CalNonprofits held its annual Policy Symposium on December 7, 2022. This year, the event was a half-day accelerated and virtual version featuring a keynote from CA Assembly Majority Leader Eloise Gómez Reyes. The theme this year was Our Moment for Action.

California nonprofits are at a turning point. Over the past couple years we’ve demonstrated our strength, our resilience, and the critical role we play in supporting our communities through the most difficult of times. Now is Our Moment for Action – a moment to push for important changes that will help us not just survive, but thrive in the years to come! … It’s all about equity for our sector as we push for reforms that improve our ever-expanding work with government and unlock charitable dollars for the good of our communities. 

CalNonprofits CEO Jan Masaoka, in her last CalNonprofits event before her departure, emphasized the importance of improving government contracting and its impact on equity and the nonprofit workforce. See Improving nonprofit-government contracting will benefit communities across California (October 2022).

Assemblymember Reyes, quoting John Bunyan, stated: “You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” She noted that nonprofits are often hidden in plain sight as significant contributors to employment (1 in 14 California employees work for a nonprofit), (governmental funded) public services, GDP (15% of the State’s GDP), and women’s leadership (73% of nonprofit management teams are women). See A Thriving Nonprofit Sector is Critical to California’s Economic Recovery.

Malcolm Yeung, Executive Director of the Chinatown Community Development Corporation (CCDC), highlighted three underlying themes in Masaoka’s introductory message:

  1. The difference between BIPOC-led nonprofits and nonprofits rooted in BIPOC communities.
  2. The importance of all-volunteer orgs.
  3. The importance of nonprofit workforce development (including beyond identified leadership).

Equity, Nonprofit Workforce, and Government-Nonprofit Contracts

The California Contracting Coalition, convened by CalNonprofits, has been engaged in a statewide advocacy effort to change government contracting practices to produce more timely, reliable, and equitable payments to nonprofits, support living wages, and increase access to contracts for smaller and BIPOC-led organizations performing critical work in communities across the state. This Coalition recently sent a letter with 550 nonprofit signatures to the Governor and state leaders.

Assemblymember Luz Rivas, Chair of the Assembly Select Committee on the Non-Profit Sector, added two more points: (1) State contracts with nonprofits doing necessary work in the communities are not flexible enough, and (2) nonprofits and funders need to support nonprofit workforce for retention. Rivas further noted in a response to my tweet:

During the pandemic, CA depended on our nonprofit partners. Just like govt depends on nonprofits to show up, nonprofits should feel supported by govt. Nonprofits shouldn’t wait months for a reimbursement from the state and should be able to pay their staff a livable wage

Donor-Advised Funds and Philanthropic Reform: The Drive for Change

More than 1 trillion dollars is currently warehoused in donor-advised funds (DAFs) with no payout requirement or transparency of any kind. CalNonprofits is a leader in raising these issues and seeking regulatory reform for tax fairness and fraud prevention… California seeks to be the first state to bring common-sense transparency to Donor-Advised Funds.

Professor Ray Madoff briefly described her very influential stance on DAFs. See, e.g., Initiative to Accelerate Charitable Giving (Madoff is one of the key members) and the Accelerating Charitable Efforts (or ACE) Act (current legislation that was heavily influenced by Madoff’s research).

Assemblymember Buffy Wicks discussed her introduction of bills to increase transparency regarding DAFs and the heavy and hostile opposition she faced from both expectedly from commercial-related DAF sponsoring organizations and somewhat unexpectedly from community foundations. Wicks and other presenters called on community foundations to engage more in solutions with respect to the issues with DAFs, including the lack of a distribution requirement and lack of transparency, especially for the biggest DAF sponsoring organizations.

Call for Action

The Symposium devoted a little bit of time for attendees to advocate to Governor Newsom for improved policies regarding government contracting with nonprofits during the Symposium. I have never seen that before and participated in one of the three alternative methods of contact provided by CalNonprofits.

The following messages amplified the Symposium’s theme of action:

  • Nonprofits must engage and set aside time and resources for public policy. Legislators may be uninformed about your particular issues even if they have the will to help. Support them with your wisdom and the wisdom & stories of your beneficiaries.
  • Nonprofits need persistence, research & analysis, organizing, collective action, and the ability to say “no” to bad contracts.