Earlier this year my wife Patti and I created a 501(c)(6) organization called The Greater Give. Its mission is simple: to compel more giving. The first initiative launched by The Greater Give is the Everyday Philanthropist Act, a piece of legislation which, if signed into law, will both increase and democratize charitable giving by creating a revolutionary new workplace mechanism called a Flexible Giving Account (FGA).

The proposed legislation passed a key milestone on July 26 when it was introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Erik Paulsen (R-MN) and cosponsored by Mark Pocan (D-WI), Mike Gallagher (R-WI), Cheri Bustos (D-IL), Tim Walberg (R-MI), and Ami Bera (D-CA).

The Everyday Philanthropist Act (H.R. 6616) addresses a reality of giving that has existed for many decades, namely that the tax incentives for making charitable donations are skewed to wealthy Americans who itemize their returns. The large majority of working Americans don’t itemize and therefore receive no tax-related incentive for charitable giving.

I firmly believe that Americans of all incomes and backgrounds are interested in helping their country and their communities, and that we’re missing an enormous opportunity to tap their charitable impulses and boost overall giving.

And that’s why we went to Congress with the Everyday Philanthropist Act. It would permit eligible employees to establish a Flexible Giving Account through their employer, then allocate a portion of their paycheck pre-tax to one or more charities of their choice. Because this will reduce their taxable income, it will actually increase their take home pay. If this kind of account sounds familiar, it’s because it’s modeled after popular tax-favored savings accounts for employee healthcare and retirement. So, both employees and employers will have no trouble understanding how it works.

An FGA gives the tens of millions of non-itemizing Americans a tax incentive for giving in the form of a pre-tax payroll deduction. Since it would dramatically increase America’s charitable donations and allow charities to more effectively impact the communities they serve, there’s no question that it’s a win-win for employees and charities.

But what about businesses?

As a business owner, I was sensitive to asking businesses to take on yet another responsibility. But the FGA works for business, too—in fact we have already received expressions of support from the business community. It’s not hard to understand why. For one thing, the administrative architecture is already in place. And by reducing the amount of taxable payroll, businesses will save on payroll taxes. In addition, benefits like the FGA also help companies recruit and retain quality employees. According to a survey conducted by America’s Charities, nearly 70 percent of employees rate the importance of working for an employer whose culture supports giving as “imperative or very important.” The same report states that nearly nine out of ten companies say that “providing effective employee engagement programs helps them attract and retain employees.” An FGA would give employers of all sizes an employee fringe benefit that maps to their business interests.

The common-sense approach of this proposal and its practicality (it would require only a minor revision to the tax code) help explain why it has garnered early support from a significant number of House members on both sides of the aisle. (It also holds the distinction of being the first charitable giving legislation sponsored by a member of the powerful House Ways and Means committee.)

Now we need your support to help make the Everyday Philanthropist Act a reality. We need business leaders and individuals to mobilize and create a whole new class of the Everyday Philanthropist. I urge you to take the following steps. First, visit The Greater Give website (www.thegreatergive.org) and click on “Take Action.” It’s a quick, easy way to let members of Congress know you’d like them to support the bill. Next, spread the word to colleagues, groups and individuals who might be interested in supporting this legislation. Finally, post your support for the bill on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn using our hashtag: #EverydayPhilanthropist.

This is only the beginning, both for the Everyday Philanthropist Act and for The Greater Give. In the days and months ahead, I’ll fill you in on the progress of the bill and about new initiatives from The Greater Give team.

Posted by: danielrashke | June 26, 2018

Growing, Learning & Thriving Together

Recently, my wife Patti and I and members of the TASC team attended a celebration of the 75th Anniversary of the Madison Community Foundation. For those of you who might not be familiar, the MCF is a philanthropic organization that supports the local community by creating and sustaining endowment funds, many of which go to initiatives outside of the human services needs addressed by organizations like the United Way.


To mark this important year, MCF awarded twelve major gifts—one for every month—totaling $2 million. As MCF President Bob Sorge pointed out, equity and accessibility were key criteria. The gifts ran the gamut from just under $100,00 to support Madison’s vibrant biking culture, to $1.1 million for a program called “Together We Thrive,” a challenge grant to Foundation for Madison’s Public Schools and their Community Schools Initiative, which helps meet the changing needs of children and families by bringing community services into schools.

One of our main reasons for attending the event was to help support our friend and fellow community philanthropist Diane Ballweg, who serves as the MCF chairperson. Diane has a long history of philanthropic giving and of community involvement, including a stint as chair of the Madison Children’s Museum. In her talk at the anniversary celebration, she pointed up some important facts about the challenges faced by organizations in the charitable space. Maybe the most daunting challenge is demographic: people born prior to 1965 account for 70% of all charitable giving. Clearly, that’s a trend that needs to be turned around if we want charitable giving to succeed in the future—particularly when there is an increasing number of nonprofits (4,200 in Dane County alone) that need support to stay viable and vital.

The key to sustaining charitable giving in the future is not all that different from the key to sustaining a successful business: you have to innovate to meet new needs and challenges.  When it comes to philanthropy there are two parts to the innovation equation. The first involves finding new ways to bring good things to the community and to those in need. The second involves finding new ways to get people involved in charitable giving.

As someone who believes deeply in philanthropy and innovation, I am always on the lookout for fresh ideas. In fact, that’s another reason why I was interested in attending the MCF 75th anniversary and learning more about their work. The Madison Community Foundation has done nice job carving out a niche separate from—but complementary to—the United Way (they overlap on only 7% of their grants). They also scale grants in such a way as to keep control at the local level, where people best understand the needs. They are thought leaders—innovative, creative, and contemporary. Which means, for example, that they use data extensively. They’re smart about how they spend their money but also willing to fund new initiatives outside the traditional sphere of charitable giving. For example, prior to giving the $1.1 million to the Community Schools Initiative, they funded a research grant to test the viability of that program, which had its skeptics. The early successes of the program suggest that unconventional thinking and calculated risk are paying off.

Fresh thinking and calculated risk in philanthropy are ideas we embrace at the Dan and Patti Rashke (TASC) Family Foundation, where we strive to be a catalyst for community growth, helping our disadvantaged neighbors achieve their full potential. We strategically invest in innovative and collaborative solutions in the areas of education, health, and human services. Innovation, strategy, and collaboration are all integral to our efforts, just as they are for MCF.

Like Diane and our friends at MCF, I’m concerned about the aging demographics of charitable giving. But here, too, innovation can bring solutions. In fact, right now my team and I are working on a proposal we think will help attract younger and less affluent givers to charitable giving. More about that soon.

The need for successful philanthropy is great. Today, right here in Madison, Wisconsin, the average age of a homeless person is nine years old. That’s a startling and heartbreaking statistic that ought to motivate us to think in new ways about how charitable giving can create meaningful change. I think we also need to remind people that charitable giving is a gift in itself. In her presentation, Diane talked about a formula for “enduring success” that she came across in the Harvard Business Review. According to that formula, a truly satisfying and lasting feeling of success comes from a combination of achievement, significance, legacy, and happiness. I agree with Diane that philanthropy meets all those criteria. It provides both an opportunity to help others, and a way to find fulfillment in our own lives by working together in a common cause. As MCF says, “Together We Thrive.”

Posted by: danielrashke | June 7, 2018

The Fine Arts of Finance

18-TASC-0008-CEO-Blog-Content-Marketing_MFA_736x229_v1The conventional wisdom in the business world is that the best way to hire someone who will help you succeed and grow is to look for an MBA.

After all, MBAs have “a head for business” and the skill set necessary to jump in and start contributing.

But now a lot of business owners and CEOs are questioning that logic. I’m one of them. It’s not that MBAs aren’t valuable. The point is that with the world changing so quickly, innovation and creativity are essential in every aspect of a business, from product development to finance. So along with recruiting qualified MBAs, it’s time for businesses to look for a different kind of candidate.

Recently, at an event hosted by University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank, I met a gentleman who told me he believed the MFA (Master of Fine Arts) was the new MBA. He pointed out that in theater, for example, you learned how to direct people, how to play a specific role, and how to collaborate both creatively and on practical aspects like building sets and setting lights. The more I thought about his argument, the more I saw that the skills necessary to put on a show weren’t all that different from those necessary for business success and innovation.

In fact, I realized that my own company had benefited from an employee’s arts background. Our Chief Operations Officer, Michael Herman, got his undergraduate degree in theater. One day Michael and I were discussing my plan to create change within TASC and he pointed out that when you want to bring about significant change in a company, you need to create a “saga”—a story that explains why the change is necessary and beneficial—or else you risk creating a disruptive “drama” in your workforce. This was a perspective that came directly out of his theater background, and it made perfect sense to me.

We tend to think that finance and fine art are completely different things. But as I realized when I wrote both terms on the smartboard in our office, they share most of the same letters. I consider that a pretty accurate metaphor for how much they overlap in the real world.

The idea that “the MFA is the new MBA” first started appearing about ten years ago, and it has gained steam among business thought leaders ever since. Harvard Business Review pointed out that MFA grads have important “soft” business skills such an ability to accept criticism, an interest in studying motivations of people, and an understanding of the importance of engaging the audience. Inc. magazine’s online “Brandview” points out that “reason alone—the MBA toolset—can diagnose the issue, but not discover new ways to solve it, to radically recreate a company’s business model for real innovation.” That takes creativity.

I’m not arguing that the answer to innovation in business is to hire only MFAs. It’s just as important to have MBAs who think like MFAs. This spring we hired a new Chief Financial Officer, Scott Lane. Scott has an incredible business resume and a traditional business education, with a BBA and an MBA. He’s a first-class financial guy. But he’s also a very creative thinker. Instead of accepting “business as usual,” Scott put together his own approach to creating and fostering business partnership. He has brought us a perspective you wouldn’t necessarily expect from your typical CFO. Even if you’re not lucky enough to have a “Scott,” you can still foster creativity by implementing tools like design thinking, where you start by asking what customers [internal or external] need and then work backwards toward a product or solution (versus asking, “What can we sell?”).

As I recently noted during a speaking engagement, TASC is a 40-year-old company. As companies go that’s old. And we don’t want to be old. So it’s essential for us to create a culture that thinks creatively about what we can do next. I believe bringing MFAs and MFA thinking to Finance and the rest of business is key to keeping our businesses alive and vital, especially through periods of intense change.

Posted by: danielrashke | May 3, 2018

Managing In the Gray

managing in the gray book imageSeveral years ago, TASC was faced with the kind of decision we don’t encounter every day.

It concerned a regulation that left a lot of room for interpretation. We wanted to act in a way that would bring the most benefit to our customers. And we saw a lot of potential upside to going in a certain direction. But there was also a potential downside. The best course of action just wasn’t clear.

What was clear, however, was that our usual decision-making process wouldn’t cut it. Navigating this “Gray Area” required a more innovative approach. We had to weigh risk and benefit, consider how we would position our decision to stakeholders and others, and more.

After a lot of thinking about this challenge, I came up with a short list of questions to help guide us. These proved so valuable that from that point forward they became ingrained as part of the TASC process for making what I termed “gray area decisions.”

So imagine my surprise when recently I discovered a book that recommended a nearly identical approach. In Managing in the Gray: 5 Timeless Questions for Resolving Your Toughest Problems at Work, Joseph L. Badaracco, a professor of business ethics at Harvard Business School, explains how the right questions can help CEOs and other business leaders navigate tricky terrain where it seems every possible decision is potentially problematical.

Badaracco confirmed my belief that working through gray area problems requires us to go beyond traditional business thinking and to wrestle with “hard profound insights about human nature, our common life together, and what counts as a good life.”

His first question, “What are the net consequences?” asks leaders to consider which decision would promote “the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.” To do that, we have to understand our own limitations. When it comes to a gray area problem, no one can “quickly see” how things will play out or “the full consequences of a complex, uncertain decision.” We have to put aside our impulse to “forecast the future” and focus on process. That involves getting the right people in the room and banishing both groupthink and bossthink.

Many CEOs and business owners might be tempted to answer Badarraco’s second question—“What are my core obligations?”—with a single word: “profitability.” But the author insists (and I agree) that it’s essential to be able to look hard at the economics involved and past them. The same applies to your concern for stakeholders. The picture needs to be bigger. Maybe there’s something wrong that you feel needs to be addressed. How about the perspective of someone on the outside? Is there a decision outsiders might find extremely objectionable, even hateful? This question is all about examining your obligations not only as a business executive but also as a human being. All the while we need to remind ourselves that we’re not doing this exercise for its own sake. Our objective is to gain actionable insights.

Question three is “What will work in the World.” This is about realism and pragmatism. That includes recognizing that while most of the people around you are “solid citizens,” you could well run up against the “brilliantly devious” and “inept and confused.” You have to look honestly at the self-interest of all concerned (yourself included). You also have to ask how resilient you and your plan will be in the face of pushback or controversy. You want to stay flexible, but also be willing to play “hardball,” even if you’d prefer not to.

“Who are we?” is the author’s fourth question. This is another way of asking: “Is it Defensible?” In short, can you stand up before a group of people and defend your decision with conviction and in a way that’s consistent with your values both as a company and an individual?

Badaracco’s last question is “What can I live with?” This acknowledges that your best possible option might not be ideal. What can you live with as a leader? As a manager? As a person? “Gray area problems,” writes the author, “…test competence and character. They are the intersection of work and life.” Although to this point you have been working collaboratively with your team, you will probably find it valuable to spend time alone, examining your answers to the previous questions. Then you “make the decision, explain it, and move ahead.”

I’m convinced that business leaders can benefit from this kind of process. Policy makers probably could as well. Many of our most pressing social and political problems are gray area challenges. The first step in finding answers could be asking the right questions.

Posted by: danielrashke | March 14, 2018

TAX AVOIDANCE – Taking the Better Route


If the option to pay a higher rate to get somewhere quicker existed, many would choose to do so, particularly when time is of the utmost importance.

But what if time is not an issue, you could arrive at the same destination, and for FREE – without breaking the law – one could circumvent the “expensive” route and take a nearby route that costs nothing.

A great example of this “to pay or not to pay” situation is laid out in an essay titled “Thoughts on Legitimate Tax Avoidance” by Louis Brandeis (1856-1941):

I live in Alexandria, Virginia. Near the Supreme Court chambers is a toll bridge across the Potomac. When in a rush, I pay the dollar toll and get home early. However, I usually drive outside the downtown section of the city and cross the Potomac on a free bridge.
“This bridge was placed outside the downtown Washington, D.C. area to serve a useful social service: getting drivers to drive the extra mile to help alleviate congestion during rush hour.
“If I went over the toll bridge and through the barrier without paying the toll, I would be committing tax evasion.
“If, however, I drive the extra mile outside the city of Washington and take the free bridge, I am using a legitimate, logical and suitable method of tax avoidance, and I am performing a useful social service by doing so.
“For my tax evasion, I should be punished. For my tax avoidance, I should be commended.
“The tragedy of life is that so few people know that the free bridge even exists!

Jackie Jacobs, CEO of the Columbus Jewish Foundation adds her thoughts to Brandeis’ essay describing how the act of choosing a free bridge over a toll bridge dating back to the early 1900’s still resonates today. It demonstrates the simplicity of legitimate tax avoidance that can be embraced by everyone:
There are free bridges located within the Internal Revenue Code which allow you to legitimately avoid unnecessary taxes…the key is to know where to find them.” (Ohio Jewish Chronicle, March 26, 2015)

The “free bridge” described above by Brandeis lends itself to a challenge we have now: Navigating the tax code legally and using the “free bridge” whenever possible. Time is of the essence with tax season upon us and President Trump’s attempt to simplify tax reform proving to be a challenge.

So how exactly did we find ourselves in this situation?

Over the years, unpredictable rules and legislation, along with hundreds of products from hundreds of companies, have brought both complexity and confusion to the Third Party Benefits Administration industry that began with the intention of simplicity. It’s an unfortunate truth – but, it doesn’t mean businesses cannot help themselves to a solution.

As a taxpaying community (citizens, employees & employers) need to take action by taking advantage of the tax code. It goes beyond learning and sitting still; becoming informed is not enough. You need to ACT.

TASC exists to take action and help businesses and employees get the most out of finding and going the extra mile to use the “free bridge.”

But how?

While digital and online technology programs (think TurboTax) continue to grow there is never going to be a replacement for the human element when navigating the waters of tax code here in the United States. That “human element” is the key to helping identify and optimize every option possible when it comes to legitimate tax avoidance. We can find these elements present in individuals such as the tax preparer or the insurance broker to the call center or service representative. But people undervalue the value of these resources.

The truth still stands – tax EVASION still must be punished, just as Justice Brandeis stated in the article.

But tax AVOIDANCE should be commended. And with the help of human elements, many more of you can take advantage of the “free bridge” of legitimate tax avoidance by knowing where to look and how to navigate the murky waters and complication of the tax code.

TASC is at the ready to simplify and maximize your tax avoidance efforts.



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