By Evelyn Brown, Firelight Foundation
If you’ve ever tried to do it, giving away large sums of money is harder to do than you might think. Grantmaking organizations face a number of regulations imposed by the government, dictating who we can give grants to and under what circumstances. To complicate things further, the regulations are often vague and difficult to interpret without expensive legal counsel. It’s only a matter of time before grantmakers start resenting the barriers we face in trying to get money out the door. We’re just trying to do our part to make the world a better place… why make it so difficult?
At the recent Grants Managers Network (GMN) Annual Conference that very grievance was addressed by IRS Director of Exempt Organizations Lois Lerner during her plenary speech. Lerner introduced herself to over 400 members of the grantmaking community as the “kinder, gentler face of the IRS.” For so many non-profit organizations, the IRS can feel like a particularly irritating thorn in our side, as we face threats of penalty taxation, or even losing our exempt status, if we don’t adhere closely to their often confusing regulations.
But as Lerner reminded us in her honest and straightforward speech, “Most of you are just trying to do good, but some of you — some of *them* — aren’t.” And she’s right. If moving money as an exempt organization was easy, there’s no doubt that many more people without philanthropic intentions would find a way to take advantage of the system. Unfortunately, what it means for the majority of us, those who are ”just trying to do good,” is investing extra time and effort into jumping through the hoops required to fund programs that are making real, positive change.
The question then becomes: How do we do our work properly without getting bogged down in compliance issues and losing sight of our higher purpose? That’s where good grants management comes in, an area that groups like GMN focus on in order to help foundations spend more time actually making grants and less time trying to navigate tricky regulations.
GMN’s Annual Conference brought grants management staff together from across the country to brush up on legal compliance and share information on grantmaking effectively and efficiently. It was an amazing thing to see a conference hall filled with individuals dedicated not just to making sure that our charitable organizations know and follow every rule and regulation, but also to figuring out how to do so efficiently so that the greatest portion of our limited resources continues to make it to the ground.
Plus, it bolsters my confidence in the philanthropic community to know that there is a quiet army of rule-followers working to ensure that organizations intended to benefit the public aren’t being used for things like tax evasion, private benefit, or funding terrorist activities. This often behind-the-scenes investment in best practices and streamlining is a great testament to the will to do good and do it right.
This post originally appeared on the Firelight Foundation blog