The Future of Nonprofits – an Interview with Tom Harvey (Part II)

By University Alliance

Thomas Harvey Nonprofit Director University of Notre Dame Thomas J. Harvey has spent his career working to curb discrimination, reduce poverty, and boost access to social services and healthcare. He has steered nonprofit organizations at the local, national and international level, including serving as chief executive and president of Catholic Charities USA.

As the Luke McGuinness Director of Nonprofit Professional Development at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, Harvey oversees degree and non-degree programs designed to cultivate future leaders in the nonprofit arena.

In 2003, the Council on Social Work Education named Harvey as one of the 50 social work pioneers of the second half of the 20th century. Harvey has earned bachelor’s degrees in philosophy and theology, and master’s in social work and theology, as well as a certificate in nonprofit management. He co-wrote the book Nonprofit Governance.

In the second part of our two-part interview with Harvey, we asked him about a range of issues facing the nation’s nonprofits, including government contract requirements, the charitable deduction and the role of technology in fundraising.

Many nonprofit organizations that receive government grants and contracts struggle with the complex requirements of federal, state and local agencies, which can account for a significant portion of a nonprofit’s administrative budget. What steps can be taken to minimize these difficulties?

a)      Little seems to improve this situation regardless of which party is in office. Accountability in a very fragmented government infrastructure makes it almost impossible to effect positive change. I recommend at least following the 33 Principles for Good Governance and Ethical Practice that are recommended by the Independent Sector (a coalition of leaders from nonprofit agencies, corporate giving programs and foundations).

b)      Nonprofits today must belong to state and national associations, both to advocate for change, as well as for keeping informed on how to navigate a broken system. Many financially challenged nonprofits will complain that they cannot afford to pay (association) dues. That is shortsighted. They need the very inexpensive power that comes from shared expertise within defined fields of service.

Can the charitable deduction be modified to strengthen the charitable sector and, if so, how?

At this point, it is more important to keep the deductions at least where they have been, off and on, for several decades. Every time there is an effort to simplify the tax system, this deduction is challenged. Most of the leadership of the nonprofit sector now follows the lead of the Independent Sector in formulating a policy position, as well as in participating in the advocacy efforts involved in this issue.

What role can grant proposals play in funding a nonprofit program?

Keep in mind that most donation income flows from individuals. Seeking grants can be very frustrating due to the need for relationship building; few foundations will fund “cold” grant requests. Unless the grants are fairly large, this is an area of fund development best left to the large and well-staffed organizations.

Are there limitations to lobbying efforts by nonprofit organizations?

The IRS publishes very clear guidelines for how much “advocacy” a 501(c)(3) nonprofit can do. Every nonprofit should get good legal advice in this area. However, there is an irony to this issue. Severely limiting the amount of advocacy that a nonprofit service provider can do denies the government a source of feedback on why a program is successful or not. Accountability for a government-funded program does not seek to understand how the program can be improved.

Have charitable organizations embraced technology and are they utilizing it in their fundraising activities?

This is a very mixed area of infrastructure development along a continuum of the largest and most sophisticated nonprofits, such as health systems and universities, at one end and food pantries and shelters at the other end. The problem was once called the “digital divide.” It is still a very uneven playing field. However, the young employees coming into entry-level jobs are bringing with them expertise in social media that will increasingly benefit smaller organizations that can exploit this new reality to the benefit of their organizational mission. It will be interesting to see how the new developments will play out in the next five years.

Return to Part I - Notre Dame's Thomas Harvey Discusses the Future of Nonprofits

Category: Nonprofit Leadership