Three Reasons Better Contracts Can Help Nonprofits – by Lindsey Harris

Today’s post is from guest blogger, Lindsey Harris. Lindsey is the Sponsorship Marketing Attorney at the Make-A-Wish Foundation® of America so she really knows contracts.


From protecting your brand to purchasing the goods needed to deliver your mission, contracts are an essential part any nonprofit business. Without solid contracts–the kind you can understand and actually use to protect your organization from broken promises and even litigation–meeting your mission can be an uphill battle. If you’re tired of having the same arguments with vendors and service providers or if you’re unsure of how to protect your brand, here are a few reasons why you should add “getting good contracts in place” to the top of your to-do list:

  1. Good contracts make life easier.  A well-written contract should eliminate ambiguity, exclude one-sided provisions and clearly articulate each party’s rights and responsibilities in plain English. If you are constantly contracting to license out your brand for sponsorship opportunities or are always using the same types of vendors for your events, consider investing in the development of a template agreement. Spending the time and money now to create a solid agreement can make your future endeavors more turnkey. To ensure the template addresses all of your needs, take inventory of all of your past missteps and communicate them to your attorney. Doing so will ensure your organization is protected against those and other potentially costly disagreements in the future.
  1. Good contracts protect your most valuable asset.  Every nonprofit’s most valuable asset is its reputation and goodwill. That said, it’s extremely important to protect your brand, ensuring no one else is using it to confuse donors and supporters and that the people authorized to use it are doing so responsibly. You already have the responsibility to protect your copyright/trademark property. This is a great reason to go through your files to find what is already registered, when the registrations have to be renewed, and whether there is anything else you need to start protecting your brand. A simple licensing agreement can be an extremely efficient way to protect how another party uses your brand.
  1. Good contracts tell you what to do. Contracts can help you determine your responsibilities and those of the other party. It’s like a recipe. If the contract is well-written, the ingredients should all be clearly and unambiguously laid out on the pages in a language you can understand. All all you have to do is follow the directions. There really is no place for highly convoluted legalese in contracts today. If you can’t understand it, the other party probably can’t either and that’s how you end up in court disputing whether the world “shall” was an obligation or a suggestion.

Find a lawyer to develop your templates who understands your business, can write to your audience, and will leave “shall,” “heretofore” and “whereas” at the door. Minor upgrades now can help you eliminate arguments over party intentions and allow you the time you need to spend maintaining relationships with your sponsors, vendors and donors.

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