

And I was prompted to tell this story from college:

It’s not the first time that I made a donation, but the conversation left its mark on me. I was in college, and I was walking with a fellow student, Mitchell H., and someone asked us for a donation–I don’t remember the cause. And Mitchell pulled out his wallet as naturally as taking a pen from his pocket. Later, I asked him, “What do you care about starving whales/greening the Armenians/whatever the cause was?” He said, “This is what you do.”

Mind you, I was on scholarship/loan/work study/piggy bank and Mitchell’s family was probably paying full fare. Nevertheless, that exchange has stuck with me.

(We’ll save the story about how Mitchell tricked me into eating styrofoam packing peanuts for another time.)

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Still time to contribute

I tried to add a couple of causes to the list this year, especially locals like Casey Trees and Raptor Conservancy of Virginia, while maintaining my support levels for everyone else.

These are the organizations and projects to which I gave coin (generally tax-deductible), property, and/or effort in 2013. Please join me in supporting their work.

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Good causes, one and all

These are the organizations and projects to which I gave coin (generally tax-deductible), property, and/or effort in 2012. Please join me in supporting their work.

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Good seats still available

These are the organizations and projects to which I gave coin, property, and/or effort in 2011. Please join me in supporting their work.

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Spread the word

In addition to a quick blurb as @DavidGorsline, I want to praise the online publication of the Catalogue for Philanthropy: Greater Washington. Selection as one of 70 top small-budget (under $3 million) DC nonprofits involves a six-month vetting process to find organizations with “rock-solid financial and organizational structures.” Washington City Paper, in its introduction to the list of 70 worthy charities, writes,

Traditionally, the Catalogue has bound its list into a book and distributed thousands of copies to “high net worth individuals” in the area. This year, we’ve worked with the organization to highlight its list in our pages, with the idea that you don’t have to be rich to want to give a little.

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