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Treasury and IRS Rule Changes Reduce Barriers to Global Grantmaking

The U.S. Department of the Treasury and the IRS have recommended a significant change in the process for determining whether a foreign nongovernmental organization (NGO) meets U.S. standards for charitable giving.

In “Reliance Standards for Making Good Faith Determinations,” a document published today in the Federal Register, Treasury and the IRS have proposed regulations that lessen the administrative and financial burdens for U.S. grantmakers to engage in international philanthropy. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the guidance in an address at the Clinton Global Initiative, during which she unveiled the Global Philanthropy Working Group.

The process of evaluating whether a non-U.S. NGO is equivalent to a U.S. public charity has been subject to rules that have not changed for 20 years. Under current regulations, an equivalency determination is considered made in good faith if it is based on either (1) an affidavit of a foreign organization or (2) an opinion of counsel of the grantor or grantee. Today’s guidance broadens the range of professionals on whose written advice a private foundation may rely when making such grants. Secretary Clinton noted in her remarks this morning that the change clears the way for the establishment of organizations that can serve as repositories for equivalency determinations, though the proposed regulations do not specifically address this matter. The Council and TechSoup Global have been working together to create such a repository, called NGOsource.

“Secretary Clinton’s announcement this morning elevates the understanding of the role philanthropy plays in addressing pressing global issues,” said Vikki N. Spruill, president and CEO of the Council on Foundations. “At a time when challenges continue to mount and needs know no borders, this is a critical and positive step in enabling philanthropy to give as much as it can, where it is needed most, wherever that may be. The Council is proud to have represented our members’ needs and taken the lead on bringing about this important regulatory action.”

“Secretary Clinton’s announcement and the IRS guidance support a shared cross-sector vision of ways to reduce redundancy and lower costs and are a welcome signal from the government to grantmakers and their grantees,” said Rebecca Masisak, co-CEO of TechSoup Global.

“The IRS guidance is an encouraging building block for the development of an equivalency determination repository that will enable private foundations to identify and grant to overseas NGOs with greater confidence and ease,” noted Sheila Warren, director of NGOsource for TechSoup Global and an attorney with expertise on tax-exempt law. She added that NGOsource is expected to launch as soon as possible.

Kelly Shipp Simone, deputy general counsel of the Council on Foundations, said, “While this guidance is key to reducing the burdens of private foundations in making international grants, we expect it will also serve as a guide to public charities seeking to make similar grants. The net result will be to reduce the burden on potential grantees as well.”

Treasury and the IRS have requested comments before adopting these proposed regulations as final. Information about the proposal and instructions for submitting comments can be found at https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2012/09/24/2012-23553/reliance-standards-for-making-good-faith-determinations. However, private foundations may begin to rely on the proposed regulations immediately.

To receive announcements about regulatory decisions affecting international grantmaking and about NGOsource, sign up online at www.ngosource.org/subscribe or send an e-mail to [email protected].

About the Council on Foundations

The Council on Foundations, formed in 1949, is a nonprofit membership association composed of approximately 1,800 independent, community, and family foundations and corporate giving programs in the United States and abroad. The Council’s mission is to provide the opportunity, leadership, and tools that philanthropic organizations need to expand, enhance, and sustain their ability to advance the common good. For more information, please visit www.cof.org.

About TechSoup Global

TechSoup Global is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit social enterprise working towards the day when every nonprofit, library, and social benefit organization on the planet has the technology knowledge and resources it needs to operate at its full potential. TechSoup Global was founded in 1987 on the belief that technology is a powerful enabler for social change. Today, it has over 200 employees and an annual budget of US$33.5 million. It operates programs in Africa, the Americas, Asia Pacific, Europe, and the Middle East through a network of independent capacity-building non-governmental organizations. With support of leading technology companies — including Adobe, Cisco, Microsoft, and Symantec — TechSoup Global and its network have reached more than 384,000 organizations, including more than 46,000 organizations outside the United States; distributed more than 10 million technology products; and enabled recipients in 58 countries to save more than US$3.2 billion in IT expenses. For more information about the TechSoup Global Network and its programs visit www.techsoupglobal.org.

About NGOsource

NGOsource, a project of the Council on Foundations and TechSoup Global, is an equivalency determination service that will help U.S. grantmakers streamline their international giving. Envisioned by grantmakers for grantmakers, NGOsource will simplify the often expensive, complicated, and duplicative task of evaluating whether a non-U.S. organization is equivalent to a U.S. public charity—a process known as equivalency determination, or ED. The service is expected to launch as early as 2013. For more information, please visit www.ngosource.org.

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