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General | May 14, 2024

PANO’s 40th Anniversary: An Interview with Founding Board Member Don Kramer

2024 marks 40 years since PANO’s founding as the Delaware Valley Council of Agencies in 1984. Throughout the year, PANO staff will interview key individuals from PANO’s history, starting with this conversation between PANO’s current Executive Director, Anne Gingerich, and founding board member Don Kramer, Esq., renowned nonprofit attorney, all about PANO’s first decade (1984-1994).

Check out a clip from the interview here and read on for the full transcript.


Interview Transcript – April 24, 2024


Anne: I am delighted – as always – to be here with Don Kramer, one of the founding board members of PANO, back in the days when PANO was incorporated as the Delaware Valley Council of Agencies. Rudyard Kipling once said: If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.  I already know Don has stories about PANO’s history – which can serve as reminders of how far we have come, as well as what has not changed in the last 40 years.  I, for one, can’t wait to hear more.

So are you ready, Mr. Kramer?

Don: I am ready. All ready to go.

Anne: Alright! So tell us about the vision you and other founders had for PANO.

Don: Well, I would say that I was the attorney who did the work to file the incorporation papers for PANO. And then, it appears from the application for exemption, that I was on the original board. There were six founders. A couple of them were Penn professors, and the others were generally executives of other kinds of nonprofit organizations.

It’s interesting to look actually at the founding in 1984. At that point in time, there was not really a sense of “nonprofit-ship”. There were nonprofit organizations. There were social service organizations. There were libraries. There were cultural organizations. There were health care organizations. They were all in their own silos.

There was no Chronicle of Philanthropy. There were no philanthropy courses in colleges. It was sort of a wild west land. And it took a while for people to really get the concept that nonprofits as a group had certain issues regardless of what the substance was of what they were doing.

And so this group started in 1984 – the end of the first Reagan Administration. And the whole idea was to try to do more with less. Because at that point in time, the federal government was significantly cutting back on its grants to nonprofit organizations, and to charitable organizations of all kinds. And it was really very hard to do.

When we started, we had a couple of relatively limited visions in mind. We were trying to do resource development in the sense that we had a place where people could come and get gifts that were given to us, and were distributed among other nonprofit organizations. We were doing education and training. We were trying to teach people about this new gadget called a computer, and how you turned it on and what you could do with it. And a significant portion of our revenue – which was really never big – came from teaching these kinds of courses to staff of nonprofit organizations who didn’t know what computers could do because they were relatively new. So that was, that was the early vision of PANO.

It was a membership organization from the beginning. Membership dues varied from $10 to $50 depending on the size of your budget. So even though we ultimately got over a hundred dues-paying customers, dues-paying members, that’s like $5,000 at the outset. And you can’t do much with $5,000. So we had a very tough – tough beginning.

I was reading an article recently on one of the founders who was a college professor, who did a study on PANO and its first 10 years of existence as the Delaware Council of Agencies. And he was pointing out that we lost our executive director and our board chair after 18  months. They quit. And then, we got a new person in there who was sick for a while and the services dropped off a lot. And so there wasn’t a whole lot that we were able to do at that point. But we built it up a little bit, and we got some foundation money. We did a lot of strategic planning.

We started in Philadelphia and surrounding counties, including, by the way, New Jersey. I don’t know where New Jersey dropped off, but they were in the corporate charter and the corporate concept.

But we had a board in the beginning of 25 or 30 people, likely disbursed throughout the charitable sector. And we tried to do a lot of strategic planning. We got some help with that with foundation money. We opened an office in Pittsburgh for a while to do the same kind of thing we were doing in Philadelphia. It was never particularly effective. And we closed that after a little while.

And Kate Dewey from the Pittsburgh area did a study for us on, you know, what PANO could do, or what Delaware Council of Agencies at that point, could do.

The theory was…We were originally involved in advocacy work to some extent. And the theory was that if we wanted to do advocacy work on a state level, we really had to be in Harrisburg. And so that is where we ended up going.

Now we closed down the organization for several months – maybe a year or two, where we weren’t doing anything – because we ran out of money. And I have settlement papers in my files with a couple of landlords with whom we couldn’t pay our annual rent. We shared space with another group for a while, but even that didn’t work because we didn’t have the resources.

So that was the time when Skip Huston really came along and saved the PANO organization, created the PANO organization. There was a group, and I think Skip was with us, from the Delaware Valley Grantmakers – now the Philanthropy Network – which went to Harrisburg because a lot of private foundations were being denied state tax exemption because… It wasn’t clear what the “because” was.  And we took a group of people to Harrisburg. We talked to one of the high officials in the department of revenue. And we sort of said, “You know, you grant United Ways tax exemption. Private foundations do virtually the same as United Way does. Why aren’t we exempt?” And the answer was: “Because United Ways have more clout.”

Anne: There’s a good reason.

Don: Absolutely a great reason for public policy, and which affects a lot of public policy, by the way.

Anne: Yes!

Don: But anyway, Skip thought it would be really nice to have an organization which could advocate at Harrisburg for legitimate issues of nonprofit organizations. And Skip put some money into PANO. So we were able to hire Joe Geiger around 1992. We changed the name officially to the Pennsylvania Association of Non-Hyphen-Profit Organizations, which we’ve dropped that hyphen somewhere along the way. And it finally got organized, reorganized in Harrisburg.

The one story I tell, which is I think an interesting one. Shortly after Joe was hired, we had put all of our stuff in storage, in one of those U-Store-It places along Bridge Avenue in Manayunk in Philadelphia. And Joe came down, and we loaded up his car with all the stuff that we had in the boxes, and he took it back to Harrisburg for our first office, which was then on State Street.

Anne: Oh wow. I forgot that we were on State Street.

Don: Yeah.

Anne: Out of curiosity, so in the early days, you did strategic planning? I didn’t know that. Who did that for you? Members of the board?

Don: The board had a committee to try to do strategic planning – to try to see if there was a feasible way to get enough revenue for this kind of an organization to continue to exist. The old theory used to be that you’d get one-third of your revenue from membership dues; one-third from selling services of one sort or another; and one-third from grants/foundations/corporate grants, that kind of stuff.

Anne: That’s so interesting.

Don: But, you know. when you have $5,000 worth of dues money, that’s really tough. And we always thought we could get more because there were more organizations in the Philadelphia area. But you know, we never really quite did, and we never got it up to that kind of money. We did a lot of work in trying to  consider, you know, group purchasing. We spent a lot of time, both in the Philadelphian version, and later, in the state version, for trying to do health insurance for our members. None of that proved feasible, after a lot of work in trying to figure it out. And so we never got any revenue from that, and we ultimately did not have enough to continue to struggle on.

Anne: It’s really interesting. At this point, we bring in about 33% of our revenue from membership so we did achieve that, eventually. It’s interesting to hear about the early, early days, and trying to make it work.

Don: Yeah. Well, we were not alone. We were not alone. I mean, that was also the time when the National Council of Nonprofits was being formed in Washington. And there’s a wonderful line in the study. When they were getting formed, they had 10 or 11 members at that time. They had to worry about the “problematic Pennsylvania group.”

Anne: That’s where that came from! Oh good, we were the “problematic group.”

Don: The problematic group in Pennsylvania, yes.

Anne: That’s so funny!

Don: But they struggled, we struggled. We both seemed to have survived, and done reasonably well.

Anne: Yes. I mean, on that note, we continue to be a member of the National Council and we love that network. I just spent some time with fellow executives not long ago.

Anne: You’ve given the history of how we started.  How has that changed over the time you have been involved with us? And just so our listeners know, Don continues to provide support to our nonprofit helpdesk to this day, for which we are grateful.

Don: We’ve changed by being able to get out of the storage locker!

Anne (laughs)

Don: And we have real revenue. And we have real programs. And it certainly helps to have a bigger potential area to get members from. But the big change is we’ve become much more self-sufficient than we were at that time.

Anne: When you talk about the goals of that early group, have those goals changed in your experience of PANO? Or have they remained the same? Or what is your perspective, your historical perspective?

Don: Well, I think they are fundamentally the same. We were more oriented to actual things in the sense that – I was looking at the file, and we were given 200 mailing envelopes from somebody who was willing to give them away to organizations. And PANO, fortunately, does not do that kind of stuff anymore. But the idea of education and technical support are very real, and the advocacy has been real along the way – you know, sometimes more prominent than others.

Anne: And you’ve been a proponent of the advocacy part of PANO ever since I’ve known you, which is fantastic!

Don: Yes. Yes! It was much more limited in the beginning. It was limited in the beginning, and particularly at the state level. We didn’t do much advocacy at the local level because there wasn’t that much to do. But at the state level, we’ve done – off and on – a great deal of work. Early on, when the state legislature passed the Institutions for Pure Public Charity Act in 1997, PANO was very much involved in that. There were a number of organizations which came together to support that. We were very much involved in getting The Charitable Gift Annuities Statute passed in Pennsylvania, which helped charities be able to write gift annuities.  Because there was a real question before that statute was passed whether they even had the authority to do that. And that was a big feather in the cap, I think, of PANO, and some of the other organizations that were doing that at the time.

Anne: I love that! I had no idea that we were involved in that particular legislation. I mean, gift annuities are a big part of planned giving efforts – to this day.

Don: Yeah. I mean, it was a real question about whether the insurance department would allow charities to be insurers, essentially. And so, I got to write the first draft of that law, knowing nothing whatsoever about gift annuities. But apparently, somebody in the legislature took it to somebody at Penn State and said, “Oh, we’d love to write annuities,” and it went through.

Anne: That’s so cool.

Don: And it’s still one of the statutes on the books today, which is a relatively minor concern for charities. You only have to be in existence for three years, and have $100,000 of unrestricted money, unencumbered money, and you can write gift annuities.

Anne: Even nonprofits without clout can write annuities today.

Don: Even nonprofits without clout. You gotta be around for three years, though.

Anne: You gotta be around for three years. Yes. That’s good.

Don: But that’s the kind of stuff that PANO has done, I think, very well over the years. There’s been times what legislative committees have called PANO for their view on things, and I think that is coming back a little bit now.

Anne: It is!

Don: And we’ve certainly expanded the scope of what PANO takes positions on. Because before, it was really limited to those positions which affected the sector generally. Now the budget obviously affects the sector generally. But we’ve taken a lot more broadly-based positions in recent years than we did at the beginning.

Anne: Yeah. So interesting. So as you think about what that original founding group intended, and where PANO is at today, what do you hope that we – and when I say we, I mean PANO – can do in the next 40 years?

Don: Expand it. Continue it and expand it. I think that’s really important to do.  I mean, it’s an area in which – if PANO didn’t exist – somebody would create a new PANO, because it’s necessary and valuable for whole industry, as it were. And the whole nonprofit community. So it does provide important services, even for the people who don’t pay for them. I mean, it’s still important, because PANO does a lot of interesting and important things, and it makes sense to do that.

Anne: Are there any lessons? And this was not on your list of questions, but are there any lessons as you think back on our history that we should just keep in mind so that history can inform the future?

Don: Well, I think there are ebbs and flows – of everything. And we’ve certainly seen them. This article talks about either constructing or adapting or dissolving, you know. And you don’t want to get to the third stage. We got to the third stage and were brought back.

Anne: Yes!

Don: Hopefully we never get that close again. but It is a question of adaption to the community, to what’s going on, to the environment and the world. And that’s important to be aware of. And to keep current. And to keep working and to keep doing things.

Anne: So always being willing to pivot, which is our unfavorite word from the pandemic, where we were always pivoting but – always a willingness to pivot, regardless of what’s happening.

Don: Yeah. Yeah. You have adapt.

Anne: All right, so what do you want nonprofits and other people to know about PANO?

Don: Well, the more people who know about it and support it and join it and utilize its services, the better.

Anne: Because…

Don: It provides great stuff, and that’s important.

Anne: Great! Is there anything else you want to add?

Don: No. I think that’s sort of the short history.  I’m delighted to still be involved.

Anne: And we’re delighted to still have you involved.

Don: And it’s an organization well worth supporting, and I hope that it can continue to get that support. And continue to be involved at the state level, particularly, because, my view – which I’ve expressed often in the webinars we do with PANO – is that if you are not lobbying, you are not doing your job. Because so much of public policy is dependent upon legislation. You know, we do not have destitute seniors sleeping under bridges today because we have Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid. Those are all public policy issues. There’s no way the charitable sector is going to answer those problems without the money which is required at the federal level to do that. We have women who are earning hundreds of thousands of dollars as coaches and as sports players because, what, 45 years ago, we passed Title IX. I always say, there’s no way in the world that the Girls Clubs and the Girls Scouts could have created the athletes that were created because colleges had to provide equal opportunity in athletics for women. And that has created – that single statute! – has created so much of the women’s athletic system that we have today. Still not entirely equal in money, but certainly a lot more than they would have had otherwise. And we are moving toward more equality in the money as well. So it takes a while. But if you can deal with those levers in government, which change the climate and change the conditions under which we operate, that can make a big difference.

You know, you talk about gift annuities. I mean, if charities did not have the opportunity for doing gift annuities at a relatively low number, where it started with people doing gift annuities for $3,000, or $5,000, that would be a big difference for a lot of charities and their fundraising.

Anne: Yeah, it really would.

Don: It’s that kind of stuff that can make a huge difference, ultimately.

Anne: I love the example of women, and how policy made a difference. What I often say when we are doing advocacy training now is that many of the inequities that nonprofits were formed to address are based in policy, which is why we need to be out lobbying for the changes in the policy.

Don: Right. My favorite story about that – and this is maybe not the place to say this. But my favorite story about was from Carol Tracy who started the Women’s Law Project in Philadelphia, which as you might gather, is a public interest law firm, whose major clientele is women. And in 1997, as she tells this story…In 1997, when the Welfare to Work bill was pending in the Pennsylvania legislature, they spent $15,000 on a lobbyist to help them deal with that bill. They got very little of what they wanted. But they got one change in the definition of how child support was counted toward eligibility for welfare type payments in Pennsylvania. And as a result of that change, they got something like 18 million dollars a year for low-income women in Pennsylvania. And I always ask: where could you have gone with a $15,000 grant writer to get 18 million dollars a year for your clients? I always tell that story. I told that story at Penn one afternoon. I went that evening to a fundraiser for the Women’s Law Project. And I said, “Carol, I told your story again.”

And she said,  “Well, I can make it better. We lobbied on the regulations, and it’s now 54 million dollars a year.”

Anne: Oh wow, that’s so cool.

Don: Because they knew where the lever was with the public policy. You know, the way the Petroleum institute does and the Bankers Association does, and everyone else does. But they were able to get that change which made that difference in their clientele for the foreseeable future. Because they were able to lobby. So my view is: If you are not lobbying, you are not doing your job.

Anne: Yep. The percentage of nonprofits who do lobby is less than 3%, so…

Don: And it’s a shame.

Anne: It is.

Don: They’re scared. They’ve been scared over the years by people who don’t want them to lobby. And they don’t realize that they have the power to do it. And they don’t realize what impact they can have on their issues if they do do it.

Anne: And, if we join our voices, we can truly change the face of Pennsylvania and probably the nation if we gather together.

Don: Yeah. There’s a lot that can be done. A lot that can be done.

Anne: Yay!

Don: And we can do it for another 80 – another 40 years.

Anne: Yes. Yes! Long beyond our time, for sure.

Don: Yep.

Anne: So happy to spend this time! Is there anything else you want to add before we wrap this up?

Don: Oh, I think It’s done well. It’s done well. It’s had good leadership – long-term leadership, which is really helpful. And good support from the members.

Anne: And that continues today.

Anne: Well, thank you for your time, Mr. Kramer!

Don: Good luck! Keep up the good work!


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