Sharing story and COVID-19 collide

Just ahead of Congress shuttering its doors because of the COVID-19 pandemic, representatives of community foundations from across the Hoosier state and staff of the Indiana Philanthropy Alliance gathered March 8-11 for the annual Foundations on the Hill.

We participated in seminars and visited with members of Indiana’s congressional delegation, including 9th District Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, Sen. Todd Young, Sen. Mike Braun and others.

In one sense, the timing wasn’t the best because of the then, as now, quickly evolving pandemic. But in another sense, the timing could not have been better.

Not so good was the awkward greetings — elbow bumps rather than handshakes. And the quick, awkward glance when someone nearby coughed or sneezed. Unease was palpable, although the hallways and lunchrooms of congressional office buildings were far less crowded than normal.

But the unfolding pandemic — and the local reaction that followed our visits — proved rather timely because of our prime talking points, which included expanding the federal charitable deduction and protecting and enhancing the work of donor-advised funds.

The philanthropic sector is concerned changes in the charitable deduction in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 may well lead to fewer and smaller donations to nonprofits undertaking important and impactful work in our communities. Making the charitable deduction available to all Americans — a proposal supported by the Indiana Philanthropy Alliance — would increase giving by an estimated $4 billion a year. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress included a $300 charitable deduction across the board for all Americans in the recently enacted CARES Act. Recognition, it appears, that an all-inclusive incentive for charitable giving has merit.

Another topic of our conversations with lawmakers and their staff focused on two issues involving donor-advised funds. We asked lawmakers to consider expanding the IRA charitable rollover contributions to them. Such gifts to community, field of interest and designated funds are allowed without being taxed as income. We think donor-advised funds should qualify, too.

We also shared the valuable, impactful work that donor-advised funds help finance in our communities. There are some in Congress who cast a weary eye toward donor-advised funds, concerned that some donors are simply parking money and doing nothing with their gifts.

That’s not the case with the donor-advised funds administered by the Community Foundation of Jackson County. Those funds produced $61,635 in grants during 2019, including grants awarded to a number of local agencies, including the Southern Indiana Center for the Arts, local churches, Clarity of South Central Indiana, Anchor House, Community Provisions and others.

Here’s another matter where our timing of this discussion coinciding with the COVID-19 pandemic collided and provided a good illustration of the impact of donor-advised funds.

Because of the increased demand for services resulting from the COVID-19 shutdown, Fred and Tracie Moritz recommended three grants from the Everett V. and Maria Moritz Fund to the Boys and Girls Club of Seymour and to food pantries operated by Anchor House and Community Provisions.

“With COVID-19 disrupting so many lives, we have to do something to help any way that we can,” Fred said of the decision to recommend grants from the fund, which was established in August 1997. “We hope this helps the agencies do their work in these challenging times. This is a situation that these agencies could not have budgeted for and the need is great. I hope others see the need and contribute, too. The nonprofits in our community are going to need help.”

Likewise, Maggie Schneider recommended increased grants from the Jim Schneider Memorial Fund to help with the greater demand seen by the food pantries at Anchor House and Provisions.

Advisors to the Foundation’s donor-advised funds received annual reports in March, outlining the amount of money available for granting this year. Donor-advised funds allow the fund advisors the flexibility to make grants as they see the need arise. Decisions by the Moritzes and Schneider to recommend grants for the COVID-19 response are great examples of how these funds can provide important support during a time of need.

And the need for assistance through grants provided by the generous gifts to the Foundation can only expect to grow this year. That seems certain, just as the degree of increased needs – and for how long — remains quite uncertain. Like others, including our community partners at the Jackson County United Way, the foundation is monitoring the ever-changing situation. After all, we’re all in this together, and together we’ll all get through it.

The foundation remains committed to helping our donors and nonprofits meet the challenges that face our community as, together, we build stronger, better tomorrows.

President and CEO Dan Davis of the Community Foundation of Jackson County writes a monthly column. He is a member of the public policy committee of the Indiana Philanthropy Alliance. The foundation is at 107 Community Drive, Seymour, IN 47274. For information about donating, call 812-523-4483 or send an email to [email protected].