25 days of Christmas - Holiday giving

It’s not a cheese, wine, or Harry Potter sock advent calendar…but beginning December 1 through Christmas Day the GoFisch blog will feature a new piece related to giving. ‘Tis the season for giving and the “25 Days” posts will feature information important for both nonprofit executives and donors.

What I want to know is: what questions about charitable giving do you have? From specific to general, post your questions below in the comments, or email them to me at Gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com.

Remember, no matter what winter holiday you celebrate, all have the power to make a positive impact through charitable giving!

 

Giving Tuesday How Will You Get

Giving Tuesday is held the Tuesday after Thanksgiving (November 28 this year) and is an important day for nonprofits to reach out to current and potential donors. Scroll through your social media feeds with the hashtag #givingtuesday and it seems like every organization, from the Malala Fund to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, is running digital marketing campaigns related to the day. Unlike Black Friday’s lines outside of stores in the middle of the night, #GivingTuesday’s activity is largely social media based. For nonprofits all of this online activity is typically directed to online giving portals.

These online giving pages facilitate easy charitable giving, but before you send inspired donors to your giving portal, it’s wise to ensure your organization is compliant with associated legal issues. Whether you have created your own donation platform or are using a third-party platform embedded on your site, make sure to follow these legal tips:

Donation Receipt

It’s important to offer a donation receipt to your donors so they make take the charitable contribution deduction on 2017 taxes. A proper receipt—whether in a generated pdf, email, mailed letter, or other printed/printable form—should state the donor’s name, date of contribution, and amount given.

If the donation is greater than $250 a written statement should be obtained stating that the organization did not give any services or goods. If the charity does in fact give goods or services to the donor in return for a donation, the acknowledgment should describe what was given and provide an estimate of value of the goods or services.

If those goods and services provided are valued greater than $75, the written statement must also specify the the amount of the donation that is tax deductible. (This figure is the amount of money that exceeded the value of the goods or services exchanged by the charity.)

You want to make certain your communications (such as written acknowledgements and receipts) with donors meet all legal requirements, as just discussed. But that doesn’t mean you can’t also have some fun with these communications, or use them as an opportunity to stick out above the noise with creativity. Here are a couple solid articles, from The Balance and CauseVox  featuring ideas for upgrading your thank you’s to donors.

Online Charitable Solicitations

Fundraising activities fall under state law, and many states require charities (as well as individuals hired to assist the nonprofit with fundraising) to register with that state BEFORE any donations are solicited from residents of said state.

A charitable solicitation can be considered anything from a YouTube video with a call to action to donate, an e-newsletter sent to a subscriber list, to a simple Facebook post (and everything in between). Obviously, online giving has made figuring out which states your organization needs to register with complicated. Case in point, your organization may operate and be registered in Iowa, but if you have a “donate” button on your website, donations could come from residents of any state (or any country for that matter). Even the presence of a donation button could subject an organization to registration requirement in some states, but won’t in other states. (Charitable solicitation registration is not currently required in Iowa.)

The main policy guidance for state regulators on this matter was published in 2001 by the National Association of State Charity Officials (NASCO), called the Charleston Principles. But, these provisions aren’t law, merely suggestive, so how should your charity deal with online donations? It’s far better for the organization to be safe rather than found noncompliant which can involve costly penalties.

Initial Registration Requirements

Nonprofits accepting online donations have a two main approaches, according to the white paper, “Guidance for Compliance with State Charitable Solicitation Registration Requirements,” published by Harbor Compliance and the National Council for Nonprofits.

  1. Your charity could register (or file for an exemption) in all 41 states that require such registration, but that can be costly. The total fees to register your charity in all those states can range up to $5,000, (and that doesn’t even include professional fees you may need to incur, like paying lawyers or CPAs).
  2. A second option is to register only with states that require registration and from which you would reasonably expect donations. For instance, if your nonprofit operates in Iowa, depending on your fundraising activities, it could be reasonable to expect donations from residents of neighboring states such as Minnesota. Or, if a significant percentage of subscribers to your e-newsletter are from Illinois, it’s smart to register there. With this option it’s important to note that if you do receive a contribution from residents of another state that requires registration that triggers the need to register with that state.

Either way, it’s a good idea to look into the Unified Registration Statement (URS), a consolidated multi-state registration form. It’s also important to remember not only the initial registration, but also registration renewals (complete with deadlines and late fees).

Crowdfunding Considerations

Crowdfunding is anticipated to be a $90-96 billion dollar industry by 2025, and there are more and more nonprofits utilizing it as a tool within the fundraising mix. If your charity is using a crowdfunding site (Kickstarter and Indiegogo are both popular platforms) the charitable solicitation registration requirements covered above apply. But, this is also a good subject to broach the topic of fraud and misrepresentation because crowdfunding has opened the door to more people being involved. Charitable organizations are prohibited from engaging in fraud, using deceptive practices that are likely to create confusion, and misrepresenting the nature, purpose, or beneficiary of the charitable solicitation. This one’s a biggie because committing fraud or misrepresentation could mean a lengthy and expensive litigation process.

To avoid this risk it’s wise to have a vetted gift acceptance policy with clear guidelines regarding crowdfunding. Organizations should keep an eagle eye on fraudulent crowdfunding campaigns that may use the nonprofit as a beneficiary, but fail to ever actually donate funds. Yet, if dedicated volunteers and donors do want to crowdfund for you, that’s fantastic. The organization just needs to keep close watch on the campaign’s operation and offer crystal clear guidance on what campaigning on behalf of the charity is acceptable and what is not.

A day when the world comes together


#GivingTuesday is coming up quick (where did the year go?!), so now’s the time to double check any potential issues for noncompliance that could occur. If you have any questions with regard to your online donation compliance I would love to offer a free one-hour consultation. Contact me via email or on my cell phone (515-371-6077). Best of luck with your #GivingTuesday campaigns!

#GivingTuesday Nov. 28

After the onslaught of Black Friday advertising and Cyber Monday announcements filling up your inbox, Giving Tuesday (November 28) feels like a breath of fresh (wintery) air from the shopping rush. The “holiday,” often known by its social media tag of #GivingTuesday, is all about celebrating generosity and philanthropy. Giving charitably to your favorite organizations feels great and allows you to make a difference in your community, state, and the world. But, you also want to make sure your gift is legally compliant and beneficial when it comes to the charitable deduction on federal income taxes.

Before you donate on #GivingTuesday (or any other day) consider these legal tips:

Make Sure the Charity is Qualified

A charitable deduction can result in significant tax savings, but for that to occur, the donation must be made to a qualified 501(c)(3). While that may sound basic, some initiatives may look like nonprofits but actually operate as a business, not a tax-exempt organization. A little bit of research can go a long way here. First, read up about the organization in question online and don’t hesitate to call to speak to a representative. You can also use the IRS’ Exempt Organizations Select Check; limit the search to organizations eligible for tax-deductible charitable contributions.

(If your favorite organization is in need of assistance for obtaining tax-deductible status, don’t hesitate to reach out.)

#GivingTuesday What Will You Give?

Sufficient Documentation

Proper documentation is required in order to take the charitable contribution deduction for contributions of $250 or more. This means you need written acknowledgement that expresses the required info of the donee (charity), date of donation, and monetary amount. It’s your legal obligation as the donor to ask for the written acknowledgement, not the charity’s obligation to offer it.

Here’s a simple breakdown of what’s needed for specific types of giving-

  • Gifts of less than $250 per donee — you need a cancelled check or receipt
  • $250 or more per donee — you need a timely written acknowledgement from the donee
  • Total deductions for all property exceeds $500 — you need to file IRS Form 8283
  • Deductions exceeding $5,000 per item — you need a qualified appraisal completed by a qualified appraiser

Need more info? I go into detail in this blog post.

Restrict in Writing

If you feel strongly about a specific program, region of operation, or use within the nonprofit, you’ll want to restrict the charitable donation. The restriction must be made in writing, at the same time as the donation is made.

Going Global

#GivingTuesday has expanded greatly since its founding in NYC to become a global event. You may hold a foreign-based charitable organization near and dear to you heart and, of course, you may give to that organization, however your donation won’t qualify for a charitable tax deduction.

Background Research

I work with my estate planning clients on defining their goals for their future and assets. The same baseline advice applies to charitable giving—what are your goals? Do the organizations you’re donating to support your giving goals? Look at materials published by  One way to gauge this is by reviewing the nonprofit’s annual information on its Form 990, “Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax.” This form is intended for the public and includes important financial info. The IRS publishes Form 990 and it’s easy to check out the details on Guidestar, a nonprofit database.


If you have any questions on how to give charitably and do so wisely, don’t hesitate to reach out. Maximizing charitable giving in Iowa is the mission of Gordon Fischer Law Firm and we want to help as many Iowans give confidently as we can.

thanksgiving thankful

The Gordon Fischer Law Firm team would like to wish you a very happy Thanksgiving. We hope that you have the opportunity to spend quality time with your loved ones. We’ve taken a moment this holiday to take a step back and think about all we have to be thankful for. We owe so much to our clients, friends, and families who have helped make this year a successful one.

https://www.facebook.com/gordonfischerlawfirm/photos/a.784466871643829.1073741830.766092603481256/1509403912483451/?type=3&theater

Here are just a few of the things we have to be exceedingly grateful for:

  • To get to work with amazing clients and wonderful colleagues.
  • The opportunity to help five different Iowa-based charities incorporate as tax-exempt nonprofits.
  • To chance to have given over 10 presentations to amazing groups of people on topics ranging from business succession planning to digital assets in your estate plan to the benefits of special needs trusts.
  • Being entrusted with drafting (and signing) more than 50 estate plans…which is more than 50 people who were able to pursue their estate planning goals, achieve a piece of mind, and set a plan in place for the future.
  • Getting to live in and work toward maximizing charitable giving in Iowa in our respective, wonderful communities.

But, really, this is a short list—the tip of the turkey, if you will—of what we’re perpetually thankful for.

Wishing you full bellies and hearts today,

Gordon Fischer and Team

#GivingTuesday world

The mission of Gordon Fischer Law Firm is to maximize charitable giving in Iowa. To that end we work with nonprofits on legal compliance and training for accepting gifts (especially complex ones) as well was the donors who want to give to their favorite organizations and causes. Small Business Saturday is great for the community and Cyber Monday is fun, but the post-Thanksgiving “day” we look forward to the most is #GivingTuesday.

Created by the Belfer Center for Innovation & Social Impact at the 92nd Street Y in New York, along with the United Nations Foundation, in 2012, #GivingTuesday is a celebration for support of philanthropy and giving. Social media has helped grow the event into a global occasion, connecting countries, organizations, and donors around the world.


#GivingTuesday marks the middle of the seasonal giving system—33% of charitable donations consumers occurs year-round. Whether you’re prepping your nonprofit’s activities, messaging, and events for #GivingTuesday or are a donor preparing to give (and encourage others to do the same) let’s take a look at some stats that show the enormous impact #GivingTuesday has.

 

  • In 2016, on just #GivingTuesday, $168,000,000 million was raised! This year it’s been predicted that $201,000,000 will be raised, for a 20% increase over 2016’s totals. These figures also don’t include the thousands of volunteer hours that donors gave, working to better their communities. The average gift amount donated online on #GivingTuesday last year was an impressive $126 per person.

#GivingTuesday stats on momentum

  • Predictions follow the continuous growth trends the day has seen; #GivingTuesday giving online has grown by 317% since 2012. 2016, alone, saw a 44 percent increase over 2015’s total of $116,700,000.

 

  • More nonprofits are getting in on the action. 33% more charities received an online donation on #GivingTuesday 2016 compared to 2015.

#GivingTuesday impact study results

  • If you’re a nonprofit leader or marketer it’s important to know where your donations are coming from, and how your donors are reaching you. Mobile is taking a significant share of the donation platform pie—22% of online donations were made on a mobile device.

All year, not just on #GivingTuesday, GFLF is thrilled to work with nonprofit organizations on elements of operations including, but certainly not limited to;

  • Training of nonprofit boards and staff and educating on charitable giving tools and techniques;
  • Employment law guidance for nonprofits including advice about hiring and firing, and drafting of policies and procedures;
  • Handling compliance issues, like starting a nonprofit and Form 990 reporting; and
  • Working with nonprofit and donors on complex gifts.

(If your nonprofit is interested in any such services, I offer a free consultation.)

#GivingTuesday is a reminder that, against the backdrop of the “busy” of the holiday season, the spirit of giving is thriving. Want to talk charitable giving? Reach out anytime by email or phone (515-371-6077)

woman in front of painting

The headlines are abuzz with a new world record for any artwork sold at an auction or privately. Leonardo da Vinci’s painting, “Salvator Mundi,” sold for $450.3 million (including the auction house fees) at Christie’s in New York to a private buyer, after an intense 20 minutes of phone bidding.

Why such a high price when the piece definitely had a good deal of scrutiny around it? For instance, it was major part of an art scandal known as “The Bouvier Affair,” was central in a legal dispute, and had been heavily restored. Additionally, it’s authenticity is doubted by some experts as not a work by the grand master himself, but perhaps his studio. Nevertheless, the piece was executed around 1500 on a commission for King Louis XII of France, was lost for centuries, and was not publicly rediscovered until an estate sale in the U.S. in 2005 where the piece, thought to be a copy, was purchased by a group of buyers for just $10,000. It’s thought to be one of fewer than 20 paintings known to exist by da Vinci. “Christie’s called the work ‘the Last da Vinci,’ the only known painting by the Renaissance master still in a private collection (some 15 others are in museums).”

All of this art excitement brings up an interesting situation to consider: how do you incorporate your art collection into your estate plan? Sure, you likely don’t have an authentic da Vinci, Renoir, or Klimt just hanging in your living room, but maybe you have a couple pieces you inherited or a growing modern art collection.

Value of a Passion

For most collectors the art isn’t about monetary value, but more so about a passion for a certain period, artist, or medium. Collecting is often an act of genuine appreciation for the fine arts. Considering both the intrinsic and market value of your art collection it’s ESSENTIAL you include it as a part of your estate plan. The collection is, after all, a part of your total estate’s value and they way it’s handled in your estate plan could impact the value of your gross estate in regards to the federal estate tax. When it comes to the estate planning goal of avoiding such taxes and fees the appraised value of your art is paramount to consider. Naturally you want your collection to be well-treated following your passing, as well as retain its value.

Let’s go through some important steps and elements to consider.

Assemble Documentation

Value of the collection will be important to the estate plan. If you haven’t done so already, you must correctly catalog, photograph, insure, and appraise the collection. You should also gather all documentation such as appraisals and bills of sale that will need to accompany the artwork as it changes hands upon your estate plan’s execution.

Weigh Your Options

With an art collection there are three main options for disposition within your estate plan (or to be executed during your life).

Donate

Donating your art to a charitable organization or a museum is an excellent way to practice smart charitable giving. It can also be one of the more simple options. Donate through your estate plan following your death and the estate will receive a tax deduction based on the current valuation. Give while you’re living and you can take an income tax deduction, also based on the value of the piece or collection at the time of the donation.

With this options you and the recipient organization should agree to signed terms and conditions BEFORE the artwork delivery. Details can include specifics as to where and how the art is to be displayed, if you want your name on the signage next to the painting, and similar details.

museum art collection

Bequest Artwork to your Loved Ones

Another common option is to keep the art within the family by passing along the art along to your estate’s heirs. Yes, you could gift each individual piece to each family member, but if you want to keep the collection in tact you could transfer the collection to a trust you create while living that can be updated and changed during your lifetime. A trust is a solid estate planning tool that allows your named trust beneficiaries to avoid estate tax and probate complications and fees. In the formation of your trust you can also define the terms for care and condition of the artwork.

You could instead bequest the collection to an entity like an LLC you create. In this case your heirs would own interest in the LLC instead of each owning a piece of art. In your estate plan and in the development of the entity you can appoint a manager (or multiple managers) who make sales or purchasing decisions for the collection.

framed art collection

Sell

It goes without staying that art is expensive—to buy and to sell. There are benefits (and detriments) to this option during life and after death, but waiting to sell until after death means the art’s value will be included in the estate. As such the capital gains tax could be lessened or entirely eliminated because the tax basis for the art collection is increased to fair market value at the time of death, instead of what you paid for the art/collection. If you instead would like to sell while alive you can likely expect to pay a capital gains tax on top of a sales commission fee and sales tax (among other potential fees).

black and white art collection

Give, gift, sell—whatever option you choose, select a plan that allows you to feel at peace with where and to whom your collection is headed.

Enlist an Expert

Regardless of what option you want to pursue in the disposition of your art work, you need to work with an experienced estate planner who can help navigate the complexity of your estate. It’s your estate planning lawyer who can help you establish a framework for passing along your artwork to your chosen beneficiaries.

Discuss With Your Family

Depending on your family dynamic, discussing your estate plan with your loved ones can be difficult. It can bring up emotion and hard topics like mortality, however to avoid litigation, mitigate in-fighting, and to help determine what’s the best course of actions forward for your property it’s necessary. When it comes to your art collection, your heirs may not feel the same way about the artwork that you do and knowing these opinions is critical in the decision of what to do with the collection.

When having the conversation, cultivate an environment in which your family can discuss openly and freely without judgement. You want their honest opinions as a part of your decision in what to do with your collection in the event of your passing.

art graffiti


Just as the art itself can be exceedingly complex, so can incorporating said art into an estate plan. You probably have questions; don’t hesitate to reach out at any time via email or phone (515-371-6077). I offer a free one-hour consultation and would love to help you protect your artistic assets through quality, individualized estate planning.

business man with coffee

Recently I gave a presentation to a group of professionals on “Essential Eight: Clauses That Should be in Every Executive’s Contract.” From my experience in nonprofit formation and compliance, it’s clear that great employment relationships start with smart employee agreements. This goes for both private and public, for-profit and nonprofit, organizations. An employee agreement ultimately benefits both the executive hire and the organization as it can minimize risk for both parties. (Remember, an employee handbook is entirely different than an employee agreement and certainly shouldn’t be mistaken for one!)

A good employment agreement should clearly spell out the terms of the employment relationship and should include (in some form of wording or another) the following eight clauses highlighted below.

Executive employee agreement essential 8

Executive employee agreement essential 8 second half

Dispute resolution and forum selection sound a bit confusing? I would be happy to discuss these clauses in detail with you if you’re getting ready to hire a new executive, forming a new nonprofit, or are updating employee agreements. It’s never too early or too late to make sure you maximize the power of the employee agreement.

Contact me at any time to take me up on my offer for a free one hour consult.

Flag in field with sun

“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.” -Arthur Ashe

On Veterans Day and every day, we at Gordon Fischer Law Firm want to say a heartfelt thanks for our veterans’ sacrifice and service. We work with many veterans on estate planning and in work related to nonprofits, and it’s always an honor. There are not enough “thank you’s” in the world to express our gratitude for what you have done for our country. We would also like to extend this sentiment to first responders as well—police, fire, and EMS personnel.

Veterans Day flags

As a veteran your story is important. Your legacy is important. To preserve that legacy of strength and service, you need an estate plan to ensure your property and assets are distributed to your loved ones and favorite charities in accordance with your wishes.

So, in an attempt to express our gratitude we would like to offer 25% off the cost of an estate plan package to all Iowan active duty or retired service members and first responders. The discount will be honored through 11/30/2017. Contact me via email or by phone (515-371-6077)) to discuss your estate plan needs.

What does an Estate Plan include?

There are six documents that should be part of most everyone’s estate plan.

  1. Estate planning questionnaire
  2. Will
  3. Power of attorney for health care
  4. Power of attorney for finances
  5. Disposition of personal property
  6. Disposition of final remains

You should keep these documents updated and current. (Here are a few common “big” events that necessitate estate plan revisions.) Also, don’t forget about assets with your beneficiary designations. For most Iowans, that’s good – six documents, keeping them current, and also remembering about those assets with beneficiary designations.

American flag on chair

Cost of an Estate Plan

Because I want every Iowan to have an up-to-date estate plan I’m very transparent with the cost of an estate plan that that takes into full consideration YOUR situation. (This is why you need an experienced estate planner to draft your documents.) Speaking very generally, an estate plan from my Firm usually costs a single person about $700, and a family about $850. So, with this Veterans Day Discount, that’s a saving of about $175 for singletons to $212.5 for a family.

Estate Planning Process

I write about my process at length, but it’s just five steps! Seriously, it’s not that painful. My clients report back to me that they have such relief and peace of mind when it’s completed.

Veterans Day hot air balloonContact

If you’ve been making excuses or have an extremely outdated estate plan now’s the time to check it off your list (and get a discount while doing so!).

How to get started? Contact me by the end of the month (11/30) via email (gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com) or phone (515-371-6077) and fill out my free Estate Plan Questionnaire.


DISCLAIMERS

The “Veterans Day discount” is only applicable for estate plans created by active or retired veterans and first responders (and their spouses). Availability of the discount ends after November 30, 2017 at which point prospective client must have contacted Gordon Fischer Law Firm and indicated an intention to make an estate plan.
Veterans Day discount merely relates to pricing and in no way creates an attorney-client relationship, nor any other kind of professional relationship. The Veterans Day discount does not create a contract or agreement of any kind.
Gordon Fischer Law Firm, P.C. retains full and total discretion as to who it chooses to serve as clients and why. Gordon Fischer Law Firm, P.C. retains the right to refuse service to anyone it so chooses.
The Veterans Day discount may not apply to individuals or families with a net worth of more than $1 million dollars. (You still need an estate plan, very much so, but it necessarily needs to be much more “complex.”).
Person writing on paper

A last will and testament certainly sounds like a complex document. But, when boiled down, your will answers just three simple, yet important questions.

  1. Who do you want to inherit your assets?

A will provides for the orderly distribution of your property at death according to your wishes. By property, I mean everything you own. Your property includes both tangible and intangible things. An example of a tangible item would be your stamp collection. An example of intangible items would be stocks and bonds.

mom and daughter holding hands

  1. Who do you want to be in charge of carrying out your wishes as expressed in the Will?

In a will, you also name the “executor” of your estate. The executor is the person who’s responsible for making sure the will is implemented as written. Needless to say, this is a very important position, and you want to name someone you can trust completely, and you know to be responsible and competent.

  1. Who do you want to take care of your kids?

If you have minor children (i.e., kids under age 18), you’ll want to designate a legal guardian(s) who will take care of your children until they are adults. Also, a will can set up a financial trustee (may be the same as the guardian) who can oversee and be responsible for your child’s funds until they are old enough (and mature enough) to inherit property.

 

Without a Will, There’s No Way

Without a last will and testament, you’ve given no guidance to anyone about who should inherit your property, who should be in charge of carrying out your wishes, and who you want to be your kids’ legal guardian. Not having a will creates unneeded stress and heartache, and even total chaos, for your loved ones and friends. This distress would also come at the worst possible time—when they are mourning your passing.

Drafting a quality estate plan that incorporates your wishes and goals is the height of responsibility. And if estate planning sounds intimidating, fear not! We’ll walk through the five steps of estate planning together. The best place to start is with my Estate Plan Questionnaire.

I’d love to hear from you. You can email me anytime at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com.

Sure, reading about succession planning for attorneys mandated by Iowa Court Rule 39.18 isn’t the most exciting news of the day, but it is certainly is important which is why you should scroll to page 8 of this month’s edition of The Iowa Lawyer. If you’re not an attorney, fear not. The article covers actions that are wise for all business owners and independent professional advisors to consider in their business succession planning. For example the advice that: “Having a detailed supplemental plan should bring you peace of mind, and also peace of mind to your family and your firm’s employees. A supplemental plan can show your clients you care to the utmost about their well-being.”

This article is the third in a series of four for the Iowa State Bar Association publication. You can find info on the first article, here and the second, on the eight simple steps for a successful business succession, here.

Click here or on the image below to read “Supplemental plan: Practical application of Iowa Court Rule 39.18.”

The Iowa Lawyer magazine cover November 2017

Questions? Comments? Feel the urge to get started on your much needed business succession plan? Feel free to contact me any time to discuss. I offer a one-hour free consultation, without any obligation. I can be reached any time at my email, gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com, or by phone at 515-371-6077.