The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.

Support the Coalition for Smarter Growth

The holiday season is upon us, including the season of giving to charitable organizations. I hope you will support the Coalition for Smarter Growth, the most influential smart growth group in the Washington region.

Their work is critical to creating, maintaining, and improving vibrant, walkable, and transit-rich neighborhoods throughout the Washington region. That's why I serve on their board of advisors and regularly contribute to their campaigns.

I hope you will consider supporting the Coalition for Smarter Growth with a $100 sponsorship of their 2013 campaign or whatever you can afford.

Please click here to sponsor the Coalition for Smarter Growth's 2013 campaign.

Your support can have a big impact and help to make a great region even greater.

With your contribution, you can personally help to make sure the Coalition for Smarter Growth keeps working on key projects like:

  • Fighting for new transit investments throughout the region;
  • Organizing to support good transit-oriented development;,
  • Stopping sprawl-inducing, retrograde highway projects;
  • Building networks of engaged residents to form a unified voice for policies that prioritize the creation of more livable, walkable communities.
Your dollars will speak loudly, adding to momentum across the region for a balance of transportation choices, from Capital Bikeshare to improved Metro and bus service. Your dollars will also help create more walkable neighborhoods where a car is just one of many ways to get to the grocery store, the library or the park.

Can you contribute a $100 sponsorship or whatever you feel is appropriate for the Coalition for Smarter Growth's 2013 work?

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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I prefer in general my contributions to go to organizations that are open and transparent about their funding sources, spending, and financial condition. That information is apparently not available from the Coalition for Smarter Growth. The only funder identified in their most recent annual report is the National Association of Realtors for the walking tours. I have inquired for this infor from CSG in the past without success. They have a fiscal agent identified as Piedmont Environmental Council and PEC has a 990 form filed. But while there is some information on spending and total revenues, i could not find information on their sources of funding. Not saying this is a bad cause or that they don't do good work that merits attention. Only that the transparency thing troubles me and steered me away from contributing.

by Tom M on Dec 12, 2012 3:45 pm • linkreport

can you please post the most recent tax returns, 990's or otherwise as well as audited financial statements for this charity as well as any other related-party charities? That will help us with our end of year decision making. I can not find them on guidestar for some reason. Thanks.

by Teddy on Dec 12, 2012 3:47 pm • linkreport

Also if they are soliciting contributions and calling them tax-deductible, then they better make clear to the public exactly where the 990's are. Or where the money is actually going. I noticed you used the word "sponsorship" which is not a "contribution" in the eyes of the IRS....

by Teddy on Dec 12, 2012 3:51 pm • linkreport

Teddy - CSG does not have a 501(c)3 status that i've been able to determine. Rather, they operate under the fiscal agency of Piedmon Environmental Council. PEC has a 990 form filed that is accessible from Guidestar. But it has the transparency limitations of any such form particularly when the viewer is primarily interested in the underlying activities of CSG.

by Tom M on Dec 12, 2012 3:53 pm • linkreport

Well when you click the link they are saying the contribution you make is tax-deductible so they have a lot of rules to comply with. If they do not have 501c3 status then how can they say the donations are tax deductible. This is far less transparent than I was expecting! THank you for the info. I won't give.

by Teddy on Dec 12, 2012 3:56 pm • linkreport

Fiscal sponsorship can give you the cover of tax deduction, but agreed, it should be more transparent. It is appropiate for small groups. CSG has a budget of how much?

Especially given the extensive among of lobbying that goes on.

by charlie on Dec 12, 2012 4:11 pm • linkreport

The above 5 posts smell of sock puppetry to me. Awfully suspect that a concerned prospective contributor would show up only 2 minutes after the first poster. I hope an admin checks the IP addresses - would be interesting to see where they are coming from.

by Phil on Dec 12, 2012 4:12 pm • linkreport

I hope an admin checks the IP addresses - would be interesting to see where they are coming from.

I was thinking the exact same thing.

by MLD on Dec 12, 2012 4:15 pm • linkreport

Phil -- I've lived and worked in DC since 1982. I've lived in Ward 3 for the past 17 years. I've been involved in environmental lobbying and research. Currently I work in philanthropy. So i know my way around information sources about charities. In fact, i've checked out CSG in the past and have contacted them with my questions without success/response. If you want to list your email, i'll be happy to contact you directly. I had to look up what a sockpuppet is (you spelled it wrong by adding the space). But i'm not one.

by Tom M on Dec 12, 2012 4:18 pm • linkreport

@Tom M @Teddy

Thanks for your questions! As the Communications Manager for the Coalition for Smarter Growth, I'm happy to address CSG's financials. Apologies that it took me a bit to notice this thread and respond!

Tom M is correct that the Piedmont Environmental Council serves as our fiscal agent, a legal term that you can read about here. As our fiscal agent, PEC serves basically as an administrative support, allowing our small staff of 6 to focus on program priorities rather than spending a large amount of staff time on things like payroll, HR, IT, etc. One effect of PEC serving as our fiscal agent is that we do not, in fact, have our own financial audits or 990, but rather are rolled into those of our fiscal sponsor files each year.

PEC's 990 is indeed publicly available on Guidestar, and PEC's financial statements, and links to its 2011 audit and 990, as well as other FAQs about donating are also available on their website here.

Speaking directly to CSG, our program funding sources in 2011 were approximately as follows: 79% foundations / 16% individual contributions / 5% corporate contributions. For more information on the foundations that support our work, be sure to check out our 2012 Annual Report, available on our website's financial information page.

If you have more or other questions about the Coalition for Smarter Growth's finances, we urge you to call our offices at (202) 675-0016, and ask for our Managing Director (Alex), who will be happy to help! Thank you in advance to those in the Greater Greater Washington community who help us as we continue to work for livable, walkable policies in the Washington area!

by Aimee Custis on Dec 12, 2012 4:44 pm • linkreport

Actually that is partly helpful. It lists foundation but not amounts. There is no list of corporate contributors. Nor is there a list of larger individual contributors. Finally, i'm not finding an annual budget. Are these someplace else?

by Tom M on Dec 12, 2012 4:52 pm • linkreport

David Alpert -- I note that you have a formal role with CSG and their annual report has a shout out for you. Is this something you feel you should note when suggesting sponsoring?

by Tom M on Dec 12, 2012 5:02 pm • linkreport

Tom M, David included that information in the post:

"That's why I serve on their board of advisors and regularly contribute to their campaigns."

by Birdie on Dec 12, 2012 5:21 pm • linkreport

No we are not sock puppets. I am an accountant with (a small amount of) extra money for year end deductions and looking for some decent looking causes. I also say thank you to Aimee for the info and good social media awareness. Anyway, fiscal sponsorship. Fair enough.

by Teddy on Dec 12, 2012 5:22 pm • linkreport

This is a great organization that operates on a shoestring budget. I agree with the endorsement!

by William on Dec 12, 2012 5:33 pm • linkreport

Second William. I will give $25 for general programs.

by matt on Dec 12, 2012 7:15 pm • linkreport

I support CSG annually and I thank them for their efforts. I don't usually discuss charitable giving but I think it's important for people to know that CSG has support.

by Michael Perkins on Dec 13, 2012 11:32 am • linkreport

Go to Guidestar and search under the Piedmont Environmental Council and you will see their 990s. On the 990s, you will see that Stewart Schwartz of the CSG is one of the PEC's TOP recipients of salary. The CSG is just one of several front groups the PEC uses to do its lobbying, but the funding comes from their wealthy benefactors who get tax deductions for putting their land in easements and making contributions to the PEC since the PEC is a 501(c)(3). So, you will not see CSG in the list on Guidestar. It is probably a 501(c) (4). But again, the funds come tax free from the PEC by paying Schwartz' salary. IRS rules state that a 501(c)(3) cannot use more than 20 percent of your revenue for lobbying, but all of the PEC's "field officers" (and Schwartz and Chris Miller the chief) are really lobbyists -- with a presence in Richmond and Annapolis. PEC front men like Schwartz may also be registered as lobbyists in the two state capitols, too. At least the Sierra Club is honest and has no c3 status and not only lobbies but endorses candidates. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation also is clean -- does not do overt lobbying. But the PEC and CSG clearly are skirting IRS rules.

by cross on Dec 15, 2012 7:34 pm • linkreport

"clearly", as in, in the opinion of "cross" who does not have all the facts. Neither do I, but an anonymous comment on a blog doth make an expert.

by William on Dec 16, 2012 8:21 am • linkreport

CSG does good work. But the PEC is an organization expressly dedicated to protecting a 9-county area from the tide of suburban expansion and other impacts. According to PEC's website, "The [Piedmont] region, which includes several of the fastest growing jurisdictions in the nation, has faced serious challenges over the decades. Yet, the people of the Piedmont care deeply about it and have strived to protect its special places and natural values. In 1972, their energy, commitment and collaboration gave shape to The Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC)."

What better way to stem the tide of development in your region than then to fund organizations that want to put all new development SOMEWHERE ELSE? None of PEC's nine counties are in smart growth areas. CSG's sponsorship by the PEC is an unholy alliance with NIMBYs. Where does PEC's money come from? Probably a lot of it comes from well-to-do donors in the Piedmont who wouldn't live in an Arlington hi-rise to save their lives, but they're expecting other people to live there. If CSG staff is on PEC's payroll that makes it even worse. It just smells bad.

by Jack Cochrane on Dec 17, 2012 12:55 am • linkreport

You have to seperate the tax exempt and tax deduction issues here.

Whatever your feelings about CSG, it is clear they should be a tax-exempt organization and not pay taxes.

Tax deductibility is another issue. That is a speciific benenfit, known as the (c)(3) status, that allows donors to deduct donations. This is the classic chairtable, educational, welfare organization although it has expanded out a bit in recent years.

As cross says, you can lobby as a c(3) but there are restrictions put into place. Having your ED salary is fine, but you have to keep record to make sure the lobbying aspect is less than 20% of the job.

The "fiscal agent" or sponsorship is a quick and easy way to start a small new project under an existing 501(c)(3) without having to file a new 1023. Perfectly fine for startups and very small groups. Groups with 6 employees that have enough money to file very fancy annual reports are NOT good candidates for a fiscal sponsorship.

So, why is CSG still operating under a fiscal sponsorship agreement rather than filing their own 1023. Total cost of that filing would be less than 10K tops. Also, exactly how much of CSG time and money is spent on lobbying and does it exceed IRS guidelines.

(When I advise nonprofits I usually tell them, because of timekeeping requirement, not to lobby at all)

There is a lot of abuse in this area. Do you really think Heritage (a c3) doesn't lobby? They do have a c4 to do more public communications but the reality is the iRS doesn't have the staff or resources to patrol this area. Republican type groups have been abusing the c3 process for years.*

Looking at the outside at CSG, it is a perfect c4 candidate and I don't see a major educational component of what they do. Their opening line of their annual report praises their advocacy. That being said, I can't find any more detailed information on their PR friendly and information free report, and I am glad to change my mind based on new facts.

If I was on their board of advisors I'd have some serious questions about the c3 status, how much lobbying is done, and the general lack of transparency. All of them do not look good.

* the only thing the IRS really cares about is to make sure you withholding taxes for any employees of a nonprofit. That is the only thing that will get you busted.

by charlie on Dec 17, 2012 7:08 am • linkreport

I wasn't aware this was Greater Greater Unsolicitedtaxandbusinessadvice.

It's fine if you don't want to donate, but the heaping on of blatant speculation is unwarranted.

by MLD on Dec 17, 2012 8:40 am • linkreport

As an advisory board member of CSG, I know that the organization operates on a shoestring budget. Some of its staff have taken significant pay cuts to work there. It is not rolling in money and isn't a way to make its leaders rich. To the contrary, they all work long hours for little or moderate pay because they care deeply about smart growth and our region.

I know some people here don't agree with their mission, just as they don't agree with GGW's points of view. I don't know if all or some of the people posting these comments are doing so in an underhanded attempt to hinder CSG or just genuine poor knowledge, but many of the statements above are outright and factually false.

There are many c(3)s that are primarily policy advocacy organizations. I support many in a number of different fields. They spend most of their time steering public policy, through directly working with elected officials, educating and persuading the public, doing research and producing reports, and much more.

CSG is extremely effective at doing this, and steering policy in a direction I think is enormously positive and critical, even though they have few people. However, they are always spread very thin. There are far more transit controversies or transit-oriented development battles or wasteful sprawl projects to oppose than they can possibly tackle; a CSG of 12 people instead of 6 would still be a tiny organization but yet twice as effective if not more.

As for the fiscal sponsorship, the bureaucratic hassle to get a new c(3) certified is massive, and the ongoing reporting requirements very large. As a donor and advisory board member, I would rather them not have to devote significant staff time to mere administrative overhead like this when there is a good alternative. Maybe one day it will make sense for CSG to become an independent c(3), but right now I support their choice to stick with being under a fiscal sponsor because it lets the do more with less.

I'm closing this thread to further comments. If anyone has concerns or questions about donating to CSG, please feel free to email me directly.

by David Alpert on Dec 17, 2012 9:12 am • linkreport

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