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Published on May 26

Should nonprofits pay taxes?

taxing nonprofits

The town government in Concord, Mass., felt that local taxes were so high, they were driving residents away. So the town’s board sent a letter to the local nonprofits (private schools, hospitals, charities and churches) asking them if they could start paying their fair share, according to a report by Pam Fessler on NPR’s All Things Considered.

Much to my shock,  one arts group offered $1,000. The rest of the groups politely declined.

According to the NPR story, state and local governments, eager to close their budget gaps, are increasingly going after charities and other tax-exempt groups.

Besides the Concord example, it points to Boston, which wants its universities, hospitals and nonprofits to pay 25 percent of what they would owe if they weren’t tax-exempt. However, from what I understand from an article in the Boston Globe, that request wasn’t made to put the squeeze on nonprofits.

Here’s the situation, according to the Boston Globe : Nonprofits in Boston already pay cash and provide services in lieu of property taxes. Some pay millions; others pay significantly less. Because each agreement is negotiated individually, payments vary widely and the ill-defined system has long been the target of criticism. A mayoral task force was set up to examine the system. It is suggesting a new formula under which nonprofits would eventually increase contributions to 25 percent of what they would owe in taxes if they were not exempt.

I think the context of how this change came about is important. It’s not a desperate attempt of a government to balance its budget on the backs of nonprofits, but an attempt to make the system that is already in place more equitable for everyone, including the nonprofits who may have been paying more than their fair share.

At the same time, it should be noted that the change  would more than triple the current amounts paid by some of the city’s biggest nonprofit landowners. It’s easy to see why they would be concerned.

Philadelphia is looking at a similar situation, trying to make its system of payments in lieu of taxes more equitable, according to a blog post on, a site that  is a partnership between the Daily News and WHYY.

While Kansas and Hawaii proposed repealing the tax-exempt status of nonprofits in budget negotiations, I couldn’t find any news reports that the proposals passed.

Minneapolis has imposed a “streetlight fee” on nonprofits to help pay for electricity and bulbs, and that tactic of imposing fees is perhaps a more real threat to nonprofits than the prospect of having to pay property taxes. As Rick Cohen points out in a blog post on, it’s easier to impose fees than to repeal property tax exemptions.

“Taking off from charging nonprofits for streetlights, other localities are starting to charge nonprofits for police and fire services and even fire hydrants,” Cohen said.

Is your nonprofit feeling an extra pinch of new government fees? What do you think of these tactics?

Fundraising Assets helps busy fundraising professionals raise more money, save valuable time and reduce costs. We offer consulting, writing, design and production services for direct mail and e-mail fundraising, social networking and more.

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Published on May 14

What if your CEO was a hottie with a smokin’ little body?

comment to Obama offers lesson to nonprofits

Yesterday, while I was contemplating a very healthy salad for lunch, Pres. Barack Obama was down the street from me at Duff’s ordering chicken wings. Bummer! It was a missed opportunity.

Of course, it would have been difficult to position myself for an opportunity to meet the president for lunch. That part of his itinerary wasn’t made public. I suppose I could have driven around Buffalo and its suburbs hoping to catch a glimpse of his motorcade, or at least walked to restaurants in my neighborhood hoping to bump into him. In retrospect, I think staying in and eating a salad was a wise use of my time.

But a comment made during the president’s visit to Buffalo does make me think about how nonprofit organizations can make the most of opportunities. You have probably already heard that while Pres. Obama was at Duff’s, one of the customers gushed, “You’re a hottie with a smokin’ little body.”

What if someone made a comment like that about your CEO? What if a positive but irreverent comment popped up on one of your social media sites, such as Twitter, Facebook or your blog?

Would your CEO be offended, demand that the comment be obliterated and order you to stop using social media?

Or would your CEO follow the example of seasoned politician Obama, who took the comment in stride? Obama hugged the customer who made the comment.  In a jovial way, he remarked that his wife, Michelle, would be catching the TV footage later. He had his photo taken with the woman.

That little comment about Pres. Obama has traveled around the world.  It’s perhaps the most discussed part of his visit to Buffalo.

Did it take away from his messages about the economy or health care? Perhaps. But it painted him as a warm and genuine human. Organizations should always make sure there’s plenty of time for that.

What’s your take? How do you deal with comments in social media and other channels? Please share your comments.

UPDATE: It turns out that Pres. Obama wasn’t ordering chicken wings down the street from me at the original Duff’s in Amherst; he was at Duff’s in Cheektowaga.  I didn’t even know  there was a Duff’s in Cheektowaga! Now I feel better about eating my salad!

Fundraising Assets helps busy fundraising professionals raise more money, save valuable time and reduce costs. We offer consulting, writing, design and production services for direct mail and e-mail fundraising, social networking and more.

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Published on May 08

Make your message crystal clear

Thank you for stopping by my blog on May 9,  “Blog Jog Day”! The event helps visitors explore new blogs. When you’re finished here, jog on over to For a list of all the participating blogs, go to

writing for nonprofits

It was my job to write a piece to introduce a new school psychologist to the  community and let people know what a great asset he would be. I interviewed him, wrote the article, and gave the psychologist a draft to review to make sure there were no mistakes.

When he was done “correcting” the draft, it was no longer warm and welcoming. In fact, it wasn’t even understandable. It was full of jargon and technical language. It was as clear as a glass of chocolate milk.

Why did he muck up the article?

“I don’t want my colleagues to think I don’t know what I’m talking about,” he explained. The intended audience was parents and community residents, but the psychologist  was worried about other psychologists.

He was aiming for the wrong audience.

By choosing technical language, he was offering his fellow psychologists greater depth and meaning. Unfortunately, those technical words carry no meaning at all for the rest of us.  Our intended audience would have been lost if we had used his draft.

Suppose you are hiking through a remote part of the world and encounter people who have never seen an airplane. They ask you to tell them what an airplane is, and you say simply that an airplane is a machine that can fly like a bird.

Another member of your group is an engineer who says you’ve got it all wrong. An airplane doesn’t fly like a bird. A bird propels itself by flapping its wings, but airplanes use engines to supply thrust. He launches into an explanation of Bernoulli’s Principle and the shape of airplane wings.

Who was the better communicator?

In this example, part of the problem was that the engineer misunderstood his audience and used jargon. But he made another mistake as well. He used unnecessary detail. What he saw as precision in communication ended up muddying the message. Remember that details that are important to the people inside your organization might not be important to your donors and supporters.

When you are writing an appeal letter or article for a fundraising newsletter, who are you writing for? Your boss? The CEO? The board president? Or your donors and supporters?

To make your communication crystal clear, always keep your audience in mind.

If you want to make sure you’re making your message crystal clear, enlist the help of a professional nonprofit writer. Contact us to find out how affordable it can be to get the expert writing and editing help you need.

Fundraising Assets helps busy fundraising professionals raise more money, save valuable time and reduce costs. We offer consulting, writing, design and production services for direct mail and e-mail fundraising, social networking and more.

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