Charity Lawyer Blog
Nonprofit Law Simplified
Let’s be clear about one thing. No one owns a nonprofit corporation.
While there is no outright ownership, there is control. One of the fundamental questions I ask when forming a new nonprofit corporation is how board members will be selected. This is a key question because those who hold the power to select board members retain the ultimate authority over the corporation.
The possibilities are limited by the nonprofit corporation statute in the state where the corporation is domiciled.
Before 1996, the only option the IRS had when faced with a tax-exempt organization that had violated the private inurement rules was to do nothing or to revoke the organization’s tax-exempt status, a penalty that often punished the organization’s beneficiaries more than the insiders who benefited from the inurement. To cure this problem, Code Section 4958 was added to the Internal Revenue Code in 1996 to provide the IRS with an “intermediate” tool between the extremes of either ignoring the problem or revoking the nonprofit’s tax-exempt status.
We have blogged about the phenomenon of nonprofit hostile takeovers and the fact that no one owns a nonprofit. However, there is always control. Although nonprofits generally lack shares that can be owned and transferred, there are many ways to ensure a level of control or influence over a nonprofit entity. Those seeking to control a nonprofit or balance governance rights among different stakeholders need to understand the available options.
When forming a new nonprofit corporation, one important consideration for incorporators is whether or not term limits should be imposed on members. Additionally, incorporators need to consider whether or not terms should be successive or staggered. There are many pros and cons for both sides of these arguments. However, in our experience, there are more advantages to term limits in the vast majority of cases. Also, we tend to favor staggered terms.