National Council of Nonprofits Expands Nonprofit Policy Agenda

Washington, DC – The Board of Directors of the National Council of Nonprofits (National Council) has approved the 2012 Public Policy Agenda, a comprehensive public policy agenda that identifies local, state, and federal issues affecting nonprofit organizations. The Public Policy Agenda focuses on common issues of concern to all nonprofit organizations, including the economy and jobs. In expanding its agenda for 2012, the National Council added two emerging policy trends that challenge the ability of nonprofits to pursue their missions.

Mandatory Volunteerism: Legislators in multiple states and at the federal level have proposed bills promoting a policy that can only be called “mandatory volunteerism,” requiring individuals to volunteer with a nonprofit for a certain number of hours per week to be eligible for certain public programs. Bills have been introduced to impose “volunteerism” mandates before individuals could receive unemployment benefits, Medicaid services, and welfare benefits. None of the bill sponsors has asked whether nonprofits can handle an onslaught of tens of thousands or millions of individuals showing up on nonprofit doorsteps for the purpose of doing time rather than doing good.

The 2012 Public Policy Agenda makes a clear statement in support of volunteers who give back to their communities, but in opposition to mandated service requirements as a condition of receipt of statutory benefits that would impose unfunded mandates in the form of increased costs, burdens, and liabilities on nonprofit organizations.

Nonprofit Independence from Government: Under well-established American law, charitable nonprofits are private corporations and, except in the rarest of instances, are independent of government. Yet in 2011, too many lawmakers had difficulty understanding that nonprofit organizations are just like for-profit businesses: receipt of public funds through contracts or grants to perform services does not convert private independent organizations into governmental instrumentalities. Lawmakers in Florida, Massachusetts, Nevada, and New Hampshire have sought to impose ineffective and burdensome mandates, restrictions, and other reporting burdens on nonprofit contractors on the mistaken premise that private nonprofit organizations are somehow “quasi-governmental,” “government-sponsored,” or “publicly supported” entities.

The 2012 Public Policy Agenda provides a clear statement on the independence of charitable nonprofits from government. The National Council of Nonprofits rejects the presumption in recent legislative proposals that most nonprofit organizations are “quasi-governmental,” “government-sponsored,” or “publicly-supported” entities that require additional levels of scrutiny not applied to for-profit organizations, and opposes proposals that fail to acknowledge nonprofit accountability, independence, and effectiveness.

In describing the importance and unique nature of this policy agenda, Tim Delaney, President and CEO of the National Council of Nonprofits, noted, “Many of the greatest threats to the vitality of nonprofits and our communities occur at the state and local levels. The National Council and its State Association Network are uniquely positioned to identify these issues and work collaboratively with government officials to ensure nonprofits are able to continue delivering needed services.”

“This agenda provides a platform for education and engagement at the state and local levels that will be critical in giving nonprofits the tools and freedom they need to advance their missions of improving our communities,” added Kyle Caldwell, President and CEO of the Michigan Nonprofit Association, and chair of the National Council’s Public Policy Committee.

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The National Council of Nonprofits, the nation’s largest network of nonprofit organizations, works through its member State Associations to amplify the voices of America’s local community-based nonprofit organizations, help them engage in critical policy issues affecting the sector, manage and lead more effectively, collaborate and exchange solutions, and achieve greater impact in their communities.