For my state reps:

Next time the crazy lady with the pink hair (that would be me) wants to know what you think can be done for small nonprofits, here’s what you can say:

1. Use meaningful incentives
Every job creation or infrastructure bill needs to include an area addressing the fact that tax incentives are meaningless for nonprofits. We already have the mother of all tax incentives– an exemption from corporate income tax. This does not mean that you can wash your hands of the issue. If you’re offering tax incentives to for-profit business for creating jobs or improving infrastructure, then you need equivalent grant-incentives for non-profit business.

2. Don’t put us in competition with each other
As some of you are already pointing out, by yelling at your computer screen (pro-tip: I can’t hear you), there are in fact grant programs for non-profit job creation in place. The problem is, these are limited and competitive–a pool of money has been set aside, you write an application (often onerous for small nps) and when it’s gone it’s gone. In the meanwhile, my for-profit cousins are defined into “classes”– by size, industry, or geography– and if they fit the criteria, they get the tax break. Grants should be awarded on the same basis. If you fit the criteria (for instance, state Arts Council grants recipient), then that job creation grant should be automatic if you request it. Many private foundations are now doing this–creating “yours for the asking” extra pools of money for their existing donees.

3. Use us for job training
Nonprofit managers run the leanest, savviest businesses you can imagine, largely by seriously understaffing their operations. In small arts groups in particular, administrative support positions are unheard of. Job training programs and government-supported internships could have the effect of getting nonprofits the entry-level, administrative workers that they desperately need, put young people to work, and help them create the skills and resumes they’ll need to be competitive in the job market.

4. Talk to us (and listen to us)
Make sure that nonprofit, in particular small nonprofit, businesses are at the table. Create a legislative aide position just for the np sector, and/or make sure that your small business aide is including nonprofit in their outreach and conversations.

5. Make sure regulation helps
Regulation can be a good thing, to keep neighborhoods safe and healthy, to compel compliance with local needs and issues, and to maximize revenue benefits on both sides of the equation. But remember that the local nonprofit no-kill dog shelter doesn’t operate on the same scale as the ASPCA. Don’t burden the little guys with regulations meant for major players. Further, be cautious about regulations supported by the big guys–are they just trying to squeeze out the local competition, which might not have the infrastructure or financial resources available to comply with (or fight) burdensome rules?

6. And speaking of infrastructure
Use infrastructure and stimulus dollars to help local nonprofits. Make parking structures available near theaters; in urban settings make it free to local arts patrons, so that urban theaters don’t lose customers to suburban venues sitting in a sea of free, bond-built parking lots. Encourage TIFF, SBIF and bond-supported projects to include nonprofit activities–for instance, by mandating free office or program space at sports venues to Boys and Girls Clubs or other neighborhood outreach programs.

7. Make it easy, and lucrative, for businesses to support local nfps
Give tax incentives to the people who can use them–our for-profit cousins–for innovative fp-np partnerships and mixed-use development.

8. Discourage start ups
Dear god, did I just say that? There goes my livelihood. Right now, non-profit status is handed out pretty willy-nilly, if you know how to cross your t’s, dot your i’s and write a check. Start ups should have to engage in due-diligence to prove that they aren’t duplicating or poaching existing services in their area, and that they have adequate resources that will not zero-sum existing agencies out of business. (This goes double for all those associations, alliances, studies, and nfp business incubators that compete directly for grant dollars with the people actually providing services.)

9. Don’t tell me how to run my business
As everyone to the right of Karl Marx will tell you, government needs to get out of the business of business. They aren’t very good at it. At the Legislative Breakfast last week, I was actually offended at one Rep’s patronizing suggestion that I just “look for individual donors” and “reduce administrative costs.” Printing on both sides of the paper isn’t a solution, but smart legislation and respect for the little guy are.

10. Use the bully pulpit to support the sector
Help explode the myths about nonprofits–that we’re inefficient, grasping, and incompetent. If you stop people saying it about us, maybe we’ll stop people from saying it about you.

How do you think government can help nonprofits?

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