With the market volatility of the last six months, funding sources and non-profits alike may be uneasy given memories of the 2008 recession. Although predicting future macro-economic forces may be impossible, it is always a good idea for 501(c)(3) non-profit corporations to seek to diversify revenue streams to prepare for shifts in funding.
Prior to passage of AREA, an entity seeking to change its structure likely had to undergo a multi-step transaction to accomplish its goal. AREA permits direct conversions and makes clear that it applies to all entity types (corporations, nonprofits, benefit corporations, LLCs, partnerships, etc.).
Going into effect January 1, 2015, the Arizona benefit corporation statute will enable entrepreneurs to form a corporation unlike anything Arizona has seen before. Benefit corporations enable social entrepreneurs to create a corporate structure requiring the corporation to create a general public benefit. As with anything new, its details are untested and some confusion surrounds it. Below we dig into the statute and detail what you will and will not be able to do in 2015.
Increasingly, social entrepreneurs struggle to choose a legal form for their ventures. The traditional legal forms are not suited to blended social and profit-making purposes. Mangers of a for-profit socially responsible business can find themselves liable to shareholders for failure to maximize profit at all coasts. Conversely, managers of tax-exempt nonprofits conducting social entrepreneurial activities can find themselves liable to the IRS when they try to reward investors and incentivize results.
Critically, a Certified B Corporation (hereinafter referred to as B Corps or a B Corporation) is a label given by B Lab to businesses that pass a socially responsible certification process. B Corps is not a legal form and has no legal significance. A benefit corporation, on the other hand, is a new legal form, that became law in Maryland on October 1, 2010. Legislation similar to that in Maryland will become law in Vermont in July and was recently passed by the New Jersey legislature.
Since Charity Lawyer’s last blog post on the Low-Profit Limited Liability Company, there has continued to be significant legislative activity across the country in support of the L3C though no corresponding uptick in foundation support. Louisiana, Maine, and North Carolina have signed L3C legislation into law. These three states join the following jurisdictions in recognizing the L3C: Illinois, Michigan, Utah, Vermont, Wyoming, the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and the Crow Indian Nation of Montana. In the following states, legislators have formally introduced L3C legislation: Arkansas, Colorado, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, New York, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Virginia.
Carter Law Group is pleased to announce that B Labs has certified us as a B Corporation, Arizona’s first!
California may soon offer a new corporate form for social enterprises. The California legislature is considering a bill, S.B. 1463, that would create a new corporate form called the Flexible Purpose Corporation. Similar in purpose to the L3C and the Benefit Corporation, the Flexible Purpose Corporation would provide directors with more flexibility to pursue environmental and social purposes in addition to profitability. To become a flexible purpose corporation, a company’s articles of incorporation would have to specify a “special purpose” that the corporation engages in, which can include but is not limited to charitable activities.
The Marc Center is a thriving, creative and innovative nonprofit that is thinking strategically about how to achieve its mission through both nonprofit and for-profit ventures that provide vocational opportunities for its clients. The Marc Center is providing vocational opportunities in the areas of food service, packaging services, mailing, filing, and other low tech vocations. During my visit, I had a delicious lunch at a Banner Health facility where a Marc Center of Mesa subsidiary is in charge of food service and even provides catering. Across the country, ventures like these are commonly referred to as double bottom line “social enterprises” because they are making money and fulfilling a social mission at the same time.
The benefit corporation concept has some similarities to the L3C model but is geared toward corporations rather than LLCs. Like the L3C, benefit corporations pursue a mission that goes beyond making a profit for owners and investors. Importantly, it also provides legal protection for board members that consider social and environmental issues when making decisions on behalf of the corporation.
The L3C, or Low Profit Limited Liability Company, is a new legal entity that can be legally formed in six jurisdictions. The concept started in Vermont and is quickly catching on in other states across the U.S. including Illinois.
How is it different from an LLC?
The L3C’s primary purpose is to conduct activities that further a charitable or educational purpose. Earning a profit is its secondary purpose. Traditional corporate law requires that the owners’ interests are exclusively economic. This has been interpreted to mean that corporate directors have a duty to maximize profits for the company’s owners to the exclusion of virtually any other consideration. The statutory framework of the L3C turns the traditional view of the fiduciary duty to maximize the economic return for a company’s owners on its head. Instead, the L3C statutes require the managers to pursue the accomplishment of a charitable or educational purpose. They can earn a profit while pursuing their mission, but earning a profit can’t be a significant purpose of the company.