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Foundations help our communities thrive - August 26 2014

Tax reform legislation will affect important work done through charitable contributions

This is a Guest Column by Diane Abraham
President and Chief Executive Officer

Community Foundations in America gave nearly $50 billion in 2013. That's a massive investment in our nation, made possible by American generosity and supported by sound tax policies from Washington. With lawmakers like Rep. Tom Petri, R-Fond du Lac, headed back to Washington next month to make some important decisions that will affect charitable giving, now is the perfect time to showcase the important work of philanthropy in our community.

The Oshkosh Area Community Foundation is proud to contribute. During the past 86 years, we have granted nearly $80 million. The Foundation's work helps people create a legacy through their charitable passions by supporting programs, projects and initiatives that transform lives. We are investing in our communities and ensuring the quality of life that we enjoy today will continue.

A great example of how charitable giving is changing our community is through the legacy of Tom and Penny Harenburg. Tom, a life-long resident of Oshkosh, has worked hard to help residents of this community grow and prosper. After doing well in life, he's giving back. Thanks to considerable gifts from the Tom and Penny Harenburg Zoo Fund, admission to the Menominee Park Zoo is free. The number of annual visitors to the zoo has more than doubled to 90,000 people compared to when a fee was charged. That's 90,000 people each year who come to our community to enjoy the incredible waterfront park and learn about Wisconsin's native animals. And it's thanks in part to the Harenburgs and their love for the zoo and their community. That's a legacy worth celebrating!

Foundations are rooted in the communities they serve and are uniquely able to combine resources across sectors to address emerging and ongoing needs. As the public sector continues to cut back, it's important that our leaders in Washington, like Petri, understand philanthropy's importance here in Winnebago, Green Lake and Waushara counties, and are mindful of how their decisions affect our work.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp's laudable effort to achieve comprehensive tax reform illustrates how the decisions taken by Congress could have immediate benefits - or cascading consequences - for our community.

A provision establishing a permanent IRA charitable rollover, for instance, would give much needed clarity to donors as they decide how to support programs they care about. It was heartening to see the House of Representatives take action on this common sense reform by passing the America Gives More Act, and we hope to see it quickly become law. We thank Petri for his vote in favor.

Other proposals, however, such as a mandatory pay-out period for donor advised funds, would restrict donors and threaten their ability to ensure a lasting impact from their contributions. As it stands, many donor advised funds do quickly distribute their funds, but others are specifically designed with the long-term in mind. We strongly support keeping the current law, which permits community foundations to hold, manage, and advise donor advised funds because these charitable vehicles support worthy causes in the community for years to come.

We hope that Petri and other lawmakers will take the time to work with philanthropic leaders and ensure that tax policies enhance and expand foundation impact.

The Oshkosh Area Community Foundation is a nonprofit charitable organization created by and for the people of Winnebago County, Waushara County, Green Lake County and Ripon. Through charitable giving, the Community Foundation strives to make our communities thrive. For more information, please call 920-426-3993.

 

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