The most important thing to remember about financing partnership projects is that the Corps does not conduct fundraising activities. Ethics rules prohibit Federal employees from soliciting funds from people outside the Government. However, cooperating associations and Friends groups can solicit funds for their organization and for projects or events that are being conducted jointly with the Corps. A partnership agreement should be written to detail the funding relationship with the Corps. Public-private partnerships often involve corporations who wish to make donations that are tied to advertising. Recognition of the contribution is important, but must avoid the suggestion of commercialization, advertising, and endorsement of a product, service, or organization.
Certain tax laws apply to non-profit organizations that affect their ability to raise funds. Exemption from Federal income tax is based on Section 501(c) of the Internal Revenue Code for organizations operated exclusively for charitable or educational status. This affects their fundraising ability, enabling them to accept donations in which the donors can receive a tax "write-off." Some non-profits may not have this status; however, they can still raise funds and contribute to partnerships with the Corps.
Grant Writing and Assistance
Grants can be obtained from public and private sources consistent with the purpose of the granting entity. Cooperating associations and friends groups may apply for grants and apply the grant monies to work activities on Corps lands. The Corps does not usually apply for grants with other Federal agencies unless the legal authority specifically addresses grants between Federal agencies. The Corps can apply for State, local, and private grants if such action does not involve lobbying Congress, the funds will be used for an authorized mission, and the acceptance is consistent with appropriation law. In practical terms, it is much easier for the partner to apply for the grant and accept the funds. This is the preferred method. Corps employees may help partners write grant proposals, and may conduct training sessions on grant writing.
Contributions and Donations
Contributions for operation and management of recreation facilities and protection and restoration of natural resources at civil works water resource projects are accepted in accordance with ER 1130-2-500, dated 27 December 1996, "Project Operations - Partners and Support (Work Management Policies)." Each location that collects contributions shall have a contributions plan that describes the work that will be accomplished with any potential contributions. The plan shall be reviewed and updated as necessary as work items are completed and new tasks are added.
What can we do:
- Use donation boxes.
- Talk to organizations about sharing resources, including money, when we are likely to consummate a partnership agreement.
- Accept contributions at the discretion of the commander or operations project manager when they believe the contribution is consistent with the laws, regulations, integrity, and reputation of the Corps of Engineers and would not give the appearance of a conflict of interest or with the Corps mission.
- Accept gifts or donations from parties engaged in contractual or business relations with the Corps who have a legally recognized private interest that may be substantially affected by the proposed activity.
- Accept a donation from a source determined by the Commander or Operations project manager determined to be inappropriate.
Friends Groups and Donor Programs
Friends groups are usually locally operated groups that are interested in a specific program area or lake.
They can be any organization whose mission has common elements with the Corps' recreation/natural resource mission.
Friends groups often contribute funds to partnership projects with the Corps.
They may collect annual dues from members to help raise funds.
Friends groups can be non-profit without the federal tax-exempt status.
A written agreement is not always necessary to work with friends groups; however, friends groups that provide long-term support for the Corps will likely want to be certified with the State as a non-profit 501 organization and sign an agreement to become an official cooperating association with the Corps. Since the Corps does not have the authority to solicit funds, discussions with potential private partners should always be conducted by a non-profit friends group, not by Corps personnel. Besides reducing the risk of violating Federal law on solicitation, the potential givers are much more likely to respond to a request from a non-profit organization that is a certified under 501(c)(3). Donations by corporations directly to the Federal agency are often not considered to be charitable contributions, while donations to qualifying charities are considered contributions by the IRS even if the funds are used to support Federal agency activities.
Most successful large-scale partnerships involve non-profits which have the flexibility to raise funds, operate membership and donor programs, and organize and negotiate with large diverse constituencies. Non-profits frequently are the catalysts. Many partnership success stories contain elements of non-profit flexibility, speed, and ingenuity.