Highlights from CalNonprofits Annual Policy Convention 2015

your vote matters phrase handwritten on blackboard with heart symbol instead of O

Our team had the pleasure of attending the CalNonprofits Annual Policy Convention in Oakland yesterday. It was a nonprofit conference full of practical substance with a strong emphasis on attendees actively engaging their stakeholders and getting them to vote.


The morning keynote address by Dr. Raphael Sonenshein was outstanding. He noted that anger and fear motivated people to vote more than hope. And currently, white people without college degrees are angry, alienated, and attracted to Donald Trump. They vote because they feel their lives depend on it.

On the other hand, voters characterized by hopefulness more than anger, are less likely to vote unless deeply engaged. They turned out in big numbers to elect President Obama, who ran a campaign on hope and change, but largely failed to vote at the last election.

Because lawmakers act with little concern for groups of people who are not voting, and sadly, these groups include many people served by nonprofits, nonprofits need to engage and mobilize them. Part of the challenge is that such individuals, including many minorities, feel disengaged because they are underrepresented and unfamiliar with the electoral process. Moreover, institutional barriers prevent their participation. Such barriers include voter registration requirements, language barriers, and lack of voter education and outreach. Sonenshein identified voter suppression as the civil rights issue of our time.

Despite Trump’s current polling numbers, Sonenshein predicted Speaker Paul Ryan would eventually be pegged the Republican candidate at a brokered convention.

Rules to Know

Rosemary Fei (Adler & Colvin), Elizabeth Bluestein (Public Counsel), and I presented a session on 10 17 Rules Your Nonprofit Needs to Know For 2016. You can download our resource list here. Here is a list of topics we covered, Pardon the Interruption-style (3 minutes for each topic):

  1. Minimum wage
  2. Lobbying and ballot measures
  3. Local lobbying ordinances (including San Francisco’s Prop C that passed the night before)
  4. Electioneering/voter education/voter registration/get-out-the-vote drives
  5. Status of IRS proposed regulations for 501(c)(4)s and political activities
  6. Affiliations among exempt organizations (e.g., 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4))
  7. New entity forms (like the benefit corporation)
  8. New private foundation rules (mission-related investments, foreign public charity equivalents, PRIs)
  9. Crowdfunding
  10. Raffles
  11. Commercial fundraisers
  12. Overhead in grants/contracts – federal circular, private foundation funding
  13. IRS Form 1023-EZ
  14. Payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs)
  15. Attorney General Annual Registration Renewal disclosures for fiscal sponsors and others
  16. New Attorney General regulations on operating while suspended and new laws on administrative dissolutions of nonprofit corporations
  17. Required donor list disclosures to the Attorney General

Advocacy Agenda

During lunch, CalNonprofits CEO Jan Masaoka presented An Advocacy Agenda for California’s Nonprofit Community and a Report on CalNonprofits’ Work. She cited some surprising statistics about California’s nonprofit sector detailed in CalNonprofits’ Causes Count report (a highly recommended read). I knew the nonprofit sector was the most trusted of the three sectors (the others being the for-profit sector and government). But I did not know that the nonprofit sector was also viewed as the sector that operates most effectively and most efficiently. Masaoka identified the nearly 1 million employees and 7 million volunteers of California nonprofits as a voting bloc. The key and a principal goal of CalNonprofits is to engage them to actively and consistently vote.

More on the Convention

Afternoon breakout sessions included a Town Hall Meeting on Nonprofit Overhead and An Economic Forecast for the California Nonprofit Sector. The day closed with Q & A with the Democratic and Republican Leaders of California featuring Cynthia Bryant, Executive Director, California Republican Party and Shawnda Westly, Senior Strategist, California Democratic Party. Post-convention workshops today include Using Social Media to Raise Money; Real Costs – Realistic Strategies: Understanding, Communicating, and Funding the Full Cost of Your Services; Nonprofit Insurance Boot Camp; and OMB Uniform Guidance: Evaluating Options to Recover Your Full Costs.