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Continued: Wean nonprofits off special tax treatment

  • Article by: MIKE MEYERS
  • Last update: August 18, 2013 - 11:10 AM

The 2012 statistics on nonprofit donations, compiled by the National Philanthropic Trust, offer a snapshot of givers’ priorities: Religion, $101.54 billion; education, $41.33 billion; human services, $40.4 billion; grantmaking foundations, $30.58 billion; health organizations, $28.12 billion, and public-society benefit groups, $21.63 billion.

Private charity sometimes fails to reflect the interests of the public. For instance, while churches claim the largest chunk of charitable donations, only four of every 10 Americans regularly attend church. Why are the people who stay home on Sunday subsidizing those who spend the morning singing hymns and passing the offering plate?

A nation with more than 1.5 million nonprofits practices charity. It should apply focus.

Tax deductions for private charity leave the government with billions less in revenue to do the public’s business. Meanwhile, citizens are further removed from decisions on how to spend money on “public welfare” than they would be if government had a direct hand in doing work now left to charities.

It’s possible the status quo won’t endure. Right-wingers never have been keen on a complex tax code, riddled with “tax expenditures.” On the left, do-gooders should see that government has the potential to be a more reliable benefactor than the perpetual rounds of charity balls, fundraising appeals and $100-a-plate ­rubber-chicken dinners that are staples of the nonprofit arena.

Will the nation ever make the shift? Someone should form a 501(c)(4) group and start lobbying.


Mike Meyers, a former Star Tribune business reporter, is a Minneapolis writer.

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