Discuss Door County: Growing Older Community Statement Release and Reception

The Community Foundation invites the community to a public reception for the unveiling of the Discuss Door County: Growing Older in Door County Community Statement.

Discuss Door County is the banner under which the Door County Community Foundation listens to the community. Throughout 2016, the community gathered together to share their aspirations and visions for us as we grow older together as part of Discuss Door County: Growing Older in Door County. The Final Report is an outgrowth of that work.

4GRather than releasing a dry report, the Community Foundation wanted to add the flavor that is so indicative of Door County and enhance the report with artwork and creativity. All artwork that was submitted for consideration to be included in the Final Report will be on display at the May 9th reception. We are honored to be displaying the works of Nalani Bicoy, Faith Blackley, Martha Coventry, Diane Evenson, Laurie Haig, Beverly Hart Branson, Bonnie Hartmann, Susan Hoffman, Sherry Mutchler, Rafael Phillips, Brian Pier, Susan Reyonlds-Smith, Gerald Richter, Judy Roy, Nancy Sargent, Jamaica Schroedl, Julie Stratton, Paula Wendland, and Buttons Wolst.

A public reception to release the Final Report and unveil the artwork will be held on May 9th, 2017 at Hope United Church of Christ in Sturgeon Bay from 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm.  If you are able to attend, please email rsvp@GiveDoorCounty.org or call 920-746-1786 to RSVP.

The Door County Community Foundation, Inc. is a collection of separate charitable funds set up by individuals, families, non-profit organizations, private foundations and businesses that are managed, invested and disbursed for the current and future good of Door County.  The Foundation was launched in 1999 and currently administers more than $17 million in charitable assets.

Typing My Father’s Words

In a weird sort of harmonic convergence, I’m composing this column on March 24th on what would have been my father’s 94th birthday. Bernaldo Daniel Bicoy passed away four years ago, just a handful of days before he was to turn 90. While I’m naturally always a bit reflective when his birthday rolls around, 2017 is particularly poignant for me.

On April 3rd of this year, I will be exactly 47 years and 5 days old. While that hardly seems a noteworthy age in the grand timeline of one’s life, it’s a day that has long been circled on my calendar. For on April 3rd I will be precisely the same age my father was when I was born.

BernieWhile few of my childhood friends gave any thought about the age of their own father, it was never far from my mind. Most other dads I knew were in their late 20s or early 30s when my father was in his 50s. At a time when other kids’ parents were a part of the counterculture, Dad was a decorated veteran of World War II and Korea, wore three-piece suits every day, and listened to Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey on his 8-track tape machine. In other words, Dad stuck out like a sore thumb.

I can still clearly remember the day I turned 18. I was standing at the kitchen counter next to Dad and watched him open the envelope containing his very first social security check. He had recently celebrated his 65th birthday. Dad was always a lot older than the other fathers. He was always an old man to me.

Yet in an odd contradiction, as old as I knew my father was, I never seemed to consider that he had lived nearly half a century before I was born. Yes he seemed old, but the arrogance of youth led me to conclude that obviously nothing of consequence could have occurred in his life before I had entered it.

As a child, I didn’t like that my father was so much older than all the other fathers. During my most formative years he was at the peak of his professional success. That left precious little time for family. Further, Dad had been married several times and thus his attention was necessarily divided. In later years, I would jokingly begin phone calls by saying, “Dad, this is child number two from wife number three.” I always got a good laugh as he tried to figure out which of his children was calling him.

I have no memory of throwing a ball, riding a bike, or going camping with my father. I can recall only one occasion when we went to a ballgame together. We didn’t do the things together that other fathers did with their sons. When I was young, I saw that as his failing. Perhaps I still do.

Yet as I reach the age my father was when I was born, I have begun to appreciate the incredible gift I was blessed to receive precisely because Dad lived half a century before I entered his life.

On many occasions, I’ve quoted extensively from Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by the Franciscan priest Richard Rohr. It explores how most of us spend the first half of our existence focused on our career and individual selves. Yet the best among us eventually transition to using our time on earth to building a meaningful life. Unlike the younger parents of most of my peers, when I was a boy my father was most certainly in that second half of life about which Rohr writes.

When I was 10 years old, my father was 57, professionally successful, and no longer felt the need to prove himself to anyone. Rohr writes that people who have made the transition to the second half of life think to themselves, “I no longer have to prove that I or my group is the best, that my ethnicity is superior, that my religion is the only one that God loves, or that my role and place in society deserve superior treatment. I am not preoccupied with collecting more goods and services; quite simply, my desire and effort – every day – is to pay back, to give back to the world a bit of what I have received. I now realize that I have been gratuitously given to – from the universe, from society, and from God. I try now, as Elizabeth Seton said, to ‘live simply so that others can simply live.’”

Imagine what a gift it is growing up with a father whose age and wisdom has given him this kind of perspective of the world.

Rohr writes that people like my father feel, “We no longer need to change or adjust other people to be happy ourselves. Ironically, we are more than ever before in a position to change people – but we do not need to – and that makes all the difference. We do what we are called to do, and then try to let go of the consequences. We usually cannot do that very well when we are young.”

Rohr continues, “Now we aid and influence other people simply by being who we are. Human integrity probably influences and moves people from potency to action more than anything else.”

For most of my life I absolutely did not want to be 47 years and 5 days old with a brand new baby. I wanted to be a young father with time to spare and energy to share. I don’t regret having kids in my 20s, yet in many ways I wish I somehow could have been more like Dad when I was a young father. Unquestionably, as a boy I was a beneficiary of the wisdom he developed in the second half of his life.

After Dad died, I went into his study and sat in his chair. At nearly 90 years of age he had been writing his biography on a computer that many would have considered slow and virtually obsolete. Before I left I disconnected his keyboard and brought it with me home to Door County. I still use it every day at the Community Foundation. My hands touch the same keys as my father’s did. As I enter the second half of my life, perhaps someday I will be able to articulate the example he gave me and echoes of his wisdom might be heard in the words I write.

This article, written by Door County Community Foundation President and CEO Bret Bicoy, originally appeared in the Peninsula Pulse

Community Invited to Gallery Reception

The community is invited to attend a reception on Saturday, June 3rd from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., at the Door County Community Foundation. The reception celebrates the Lobby Gallery Winter Exhibition featuring works by Margaret (Mac) Schueppert. The Community Foundation is located at 342 Louisiana Street in Sturgeon Bay, across the street from the Post Office.

DSC_0051 (1) (3)Mac is known for her vibrant use of color. “The local color of my subject is only a suggestion as I am always looking for ways to push and expand color,” says Mac. “I paint mainly landscapes but recently I have enjoyed painting cloudscapes and reflective water. I am drawn to dramatic lighting on my subject; strong contrast of of bright light and dark shadows. It’s what inspires me to paint.”

The Community Foundation’s reception is being coordinated with the “Wildlife Biennial XVIII” exhibition at the Miller Art Museum that same evening. Wisconsin’s finest carvers, sculptors, and painters explore the natural world. Guests are encouraged to visit Sturgeon Bay and drop by both the Miller Art Museum and the Community Foundation Lobby Gallery opening receptions.

Refreshments will be served at the Door County Community Foundation by Morag Hornsby and her team at Serves You Right Catering.

Each quarter, different Door County artists will be invited to exhibit their work. The Gallery is normally open to the public during the Community Foundation’s regular hours of 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

For more information about the Community Foundation’s various grant programs, visit www.GiveDoorCounty.org.

The Door County Community Foundation, Inc. is a collection of separate charitable
funds set up by individuals, families, non-profit organizations, private foundations and businesses that are managed, invested and disbursed for the current and future good of Door County. The Foundation was launched in 1999 and currently administers more than $17 million in charitable assets.

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Winter is Coming: The environmental failings of tax law

It was nearly four decades ago that I first got involved in charity in a meaningful way. I was in the third grade at Pearl Ridge Elementary School and helped organize a recycling drive to collect newspapers and aluminum cans. This effort had the dual benefit of removing waste from the landfill stream as well as generating revenue for our school as we sold the recyclables to private vendors.

To that nine-year-old boy, spending my career in the nonprofit world was the furthest thing from my mind. Yet I have spent virtually the entirety of my adult life working for charitable and philanthropic organizations. I’ve helped create more than two-dozen new charities in places as varied as Ohio, Nevada, Hawaii and Wisconsin.

During the last few years on our beautiful little peninsula working for the Door County Community Foundation, I’ve been involved in administering the Door County Green Fund and helped found Healthy Water Door County. While I’m certainly no attorney, I’ve spent far more time than anyone ever should trying to understand the organizational structure of effective charities and the complexities of the tax code as it relates to charitable giving.

Yet even after decades of this work, it has become painfully obvious that, like Jon Snow, I know nothing. I was reading a November 2016 article on nonprofitlawblog.com when for the very first time I saw the reality of a simple truth in charitable tax law that had long been staring me in the face.

Preserving and protecting our environment is not inherently a charitable act.

For decades, we’ve managed to work around this omission in our nation’s tax laws, but inevitably, it is a growing menace that we eventually will have to confront. As the Jon Snow character from the television series Game of Thrones ominously likes to say, “Winter is coming.”

Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) identifies seven exempt purposes that qualify an organization as a public charity. Specifically, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) defines a charitable contribution as a gift to an entity “organized and operated exclusively” for religious, charitable, scientific, literary or educational purposes, or prevents cruelty to children or animals, or an organization that fosters amateur sports competition.

Yes, you read that correctly. The IRC says that promoting amateur sports is inherently charitable but that protecting the environment is not. To quote from that article, “Environmental as a 501(c)(3) Charitable Purpose,” I recently read on nonprofitlawblog.com, “there is no explicit mention of environmental purposes in the statutes or regulations defining what is charitable under Section 501(c)(3) of the Code.”

Of course, we all can name plenty of terrific environmental groups that have been recognized by the IRS as 501(c)(3) public charities. The problem is that to earn their tax-exempt status, they had to link their environmental mission to another purpose that the IRS would consider charitable.

Professor Edward Lloyd of Columbia Law School’s Environmental Law Clinic wrote about this issue in his 2015 paper, “Clarifying IRS’s View on Climate Change as a Charitable Purpose.”

Lloyd wrote, “There is no explicit mention of environmental protection in the statues governing what is charitable. The IRS does consider environmental preservation to be a charitable purpose, however the IRS often looks for additional charitable factors and justifies the environmental activities not as charitable because of their environmental protection, but as charitable because of other benefits they provide.”

To obtain recognition as a public charity by the IRS, you typically justify the organization’s charitable nature under labels such as “lessening the burdens of government” or “combatting neighborhood deterioration.”

Lloyd notes, “When these factors are absent, it seems much harder to get the activity considered as charitable.”

On the surface, it’s easy to dismiss this glaring omission as nothing more than bureaucratic gobbledygook. After all, isn’t what most environmental groups do inherently “educational” or “charitable” which should qualify them as tax-exempt under 501(c)(3) of the IRC?

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. The Sustainable Economies Law Center provides guidance on its website, writing, “What you think is ‘educational’ or ‘charitable,’ may not be the same things the IRS considers to be ‘educational’ or ‘charitable.’ The only way to know with any certainty whether the IRS would accept your activity as tax exempt is to look at rulings where the IRS has examined similar activities. These rulings can be found in Private Letter Rulings, Revenue Rulings, and tax court decisions.”

Therein is the problem. Rather than a clear statement in the IRC that preserving and protecting the environment is inherently charitable, you need to parse individual rulings to see if what you’re trying to do will earn you the coveted designation as a 501(c)(3) public charity. Unfortunately, a patchwork system of legal reasoning that was adequate for the environmental challenges of the past is now beginning to fail us as we deal with the most pressing issues of today.

In the 1970s, the IRS issued a series of landmark rulings, which made clear that environmental preservation could be considered a charitable activity. IRS Revenue Ruling 76-204 and its precursor 75-207 provided the line of legal reasoning that begins with recognized charitable activities and eventually links us to the conclusion that preservation of ecologically significant land is a charitable purpose.

It’s this legal justification we use even today for such organizations as the Door County Land Trust, The Ridges Sanctuary, and even the Open Door Bird Sanctuary. These rulings led to an explosion of new environmental charities in the latter part of the 20th century dedicated to protecting environmentally sensitive areas and the wildlife that calls them home.

A key commonality among many of these organizations is that they deal with specific pieces of land that you could outline on a map. The environmental mission of organizations like the Door County Land Trust is direct and identifiable because you can point to the tracts of land that are now protected as a result of their charitable work.

Unfortunately, more recently the IRS has been less receptive to organizations that define the land they are trying to protect as the entire planet. The IRS has also explicitly questioned the value of incentivizing individual environmentally-friendly actions that have almost no individual impact, even if they collectively can change the world. I’m certainly no environmental expert, but this seems to be the essential strategy of organizations dedicated to combatting climate change — and it’s a strategy that has been recently questioned if not explicitly rejected on several occasions by the IRS.

In a Private Letter Ruling in 2012 (IRS PLR 201210044), the IRS determined that an organization providing solar panels to low- and middle-class households did not qualify as a 501(c)(3) public charity because its impact on the environment was “indirect and tangential.”

Similarly, another Private Letter Ruling (IRS PLR 201017066) in 2010 denied public charity status to an organization dedicated to reducing greenhouse gases and carbon emissions by providing down payment assistance to families that otherwise could not afford to purchase energy-efficient homes. Once again, the IRS found that the environmental benefits were too “non-specific and indirect.”

The IRS has also denied 501(c)(3) public charity status to organizations that are dedicated exclusively to promoting the use of more efficient environmental technologies. In 2013, the IRS ruled that an organization whose activities consisted of posting papers on the newest technology, providing demonstrations of how it works, and offering public presentations did not meet the standard for public charities. The IRS said that “these activities do not, in and of themselves, preserve or protect the environment in a manner that is sufficient for 501(c)(3) purposes (IRS PLR 201311028).”

Of course, there are many organizations addressing climate change that have passed muster with the IRS, but they typically do so by justifying their work by linking it to some other non-environmental purpose that is explicitly written into the IRC. This convoluted logic is the inevitable outcome of our nation’s failure to include environmental protection as one of the defined charitable activities.

This problem is only going to grow. As Lloyd writes, “This is especially an issue when dealing with climate change, as the links between emissions leakage and the resulting impacts on the environment may not be as clear as in other areas of the environment, and given how global and diffuse the problem is, it requires acting on individual emissions that may not of themselves be significant, but which together cumulatively add up to significant impacts.”

While it’s tempting to point the finger at the IRS for this failing, these government officials are merely trying to apply existing law to today’s environmental issues. Ultimately, the IRC is written and enacted by the United States Congress. Thus far our elected officials have failed to effectively address this problem with the tax code.

Lloyd notes a solution would be to simply have “environmental protection and climate change specifically added to Section 170(c)(2)(B) and 501(c)(3) of the [Internal Revenue] Code.”

Until a change is made, it appears likely that our tax law will increasingly hinder our ability to deal with today’s most pressing environmental concerns. Winter is coming.

This article, written by President and CEO of the Door County Community Foundation Bret Bicoy, originally appeared in the Peninsula Pulse