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Thursday, February 29, 2024
Feb. 29, 2024

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New Philanthropy Roundtable CEO Christie Herrera ready to fight for donor privacy


NEW YORK (AP) — Christie Herrera says, as the new president and CEO of Philanthropy Roundtable, she plans to fight for the principles the advocacy organization has always prized. But Herrera, who was officially promoted in mid-October, recognizes that battle is getting tougher and more complicated than ever.

“The Roundtable is going to be who we’ve always been — and that’s a home for donors who share our values,” she said. “We will continue to be passionate about philanthropy, about values-based giving, about philanthropic freedom, and about philanthropic excellence – the nuts and bolts of giving that I feel the philanthropic sector has gotten away with some of the social issues they’re taking up.”

Challenges to the Roundtable’s values abound, however – even from fellow conservatives. The House Ways and Means Committee, led by Republican Rep. Jason Smith of Missouri, is looking into the political activities of tax-exempt organizations and wrote that “Congress may need to consider closing growing loopholes that allow the use of tax-exempt status to influence American elections.” Legislation in the Senate, co-sponsored by Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and independent Sen. Angus King of Maine, looks to require donor-advised fund account holders to complete donations within 15 years in order to maintain their income tax deductions. Currently, there is no time limit for donor-advised fund account holders to complete their donations.

And some experts, including Chuck Collins, director of the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies, say Americans trade their right to privacy on their donations when they seek tax deductions for them. (“If that money is not being used for the tax system, we should know something about where it is going,” he said.)

The Associated Press spoke recently with Herrera about her promotion at the Roundtable, where she has worked since 2019 and oversaw its philanthropic programs, and policy and government affairs, marketing and communications teams. She previously worked with elected officials in various states to create legislation for nonprofits.

The interview was edited for clarity and length.

Q: We live in polarized times. Do you feel the Roundtable should lessen that polarization?

A: Yeah, absolutely. Freedom is important no matter what you believe. And we always love finding allies across the aisle and forming those strange bedfellows coalitions because that’s the only way we’re going to get policy done, especially with a gridlocked Washington and so many purple states.

Q: What is the biggest challenge you see to the Roundtable doing what it has in the past?

A: It’s one thing and one thing only and that’s protecting philanthropic freedom. That is what makes generosity possible — allowing donors to give where and when they choose. The really interesting thing about this is that we’re seeing threats coming from the left and the right, which puts the Roundtable in a unique position to stand up for philanthropic freedom, for conservative foundations and progressive foundations, because we believe in the right to give no matter what your ideology.

Q: Does philanthropic freedom include the right to give anonymously?

A: Absolutely. Donor privacy is the biggest sleeper issue in philanthropy. I think it’s time for philanthropy to step up and start talking about these donor privacy issues. We saw the Supreme Court rule on this in their last term and really this freedom to give to the causes you care about without harassment or intimidation is important on the right and the left.

Q: The number of Americans who donate to nonprofits is declining. Are privacy concerns part of that?

A: I think it’s a lot of things. The decline in the number of people who identify as religious is probably part of that since religious giving is a huge part of philanthropy. But these policies do not help. The King-Grassley legislation that was introduced in the last Congress, restrictions on family foundations, private foundations that give to (donor-advised funds), the regs that are about to come out through the IRS and Treasury. Naming and shaming donors will ultimately hurt. It’ll hurt the donors and hurt the charities they care about.