DeBoer & Morehouse: Finding a way to give more

By Kristin DeDoer, executive director of the Kestrel Land Trust and
Andrew Morehouse, executive director of The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts

As a country, we give away a larger proportion of our income to charity than any other nation. Regardless of how you slice the data — overall, per capita, size of the gifts or type of giving –— the United States is the most philanthropic nation in the world.

In 2013, more than 95 percent of households gave to charity, with individual Americans tallying a staggering $241 billion in total. The average annual household donated almost $3,000 over the course of the year. In the Pioneer Valley, on Giving Tuesday, 188 nonprofit organizations participated, generating more than 4,260 individual donations totaling over $400,000.

And yet, there’s a catch: We can do more.

Landmark bipartisan legislation is pending in Congress that can multiply the millions of individual acts of generosity happening across the country. We need Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey to join the more than 50 Senators who have cosponsored this bill and are working actively to pass it as soon as possible.

Known as the America Gives More Act, this bill makes permanent three critical tax incentives that promote charitable contributions and enable the nonprofit sector to better serve those most in need. It passed the House of Representatives overwhelmingly in February and is now pending in the Senate.

Our organizations and the entirety of the charitable nonprofit sector in Massachusetts support this historic measure. The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and the Kestrel Land Trust fulfill our missions by helping those in need and building stronger and more vibrant communities across America. We go to work every day to ensure that local farmers, businesses and landowners have the means to conserve natural resources and place food on the tables of hungry families in need.

The food donation tax deduction allows small business to donate excess food to food banks. This would be a tremendous benefit to our region where more than 211,000 individuals received emergency food in the last 12 months that was provided by The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts directly and through 230 local feeding programs, including pantries and meal sites across all four counties in our region. The majority of this population resides in Hampden County, which has a disproportionately high percentage of minorities and limited access to fresh food.

The legislation’s impact on preserving agricultural land to grow healthy food for Americans with lower incomes, underserved populations, and communities of color cannot be overstated.

Kestrel Land Trust and The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts are now working together to protect permanently farmland, with a conservation easement, that will produce hundreds of thousands of pounds of fresh vegetables annually for food insecure households across our region.

The tax incentive for land conservation is directly responsible for conserving more than 2 million acres of America’s irreplaceable natural outdoor heritage. Known as a conservation easement, this approach allows landowners to trade their development rights for a limited tax deduction. These tax incentives are helping Kestrel Land Trust permanently protect working farms and forests throughout the Pioneer Valley from Pelham and Granby to Hatfield and Westhampton.

Our organizations along with other charitable organizations and nonprofits in Massachusetts and throughout the country support the America Gives More Act. By making the charitable tax incentives permanent, we have the opportunity to multiply the millions of individual acts of generosity happening across the country and make those contributions permanent.

We are counting on Sens. Warren and Markey to do their part so we can continue to serve our neighbors and communities.