Asks Forgiveness, Not Permission. I receive calls from nonprofit CEOs who are struggling with their boards. I am also asked by boards to intervene when there is a an issue with the CEO. What I have learned is that great CEOs do not overly confer with the Board. Instead, great CEOs understand that it is their job to implement the Board’s strategy within the scope of the strategy, policies, and budget the Board has set. Too much “checking-in” can have the unintended consequence of inviting the board to micro-manage. Conversely, scribbling too far outside the lines of the board approved strategy, policies, and budget can get a CEO fired.
Private foundations are subject to a more strict regulatory regime than public charities. There are penalties for “self-dealing” transactions, failure to distribute sufficient income for charitable purposes, holding concentrated interests in business enterprises, making risky investments, and for making certain types of expenditures.
A plain language explanation of the difference between a nonprofit organization and one that is tax-exempt.
As the recession deepens, we get more and more creative ideas from people wanting to conduct complex raffles. In Arizona, the most popular questions this year involve raffles of real estate. While raffles can be great revenue generators for charitable organizations, many charities do not realize that in most states, including Arizona, raffles are illegal gambling. Cautionary tales abound. Most states have specific exceptions for charitable raffles but require the charity and the raffle to meet specific criteria to qualify.
Boards are entitled to delegate tasks to committees, officers, staff, or in certain cases, professionals, but only if they perform sufficient oversight. Oversight is commonly exercised through policies and procedures so long as the board ensures that the policies and procedures are actually followed. Common oversight mechanisms include review of financial statements and the annual Form 990 as well as the implementation of various governance policies.
Forming a nonprofit corporation is not the same as being tax-exempt. To obtain 501(c)(3) status, newly formed entities must apply to the IRS for a formal determination of exemption. Entities seeking 501(c)(3) status apply by filing Form 1023. (Entities seeking exemption under other sections of 501(c) file Form 1024.)
Newly formed organizations applying for exemption face a chicken and egg dilemma. Form 1023 requests considerable detail regarding the charity’s planned programs and activities. The attitude of the IRS is that requiring applicants to articulate detailed plans is a small price to pay for the significant tax benefits associated with 501(c)(3) status.
Once a non-profit founder has surveyed the non-profit landscape and found a legitimate need, recruited an initial board, created business and fundraising plans, and scraped together some start-up funding, he or she is ready to proceed. In Arizona, it usually makes the most sense to form the entity as an Arizona non-profit corporation. The steps required to form a nonprofit in Arizona are covered.
I receive several calls a week from people who want to start a new non-profit. Looking back on my legal career, I realize that many of the tax-exempt organizations I helped to create early on never got off the ground. Today, I consider it part of my responsibility to the potential new client and to the sector to educate would be founders on the realities of the marketplace. What follows is a walk through the typical discussion that I have with potential founders.
Most non-profits understand that if a fund is a permanent endowment, the principal must be preserved in perpetuity. Still, in my practice I am often surprised by how little some fundraising professionals understand about the mechanics of gift restrictions – particularly the implications of permanent restrictions and legal meaning of the term “endowment.”
The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that Sen. Grassley is once again attempting to change the rules that impact how certain exempt organizations set executive compensation. This time, Sen. Grassley wants to do away with the “rebuttable presumption process” that exempt entities have been relying on to provide some measure of assurance that their compensation decisions will not trigger intermediate sanctions.
To ensure its decisions will stand up to the scrutiny of the media, regulators, and donors, and protect the employee as well as the board from personal liability, nonprofits that employ executive staff should consider implementing practices and procedures that ensure its executive compensation procedures are thorough, well-documented, and free of conflicts of interest.
As evidenced by the recent media coverage of the salaries paid to CEOs of four nonprofits that contract with the government to deliver U.S. foreign aid, nonprofit executive compensation continues to be an area of keen interest for the media and for key members of Congress.
The I.R.S. has made the guidelines it provides to its exempt organization determination specialists for processing tax exemption applications publicly available.
Failing to Understand Fiduciary Duties. When you volunteer to serve as a director or officer of a nonprofit, you accept the responsibility to act with the duties of good faith, due care and loyalty. You also accept the potential liability for failing to fulfill those duties. Increased scrutiny from the I.R.S., Congress, state attorneys general, the Department of Justice, donors and the media require vigilance at every step. It is no longer sufficient to rubber stamp committee or staff recommendations or to simply “abstain” from dicey decisions. Today, board service comes with real responsibilities and real consequences for those that fail to live up to them.