New Zealand Nonprofit Loses Status in Culture War

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May 6, 2013; TVNZ

The culture war has cost Family First, a New Zealand nonprofit that promotes marriage between one woman and one man, its charitable status. The independent Charities Registration Board has removed the organization from the Charities Register and endangered the nonprofit’s tax-exempt status because it does not meet New Zealand’s definition of a charity.

“At a recent meeting of the board, the members determined that Family First’s purpose did not meet the charitable purpose recognized in New Zealand law and set out in the Charities Act 2005,” said Brandon Ward, General Manager Charities at the Department of Internal Affairs.

According to New Zealand’s Charities Act of 2005, “charitable purpose includes every charitable purpose, whether it relates to the relief of poverty, the advancement of education or religion, or any other matter beneficial to the community.” Ward contends that Family First’s main purpose is “to promote particular points of view about family life” and “under the Act promotion of a controversial point of view is a political purpose.”

Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First, counters that the Charities Registration Board’s decision is a “highly politicized decision which is grim evidence that groups that think differently to the prevailing politically correct view will be targeted in an attempt to shut them up.” McCoskrie and his organization were very vocal in its opposition to New Zealand’s marriage equality bill, which was enacted last month.

Family First is free to advocate for its belief about marriage and families. The nonprofit is also free to believe that its advocacy is good for society. “Family First maintains that it is beneficial to the public that it promotes debate and discussion of different points of view on family life,” Ward conceded. He went on to say, however, that “the current legal position is that promoting debate on particular points of view is not a charitable purpose.”

Ironically, the pro-marriage equality Green Party has come to Family First’s defense. “Advocacy in charities is where we also keep our democracy,” said Green MP Denise Roche. “Not-for-profits and charitable organizations have a real role in advocating for a better society, and if they are unable to do that then we lose a voice.” Roche believes that the current law should be revisited and is working on a bill that would include advocacy under the “charitable” rubric.

The ability of nonprofits to advocate on behalf of their constituents and causes is indeed crucial to any vital democracy. Establishing rules, however, on defining and regulating the participation of charitable organizations in the democratic process is a fraught exercise. Should Family First decide to appeal to the High Court, New Zealand will be forced to reconsider the role of nonprofits beyond providing charity. Many of us will be watching.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire.

Filipino-American Political Invisibility and Community Organizations

Filipinos were living in Louisiana as early as the 1750s and have been integral members of American society ever since. They have labored in Hawaii’s sugar cane plantations, picked vegetables in California, tended Washington’s strawberry fields, and worked in Alaska’s fish canneries. They now take care of the sick and elderly, educate America’s children, serve in the U.S. military, and help power commerce and industry. Filipinos are also the second-largest Asian group in the United States,below Chinese.

Despite this long history in the United States and their considerable number, Filipinos remain politically invisible, particularly at the federal level. Only two members of Congress are of Filipino descent: Rep. Steve Austria of Ohio and Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia. President Obama’s Asian American presidential appointees are predominantly of East and South Asian descent. This lack of representation at the highest levels hinders issues relevant to the Filipino-American community from surfacing and getting addressed.

Ethnic community nonprofits can facilitate integration into the mainstream. Some strive to give their constituents political voice and power. A glance at Filipino-American organizations can help explain the group’s political invisibility.

The National Center for Charitable Statistics identifies over 700 Filipino-American nonprofits, not counting regional associations and congregations that are not readily identifiable as Filipino. Four in ten are classified as arts and culture nonprofits and two in ten are faith-based. This comes as no surprise because many ethnic organizations foster awareness and maintenance of native culture. Filipino-Americans also tend to be religious and predominantly Roman Catholic.

It is striking, however, that less than a percent of Filipino-American nonprofits are advocacy groups. These are the nonprofits that are vital to political participation and representation. This dearth, no doubt, contributes to the Filipino-American community’s lack of political presence and clout.

While other factors can help explain Filipino-American political invisibility, it is worth the community’s time to take stock of their organizations and consider what more they can do to get their voices heard.

Filipino-American Community Organizations by NTEE Classification

Source:  National Center for Charitable Statistics (IRS Business Master File)

 Originally posted on Urban Institute MetroTrends Blog, March 23, 2012.

Crowdfunding Advocacy

December 19, 2011; Source: The Huffington Post | Start-ups, social enterprises, various groups, and individuals have turned to crowdfunding websites to raise capital for their ventures. These entrepreneurs solicit contributions from investors and donors through such websites as Kickstarter and IndieGoGo.

Award-winning photojournalist Amanda Lucidon is among those raising money through crowdfunding.

Lucidon’s The Legal Stranger Project documents, through a series of intimate personal stories, the great disparities encountered by lesbian and gay couples under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which, according to Lucidon, “allows the federal government to merely recognize these couples as ‘legal strangers.'”

DOMA was signed into law under the Clinton administration, and limits federal recognition of marriage to straight couples.

Lucidon was inspired by what she witnessed when marriage equality was legalized in Washington, D.C. two years ago. So was she dismayed by what she learned?

“I met Amy Sokal and Alex Khalaf, a couple whose lives I’d end up documenting,” Lucidon said. “At first I thought I would follow Amy and Alex’s journey through the first year as newlyweds after D.C. legalized marriage for same-sex couples. But as I began to look deeper into the issue, I discovered that there are actually 1,138 federal rights, benefits, and entitlements associated with marriage.”

She reflected on how she and her husband, along with other married straight couples, are automatically entitled to such benefits. She began asking friends, “Did you know you’re entitled to 1,138 rights when you get married?”

Most people had no clue. Lucidon was spurred to act. “I wanted to take a closer look at the issue to see the personal impact on same-sex couples and families.”

She has since spoken to and documented stories of lesbian and gay couples. Lucidon hopes to share these stories to a broader audience, but like so many other documentarians, funding has been a challenge.

Lucidon has started a fundraising campaign on IndieGoGo to help offset the ongoing costs of the Legal Stranger Project. She hopes that others will help her shed light on the injustice suffered by lesbian and gay couples by donating, sharing the campaign link, or following the project’s progress on Facebook and Twitter.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, December 21, 2011.

The Outlook (And Some Solutions) For Nonprofits

“Where’s the light at the end of the tunnel?” This was the key question for panelists at a recent Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy (CNP) event held to explore what’s ahead for this sector.  Marking its 15th anniversary, CNP asked nonprofit leaders and thinkers to give their take on the “new normal” – limited funding, increased demand, and intensified scrutiny.

The outlook for nonprofits is daunting, according to Stephen Bennett, president and CEO of United Cerebral Palsy:

I’m not sure there’s an end to the tunnel. I think things are totally different, and I’m not sure I’m looking for light at the end of the tunnel anymore. It’s kind of a wasted exercise for me. We have to do things very differently, I think, in going forward.

Bennett’s view is understandable. The Great Recession and lingering economic torpor strain nonprofits while government funding is down and private giving remains static. Nonprofits make do with less while demand from Americans with nowhere else to turn grows. Talk in Washington about reforming the tax code and charitable deductions and revisiting nonprofit tax-exempt status heightens nonprofits’ anxiety.

Yet, nonprofit experts and leaders convened by CNP at this and other anniversary events offered some solutions for getting through today’s dark tunnel.

Be strategic about limited resources.  Obvious? Maybe, but nonprofit executives and boards need to weigh both the short term and long term costs of cuts. Letting go of staff or drawing down reserves might bridge current gaps, for instance, but can also undermine capacity and viability.

Collaborate and partner. Nonprofits have long worked together to help the individuals and families they serve. Besides sharing resources and expertise with each other, nonprofits can partner with the wider community to address systemic issues. Nonprofit housing assistance agencies in the Washington, D.C. metro area, for instance, can collaborate with school districts to minimize the impact of the foreclosure crisis on children moving homes and switching schools.

Identify and reward best and promising practices.  Private and public funding has to be maximized and channeled to programs proven to get results. Mario Merino, co-founder and chairman of Venture Philanthropy Partners, urges nonprofits to “manage to outcomes.” That means using information to guide decisions and operations, which leads to measurable and meaningful impacts.  That said, nonprofits need financial support to gather information and measure outcomes.

Innovate. Marta Urquilla, senior policy adviser at the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, says that “when we talk about innovation in this context, we’re not talking about novelty. We’re talking about the innovation that comes from the relentless pursuit of results.” Funders must resist funding “the latest thing” for two to three years and then chasing the next big idea. They should see a new initiative through since false starts and glitches can bedevil even very viable programs.

Advocate, especially at the state and local level. The political climate in Washington means that there’s little or no pay off in trying to get Congress and the administration to act on behalf of nonprofits. Julie Rogers, president and CEO of the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation, cites the Think Twice Before You Slice Campaign in the Washington, D.C. metro area as an example of an initiative that has convinced local and state governments to preserve funding for nonprofits (in this case, more than $45 million) by showing the contributions nonprofit make in their communities.

Educate the public. Bennett believes that the general public isn’t aware of the extent of nonprofits’ contributions and challenges because nonprofits are resilient and usually don’t turn anyone needy away. Educating people, many of whom benefit from nonprofits, can get them to support nonprofits more.

Harness technology and the internet. Joining the digital revolution can be a low- cost and effective way to reach out to the public, raise funds, and train practitioners.

Nonprofits may be stuck in the tunnel for now, but there are ways out of the dark.

Originally posted on Urban Institute MetroTrends Blog, October 21, 2011.

Gay Group Celebrates Accurate Portrayal of LGBT Community

September 3, 2011; Source: LGBTQ Nation | Queer folk are ubiquitous in popular media. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) women and men jockey to be the next Oprah, appear regularly in primetime television shows, give style advice in magazines and blogs, and dance with the “stars.”

The portrayal of LGBT individuals and families, while on its way to mirroring reality, still has a way to go. Stereotypes and caricatures are prevalent and enduring.

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) recognizes and honors “fair and accurate representations” of the LGBT community through its annual Amplifier Awards which single out television, print, outdoor, and social media advertising campaigns that promote positive images of LGBT people and issues.

This year’s award recipients were named on September 2 and featured mainstream advertising such as Google Chrome’s television campaign “The Web is What You Make of It: It Gets Better Project” which encourages LGBT youth not to give up; Kaiser Permanente’s print campaign “Stick Around. Things Get Interesting” which pictures an extended family that embraces a gay couple and their baby; and American Airlines’ outdoor campaign “Beach Towel” which depicts vacationing gay and straight couples.

GLAAD Acting President Mike Thompson told LGBTQ Nationthat “the advertising industry is still behind news and entertainment media in terms of including images that reflect the diversity of LGBT people. By highlighting the great work of all of our award recipients with an Amplifier Award, we hope their corporate peers will begin including our community in ads which accurately reflect the fabric of American culture today.”

Thanking individuals, organizations, and others for promoting the interests of a minority group is not new. For example, the National Council of La Raza, the nation’s largest national Latino civil rights and advocacy organization, honors those who have furthered the rights of Latinos during its annual conference. And local groups like Ten Outstanding Filipino Americans in New York (TOFA-NY) hold their own awards ceremonies to recognize individuals who have positively raised the profile of their communities.

By contrast, a key attribute of the GLAAD awards is that they recognize forms of popular culture that mainly originate outsidethe community that promotes the welfare of LGBT Americans. LGBT advocacy groups understand the important role of allies in calling attention to the community’s struggle for equal rights, and they raise up these supporters as models for observers who might otherwise not be as aware of or predisposed toward the interests and concerns of LGBT individuals and families.

Minority advocacy organizations tend to recognize examples of achievement within their own communities, as well they should. The GLAAD awards show that they also stand to gain by recognizing and encouraging support from outside the community.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, September 15, 2011.

Chinatown Community Center Embroiled in Political Campaign?

August 4, 2011; Source: The Bay Citizen | Ed Lee, Interim Mayor of San Francisco and the first Chinese-American to hold the post, has said for months that he would not run for mayor this November. But after an intense grassroots campaign with alleged ties to a Chinatown community-based development organization, Lee is expected to heed the slogan emblazoned on the t-shirts of volunteers  – “Run Ed Run” – and announce his campaign this week. This will leapfrog him into frontrunner status, ahead of other candidates who were counting on him not to run.

This has put an unwelcome spotlight on the Chinatown Community Development Center (CCDC), a low-income housing nonprofit that receives millions of dollars in city funding and has a long-standing relationship with Lee. As a charitable entity, CCDC risks losing its tax-exempt status if it is found to be engaging in political activity on behalf of the politician. CCDC has an annual budget of about $6 million, a third of which comes from the city.

Gordon Chin, CCDC’s executive director, defended his organization saying he and other executives have not instructed staff members, tenants and members of its youth program to support Lee or any other candidate. In an interview, Chin insisted that “We know the fine line between being in issue advocacy and electoral politics.” He added that the “Run Ed Run” campaign reflects ethnic pride and more importantly, is part of the broader political awakening among Chinese residents, who make up 21 percent of San Francisco’s population.

The problem is, Chin is one of four leaders of the political campaign and a longtime ally of Rose Pak, the head of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce who was instrumental in Lee’s appointment as interim mayor in January and has publicly encouraged him to run for a full term. Moreover, another CCDC executive, David Ho, the center’s political director, is also a strategist in the effort to get Lee to run for mayor. Ho is likewise tied to Pak, as her political protege and heir apparent.

The center’s political director, David Ho, is also working as a strategist on the effort to draft Lee. Ho, 33, is a political protégé of Pak, frequently driving her to meetings and events and meeting with supervisors over drinks to deliver her messages. Some observers predict that Ho, a savvy community organizer, will succeed Pak as the pre-eminent leader of Chinatown politics.

As for specific complaints, the Modesto Bee article only alludes to them by saying that there are critics.

Like many community-based development organizations, CCDC has a long history of activism, including organizing tenant protests against landlords in the 1970s and 1980s and a series of large-scale campaigns in support of major housing bond initiative in the 1990s and 2000s. It is the nature of such nonprofits to advocate on behalf of their constituencies which tend to be low-income minority populations. Such activities are no doubt vital to a democracy that truly heeds all voices. However, these entities and their leaders need to be vigilant lest they be perceived as colluding with politicians. This may not only cost them their tax-exempt status; it may very well work against the individuals and families they are fighting for.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, August 4, 2011.

Asian American Labor Group Decries Wage Theft

July 29, 2011; Source: People’s World | The Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) recently held its eleventh biennial convening of workers, labor organizers, community allies, elected officials and young leaders in Oakland, Ca. The convention highlighted the problem of wage theft by inviting workers to share their stories.

Eun Yan, who used to work in a Chinese restaurant said, “We had no minimum wage, no overtime, no breaks, no benefits.” She described her job as “difficult, dirty work,” with long hours and constant abuse from managers.

Yan stressed that “this doesn’t just happen to Chinese restaurant workers” and that the abuse is “widespread among all groups, and also affects domestic and construction workers. It hurts families, consumers and overall economic development.”

Che Wong also shared his experience with poor and abusive labor conditions. He had come to the U.S. with limited English proficiency and worked for a construction firm whose many projects were publicly funded. He was injured on the job but the company’s owner told him not to report the incident, promising to pay all of Wong’s expenses. He was fired three weeks later and subsequently learned that the company had cheated its largely immigrant workforce of most of its wages.

The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that more than 11 million unauthorized immigrants live in the United States. Their undocumented status makes them easy targets for bad recruiters and employers who count on the immigrants’ fear of disclosure. By coming out with tales of abuse, immigrants are helping themselves, and shedding light on the problem. Advocacy groups, like APALA, and other nonprofits advance the cause of these hard-working people by making sure their stories can be heard.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, July 31, 2011.