For those of you that don’t know, an anonymous “Young Staffer” frequently posts some of the most illuminating, complex ideas in the comments section of this blog. Today he/she struck again in a comment on Steve Butz post “Opening Plenary”. So I’m going to make the anonymous commenter an honorary member of the Tactical Philanthropy Blog Team and post the comment below:
By Young Staffer
I understand your sentiment, Steve, but I think your adopting a lot of the professional language of the sector which let’s us glide over the political challenges of what you’re proposing the IRS should do.
Let me explain. We talk about “impacts,” “strategic donations,” and “promising practices” as if those are objective, scientific things. They’re not. People disagree about what the impact should be, what the strategy is, and what’s promising.
Let me start with the obvious example: How would the IRS determine the effectivess and impact of a Planned Parenthood and an absistence-only sex education organization working in the same community? What about think tanks on opposite ends of the political spectrum? These kinds of organizations can’t all “succeed” in achieving their missions. They spend their days actively fighting each other.
Then you get to the next most obvious: organizations for whom their holding themselves accountable to their mission is very subjective. If your goal is provide quality art to the community, you can definitely debate a group’s success at that. Think about the NEA and its work and tell me that determining quality isn’t controversial and politically-heated. And politically-heated doesn’t usually lend itself well to bureaucratic standardization.
And let’s think for a second about the biggest parts of the U.S.’s nonprofit sector: health and education. Some of the biggest battles in the political world today are over whether health and education should be provided by the government or by the private sector. That’s because people don’t agree about who is best suited to provide them and how one defines “best.” What standards of non-fiscal accoutnability would the IRS use to measure hopsitals and universities and private schools? Are there any that aren’t politically contentious?
A look at your brief intro tells me that these are mostly not the parts of the sector you work in. But before we go proposing that federal government impose non-fiscal accountability, we have to think about what the full sector is accountable for. And, in my opinion, the sector is far too diverse for us to think a standard, bucreaucratic form of “non-fiscal accountability” is possible for all 501(c)(3) organizations or even all private foundations, which support the full range of these organizations.
Unless you’re also proposing that we start re-writing the tax code toseparate out social service focused nonprofits from arts from advocacy from universities from… and then we can maybe talk.