It is standard fare for Rhode Island to have ballot measures that involve public expenditures for broad social goals, be it affordable housing, or this year, environmental projects and school infrastructure. And whether people think about it or not, all those ballot measures are eventually repaid through taxes, a reality in Rhode Island that means the state had more than $10.5 billion in accumulated debt in 2016, according to a state report.
How does that connect to philanthropy in the state? Well, the bigger the tax bite, the less money individuals and corporations have to give to those worthy causes they have chosen to support through the years.
To complicate matters further, the national political scene threw a wild card into the mix with the passage of tax reform last year. Local nonprofits are not sure if the change in the standard deduction will limit how much individuals give to charity, but many are uneasy about what the future will bring, even as they are cautiously optimistic that people give not for the tax deduction but because they believe the cause is good.
Still, in today’s strident political climate, nonprofits find that charting the correct course to maximize their fundraising efforts can be a challenge. One person’s worthy cause could be another’s political red zone. Nonprofit leaders and their development staffs must make clear that the action they support is very much focused on the mission of the organization and not something that can be hijacked by one side of the political spectrum or the other. If they are not successful, it could have real consequences.
As always, the answer lies with the public, which must vet the worthy causes deserving of support, knowing that the need remains great, no matter the political climate.
Mark S. Murphy, Editor