PennFuture Blog

Our Perspectives on the Latest Issues

Fundraising, Events, and COVID-19

On Monday, March 9thwhat seems like a lifetime agoPennFuture and 35 other environmental groups from across the state participated in the "Fighting for Our Future: Pushing Back Against Taxpayer Subsidies for Fossil Fuels" rally at the State Capitol. 

More than 100 people turned out to encourage Gov. Wolf’s veto of House Bill 1100, which would have provided ridiculous incentives and billions in taxpayer subsidies to lure more petrochemical plants to Pennsylvania. We’re very glad to say that the Governor did veto the bill, though the Legislature could still mount an attempt to override that veto. We are proud to have packed the room during the rally, but it’s obvious that more people would have attended if not for fears about the coronavirus pandemic, which was just starting to spread in Pennsylvania.

A week later on March 16, all PennFuture staff were working from home, and all PennFuture events had been either cancelled or postponed. It was up to us to improvise and find a way to still do our important work virtually, in accordance with quarantine and stay-at-home orders implemented in mid-March. 

Our first effort at working within the new normal was partnering with Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania. In that partnership, we were able to successfully pivot the in-person Earth Day events we had planned into a 30-Day Challenge online to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day virtually. 

Other events were left in limbo, including our 6th Annual Women in Conservation Awards Dinner. It was to be held on April 30th at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, and we were really looking forward to it! Each year, PennFuture honors the accomplishments of exceptional women conservationists in Pennsylvania.

The awards are designed to encourage continuing excellence in conservation and to forge a stronger network of exceptional women working to protect Pennsylvania’s environment. Each year the event moves to a different part of the state to honor these women: this year to Southwest Pennsylvania.

Before I continue on about the event, let’s take a moment to congratulate the 2020 Women in Conservation Honorees:

  • Women of Lifetime Achievement in Conservation

Caren Glotfelty – Executive Director of Allegheny Parks Foundation
Beverly Braverman – Executive Director of Mountain Watershed Association
Patricia DeMarco, Ph.D. – Author and Documentary Film Producer

  • Woman of Environmental Community Engagement

Maren Cooke – Environmental Science Educator, Sustainability Salon Host

  • Woman of Renewable Energy and Climate

Sharon Pillar – Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Solar Center

  • Woman of Environmental Arts

Ann Rosenthal – Environmental Artist & Educator

  • Woman of Environmental Media, Marketing, and Communications 

Kirsi Jansa – Documentary Filmmaker and Journalist

  • Woman of Environmental Education 

Camila Rivera Tinsley – Director of Education at Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy

  • Woman of Environmental Justice 

Raina Rippel – Director at Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project

  • Woman of the Watershed 

Melissa Reckner - Program Manager for Penguin Court, Brandywine Conservancy

  • Young Woman of Conservation Leadership

Leandra Mira - Leading Organizer of Pittsburgh’s FridaysForFuture & Climate Youth Strike

With a list like this it would have been a night to remember. Having it at the National Aviary would have made it unforgettable. The Aviary is a bird-lover’s treasure. Two years ago PennFuture hosted a fundraising party there to honor our retiring president Larry Schweiger. A bald eagle greeted our guests across from the check-in table. Cocktails were had with flamingos. Along with the amazing food and beverages served in view of the penguin exhibit, we also had visits to our dinner tables by an owl and a falcon. Combine that with family and friends coming together to celebrate these women—live events don’t get much better than that. 

We knew we had to postpone it. At first we thought we could schedule it for June, but quickly realized even that would be too soon. Now, we hope we can have the event safely at the Aviary on October 8th but know that it may not be possible to have a live event at all this year. Later this summer, if we determine we can still have the event live, we’ll be sure to let everyone know and make tickets available for purchase. If instead we have to host a virtual event, we’ll do so with enthusiasm and hope that you can join us in safely honoring these women, in whatever way we can.

The Women in Conservation event is a fundraising event for PennFuture. The funds it brings in from our generous sponsors and from tickets sales provide unrestricted support for our environmental watchdog work. Not having the event makes it more difficult for us to do this work.

Most of PennFuture’s funds come from grants which are restricted to very specific projects which are planned out months, if not years, in advance. Unrestricted funds from events and from individual donors allow us to have the flexibility we need to respond to environmental threats in real time. For example, if not for the generosity of a handful of concerned donors this spring, we would not have been able to quickly organize the March rally against HB1100 and create the successful publicity campaign around it. Unrestricted dollars make a difference.

That’s why I want to give a special shout out to the corporate sponsors of the 2020 Women in Conservation Dinner who have stayed with us in their support during these difficult times. Thank you to NextEra Energy Resources, Signature Financial, MaherDuessel, and CLA (CliftonLarsonAllen)! If you are affiliated with a company that is interested in joining them in sponsoring the 2020 Women in Conservation Awards, please let us know.

Though it has been difficult for us, and all charities, to change and postpone our fundraising events, there has been some good news this spring for the nonprofit world. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provides three new incentives for donors to contribute to their favorite charities this year:

  1. There is now a $300 above-the-line ($600 for couples!) charitable income tax deduction. What this means is that if you make a donation in 2020, and don’t itemize on your 2020 taxes, then you can now give $300 to charity and get a full $300 tax break in addition to the standard deduction. That’s right, your donation today is 100% deductible. There’s never been an incentive like this before to give to the causes you care about!
  2. If you do itemize, then there is a benefit for you too! The new law allows for cash contributions to qualified charities such as PennFuture to be deducted up to 100% of your adjusted gross income for 2020. Ordinarily, the income tax charitable deduction for cash gifts is limited to 60% of your income. This 100% limit allows you to reduce your 2020 federal income tax to zero. Your charitable deductions in 2020 cannot exceed 100% of your income, but you may be able to carry unused charitable deductions forward to future years. Please check with your financial advisors to determine whether the 100% deduction makes sense for your specific circumstances.
  3. IRA donations:  For 2020, there will be no mandatory distributions from retirement accounts (whatever the age of the owner), thus allowing those accounts to recover. The minimum age for making a tax-free transfer from an IRA to a charity remains at 70½, and the annual limit remains at $100,000. However, since cash gifts are deductible in 2020 to the extent of adjusted gross income (100%), a person could withdraw and then contribute a larger amount—with the deduction offsetting the taxable withdrawal. Again, please check with your financial advisor regarding this. 

We know that right now making a charitable donation may be the last thing on your mind, and perhaps something not even possible to consider. The pandemic has created unfortunate and worrisome economic conditions. If you or your family have been adversely impacted by workplace closures or furloughs, you have our deepest sympathies. We are thinking of you and hope to hear from you when things get better.

However, if you are in a position to make a donation to PennFuture, or to any other charity you care about this year, then because of the CARES Act it may be one of the most economically advantageous times to do so. Think of it as a stimulus donation. 

These are difficult, unprecedented, and unpredictable times we are living in. Nothing can be done as it was before. Before we do anything we now first think “how can I do this safely?” And if we can’t do it safely then how do we “pivot” and change our expectations so that we can be safe? It requires determination and flexibility to stay successful. And it requires trust and hope to make it worthwhile. 

PennFuture is determined to be your environmental watchdog regardless of the challenging circumstances, and we are very grateful for the trust you have given us to support this work. 
We hope to see you at the National Aviary in October to celebrate the 2020 Women in Conservation honorees. 

Stay safe!

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