holiday wreath with ornament

Thank you for reading the 25 Days of Giving series! In the spirit of the holiday season I’m covering different aspects of charitable giving…perfect to get you thinking about your end-of-year giving.

I came across an article in Forbes about two tax court cases where families claimed large charitable contributions on their federal income tax and, given that they were fraudulent claims, failed to have the substantiation to back it up. As the article stated, “the IRS is NOT messing around when it comes to holding taxpayers to the substantiation requirements for charitable contributions.” The substantiation is required in exchange for the federal income charitable deduction.

Note there is, of course, a limit to the charitable deduction on your taxes. Mind this when considering maxing out your charitable deduction.

Substantiation requirements

First and foremost, the donations must be made to a qualified charitable organization. You must then be able to substantiate your contribution to said qualified charitable organization. The record keeping required by the IRS depends on the amount of your contribution. At their most basic, the IRS substantiation rules for the charitable deduction are as follows:

  • 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

Gifts of $250 or more per donee

Let’s focus for today on gifts of $250 or more per donee. Specifically, the income tax charitable deduction is not allowed for a separate contribution of $250 or more unless the donor has written substantiation from the donee of the contribution in the form of a contemporaneous written acknowledgement.

The $250 threshold

Note this $250 threshold is applied to each contribution separately. So, if a donor makes multiple contributions to the same charity totaling $250 or more in a single year, but each gift is less than $250, written acknowledgment is not required. [Unless the smaller gifts are related and made to avoid the substantiation requirements].

Written acknowledgment

The written acknowledgement must indicate:

  1. the name and address of the donee;
  2. the date of the contribution;
  3. the amount of cash contributed;
  4. a description of any property contributed;
  5. whether the donee provided the donor any goods or services in exchange for the contribution; and, if so;
  6. a description, and a good faith estimate, of the value of the good or services provided or, if the only goods or services provided were intangible religious benefits, a statement to that effect.

Contemporaneous acknowledgement

The IRS definition of contemporaneous is that the acknowledgment must be obtained by the donor on or before the earlier of:

a. the date the donor files the original return for the year the donation was made; or

b. the return’s extended due date.

A donor cannot amend a return to include contributions for which an acknowledgment is obtained after the original return was filed.

Responsibility lies with the donor

Interestingly, the responsibility for obtaining this documentation lies with the donor. The donee (the charity) is not required to record or report this information to the IRS on behalf of the donor.

If this sounds like a lot, know you don’t have to navigate these requirements just by yourself. Contact me at any time to discuss your situation and charitable giving goals. We’ll figure out the best course of action together.

red ornaments Endow Iowa Tax Credit

 Thank you for reading the 25 Days of Giving series! In the spirit of the holiday season I’m covering different aspects of charitable giving…perfect to get you thinking about your end-of-year giving.

There are many, many reasons Iowa is great place to live and work. One reason is the Endow Iowa Tax Credit Program—a smart way to stretch your charitable dollars. Iowa community foundations provide exclusive access to the Endow Iowa Tax Credit program. Giving through the Endow Iowa program allows Iowa taxpayers to receive a 25% Iowa tax credit, in addition to the federal charitable income tax deduction, for qualifying charitable gifts.

The Endow Iowa Tax Credit Program provides unique opportunities to meet philanthropic goals while receiving maximum tax benefits. Highlights of this program include:

  • A variety of gifts qualify for Endow Iowa Tax Credits including cash, real estate, grain, appreciated securities, and outright gifts of retirement assets. In fact, appreciated assets, like stocks or real estate, can provide even better value because the donor may avoid capital gains taxes.
  • To be eligible, gifts must benefit an Iowa charity.
  • Tax credits of 25% of the gifted amount are limited to $300,000 in tax credits per individual for a gift of $1.2 million, or $600,000 in tax credits per couple for a gift of $2.4 million, assuming both are Iowa taxpayers.
  • Eligible gifts will qualify for credits on a first-come/first-serve basis until the yearly appropriated limit is reached. If the current available Endow Iowa Tax Credits have been awarded, qualified donors will be eligible for the next year’s Endow Iowa Tax Credits. Donors should be encouraged to to act as early in the year as possible to ensure receipt of credits as soon as possible.
  • All qualified donors can carry forward the tax credit for up to five years after the year the donation was made.

There is one “catch.” Funds can only be granted at a spend rate of 5% per year. It should also be noted that the Endow Iowa Tax Credits are capped. The Iowa Legislature sets aside a pool of money for Endow Iowa, and it’s available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Submitting an application at the beginning of the tax year is advised, as tax credits often run out toward year’s end. In fact, this year approximately $6 million in tax credits were awarded and there are no more available credits to be granted. However, you can submit your application to be placed on the wait list for 2019 tax credits.

In exchange for 25% Iowa tax credit and the opportunity to have an even greater impact on their philanthropic interests in the state of Iowa, now and into the future, the Endow Iowa Tax Credit Program should be seriously considered by all. The impact is immense: in 2016, donors received tax credits for more than 4,030 separate donations to at least 120 different community foundations and affiliate organizations through Endow Iowa. And, since 2003, more than $215 million has been invested through the program to improve residents’ lives.

Any questions or thoughts on how the Endow Iowa Tax Credit Program could mean big benefits for your finances and your state? Don’t hesitate to contact me.

lights on roof

Thanks for reading the 25 Days of Giving series where w a’re “unwrapping” important info on various aspects of charitable giving each day through Christmas. Share with friends, family, & colleagues to inspire others to also make meaningful gifts this season.

If you’re making a non-cash charitable donation of over $5,000, first off, high five! That’s going to go a long way toward helping your favorite charity or advancing a cause you feel passionate about. Because you’re a smart donor, you’re also probably planning to claim the federal income tax charitable deduction as a way of reducing your taxes. In order to do this, gifts of that size come with specific requirements from the IRS that you’ll want to be sure to meet.

Requirements for “qualified appraisal” and “qualified appraiser”

Non-cash gifts of more than $5,000 in value, with exceptions, require a qualified appraisal completed by a qualified appraiser. The terms “qualified appraisal” and “qualified appraiser” are very specific and have detailed definitions according to the IRS.

Qualified appraisal

money on table

A qualified appraisal is a document which is:

  1. made, signed, and dated by a qualified appraiser in accordance with generally accepted appraisal standards;
  2. timely;
  3. does not involve prohibited appraisal fees; and
  4. includes certain and specific information.

Let’s further examine each of these four requirements.

“Qualified appraiser:” Appraiser education and experience requirements

An appraiser is treated as having met the minimum education and experience requirements if she is licensed or certified for the type of property being appraised in the state in which the property is located. For a gift of real estate in Iowa this means certification by the Iowa Professional Licensing Bureau, Real Estate Appraisers.

Further requirements for a qualified appraiser include that s/he:

  1. regularly performs appraisals for compensation;
  2. demonstrates verifiable education and experience in valuing the type of property subject to the appraisal;
  3. understands she may be subject to penalties for aiding and abetting the understatement of tax; and
  4. not have been prohibited from practicing before the IRS at any time during three years preceding the appraisal.

Also, a qualified appraiser must be sufficiently independent. This means a qualified appraiser cannot be any of the following:

  1. the donor;
  2. the donee;
  3. the person from whom the donor acquired the property [with limited exceptions];
  4. any person employed by, or related to, any of the above; and/or
  5. an appraiser who is otherwise qualified, but who has some incentive to overstate the value of the property.

Timing of appraisal

clock against background s

The appraisal must be made not earlier than 60 days prior to the gift and not later than the date the return is due (with extensions).

Prohibited appraisal fees

The appraiser’s fee for a qualified appraisal cannot be based on a percentage of the value of the property, nor can the fee be based on the amount allowed as a charitable deduction.

Specific information in required in appraisal

Specific information must be included in an appraisal, including:

  1. a description of the property;
  2. the physical condition of any tangible property;
  3. the date (or expected date) of the gift;
  4. any restrictions relating to the charity’s use or disposition of the property;
  5. the name, address, and taxpayer identification number of the qualified appraiser;
  6. the appraiser’s qualifications, including background, experience, education, certification, and any membership in professional appraisal associations;
  7. a statement that the appraisal was prepared for income tax purposes;
  8. the date (or dates) on which the property was valued;
  9. the appraised fair market value on the date (or expected date) of contribution;
  10. the method of valuation used to determine fair market value;
  11. the specific basis for the valuation, such as any specific comparable sales transaction; and
  12. an admission if the appraiser is acting as a partner in a partnership, an employee of any person, or an independent contractor engaged by a person, other than the donor, with such a person’s name, address, and taxpayer identification number.

Appraiser’s dated signature and declaration

Again, a qualified appraisal must be signed and dated by the appraiser. Also, there must be a written declaration from the appraiser she is aware of the penalties for substantial or gross valuation.

Reasonable cause

Tax courts have held that a taxpayer’s reliance on the advice of a professional, such as an attorney or CPA constitutes reasonable cause and good faith if the taxpayer can prove by a preponderance of the evidence that: (1) the taxpayer reasonably believed the professional was a competent tax adviser with sufficient expertise to justify reliance; (2) the taxpayer provided necessary and accurate information to the advising professional; and (3) the taxpayer actually relied in good faith on the professional’s advice.

If this sounds like a lot, know you don’t have to navigate these requirements just by yourself. Contact me at any time to discuss your situation and charitable giving goals. We’ll figure out the best course of action together.

charitable gift tax limits - hand holding christmas gift

If you choose to itemize your taxes, charitable contributions can reduce your tax bill. Generally you would choose to itemize when the combined total of your anticipated deductions (like charitable gifts) add up to more than the standard deduction. For 2018 taxes the standard deductions are:

  • $12,000 for single individuals
  • $12,000 for married, filing separately
  • $24,000 for married filing jointly
  • $18,000 for head of household

If you do choose to itemize, limits on federal income tax charitable deductions are quite high, but they do exist. Keep this in mind as you make any year-end donations. The specific limitations are complicated, and there are numerous exceptions. The limits are based on your AGI (adjusted gross income). AGI is an individual’s total gross income minus specific deductions.

A quick rule-of-thumb for different types of donated assets to public charities:

  • Appreciated capital gains assets (such as stock) up to 20% of AGI
  • Non-cash assets up to 30% of AGI
  • Cash contributions, up to 60% of AGI
  • You can deduct transportation costs and other expenses related to volunteering

Note that these rates are for public tax-exempt organization and private operating foundations. Contributions to certain private foundations, veterans organizations, fraternal societies, and cemetery organizations are limited to 30% adjusted gross income. (Check out these IRS status codes and deductible limits if you’re unsure of an organization’s limit.)

As I mentioned, most people won’t exceed these limits indicated above, but it can happen. For instance, if Jane Donor is a retiree living off of savings and donates more than her investments yield over the year, her limit could be exceeded. The good news is that in this case the IRS allows you carry over excess contributions for up to five following tax years.

Don’t forget to take these steps if you plan to itemize your charitable deductions:

  • Make sure the nonprofit organization is a 501(c)(3) public charity or private foundation
  • Keep a record of the contribution (usually the tax receipt from the charity)
  • Depending on the donation amount/type, you may need to obtain a qualified appraisal to substantiate the claimed value of the deduction
  • Subtract the value of any benefits you received for your charitable contribution before you deduct it

I’m happy to advise on your situation and help you maximize your charitable giving for this tax year. I can be reached by phone at 515-371-6077 and by email at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com.

Santa with Heart

Thanks for reading the 25 Days of Giving series! Share with friends, family, & colleagues to inspire others to also make meaningful year end gifts this season…and plan ahead for 2019 charitable goals.

Under the new tax code, you may have changed the ways in which you give or the tax-beneficial strategies you employ with your charitable giving. What hasn’t changed, is that you may choose to deduct from your federal income tax any charitable contributions of money or property made to qualified organizations if you itemize your deductions. But, there are record keeping requirements you’ll want to stay on top of, so you’re not scrambling during tax time!

Payroll deduction substantiation

Making a charitable deduction directly from your paycheck is a great and steadfast way to be sure to meet your charitable giving goals. For charitable contributions made via payroll deductions, the donor needs two documents to substantiate the gift:

  1. a pay stub, W-2, or other document furnished by the employer that sets forth the amount withheld from the taxpayer during a taxable year by the employer for the purpose of contributing to a charity;
  2. a pledge card or other document prepared by or at the direction of the charity that shows the name of the charity.

Donors who give to a local United Way or other organizations that funnel contributions to other charities need to only obtain the pledge card or other document from the United Way and not from the affiliated charities which ultimately receive the money.

Payroll deductions of $250 or more

Tax law requires that for any contribution of $250 or more, the taxpayer must substantiate the contribution by a contemporaneous written acknowledgement of the contribution by the charity. For payroll deductions, the contribution amount withheld from each payment of wages to a taxpayer is treated as a separate contribution for purposes of the $250 threshold.

So, for example, a taxpayer who gave $300 over the course of a year through payroll deductions, $30 per paycheck over ten paychecks, would not trigger the $250 substantiation requirement. The substantiation requirement would only kick in if $250 or more is withheld from each paycheck.

If any of this is confusing, know you don’t have to navigate these requirements just by yourself. Contact me at any time to discuss your situation and charitable giving goals. We’ll figure out the best course of action together!

For better or worse, for most nonprofits in the U.S., end-of-year giving comprises a significant portion of the charitable donation pie. In fact, between October and December nonprofits receive half of all annual donations! Yes, you read that right.

The last quarter of the year accounts for donations equal to those raised the other nine months out of the year. Even more intriguing? 33 percent of donations made in December occur on the 31st of the month and 12 percent of all giving happens in the last three days of the year….talk about last-minute donors!

snow-globe-christmas

Why is this the case? There are multiple reasons. First, time is of the essence for donors to make a tax-deductible charitable gift before January 1 of the new year. Nonprofits are also racing to meet annual fundraising goals and typically spend a significant portion of resources in order to exceed fundraising levels of the previous year. Additionally, the holiday season is synonymous with the actions of gifting, love, peace, joy, and a time to be generous. This means donors can be extra receptive to a charity’s marketing campaign that extolls these feelings that now is the best time for giving.

This is all to say, last-minute fundraising efforts can and should be used to target prospective last-minute donors. It’s a busy time of year for all, but the return for a strong end of year fundraising push can be well worth the time and energy. Consider these quick tips:

What are you Doing New Year’s Eve?

new year sparkler

Because New Year’s Eve day is such an important day for charitable donations, do not hesitate to keep fundraising through the very end of the year. Make those calls and get out the digital media campaigns. Reinforce to donors that December 31 is not too late and they’ll qualify for the charitable deduction federal income tax benefits on 2017 taxes.

Make Your Homepage Your Home Base

Your website should be the home base for year end giving. If you don’t have one yet, publish a dedicated page (or site) specifically for end-of-year giving information and brand it with your associated year end campaign. It doesn’t have to be complex, just consolidate the basics of who you are, what your mission is, and how donations help solve an issue or advance a cause on one campaign page.

homepage Mac fundraising

To that point, also take a review of your online donation page. If you can, brand it to fit with your end-of-year campaign…branded donation forms can mean up to seven times more than a non-branded, generic donation portal. Also, make sure the online donation portal is easily accessible no matter “where” the donor is coming from. Also, ensure all giving and donations portals are optimized for mobile access. (18 percent of all digital-made donations come from mobile devices.)

Ready, Set, Action

If you haven’t already, make a 60-second (or shorter) video explaining how donations to your charity can make an impact. A video can be an incredibly powerful tool for cutting through the end-of-year giving noise; videos can leave a lasting impact of imagery and tell an emotional story often better than just words or photographs can. According to a Google survey on online donation patterns, 57 percent of online donors make a charitable donations after watching a fundraising video that tells an inspiring story. This is exemplified through the ever-growing crowdfunding platforms; crowdfunding pages that have a video promo component raise four times as many donations as those that don’t. Just like your website and online donation pages need to be optimized for mobile, more than half of all videos happen on mobile.

video on iphone

Video content creation can sound scary at first if you don’t have a marketing team in place to facilitate, but it doesn’t have to be. Consider these tips, bust out your iPhone, acquire a tripod if possible, and use your laptop’s basic editing software. If you don’t have enough “last minute” time for that, shoot a video like you would for your own personal Instagram story or Facebook page.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Remind your prospective donors what you stand for and what benefits they stand to gain with at least one weekly email each week before the end of year. Also, send out a special dedicated email early on both December 30 and December 31. As most year-end donors know they will in fact donate, they’re just undecided about how much they will actually give. Make it ridiculously easy for donors to “see” what their donation could do.

In terms of timing, for example, on December 31  send out follow-up emails to only those donors who didn’t open the first iteration of the communication. Stay on message with all social media postings and branded links back to your donation page.  

Celebrate!

After the year end fundraising push, don’t forget to reward your nonprofit’s hardworking staff and volunteers! Refresh, refocus, and get ready to tackle your next year’s fundraising goals.

Happy new year headband

What year-end fundraising tactics have worked well for your charity? Share in the comment section below. If you’d like to discuss any aspect of nonprofit fundraising, don’t hesitate to reach out via email (gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com) or phone (515-371-6077).

christmas words giving

Thanks for the reading the 25 Days of Giving series…almost as good as this whiskey advent calendar, am I right? Each day through Christmas, I’m covering different aspects of charitable giving for both donors and nonprofit leaders. Have a topic you want covered or question you want answered  regarding charitable giving? Contact me.

Sure, info on tax incentives is important and details on donating stock are interesting, but sometimes just a good quote has the power to spark giving. According to this study, 31% of ALL online charitable giving in the U.S. happens in the month of December! If you’re a nonprofit looking to increase end-of-year donations or even a donor seeking to inspire your friends and family to give charitably, these quotes could come in handy.

The true meaning of Christmas? Giving.

giving snowflake quote

Giving makes you happy.

Happiest giving quote

Not giving is not an option for the causes you care about.

Doing nothing giving quote

Giving while you’re living means making a difference in the future.

Real generosity

Giving can be complex, but it doesn’t have to be. Enlist an expert to help you meet your giving goals.

Aristotle giving quoteGiving is a privilege

Rockfeller giving quote

Giving “costs nothing.”

giving quote free

What you give is what you get.

get out of this world giving

Giving means a lasting legacy.giving immortal quote

If you want to share one of these quotes, don’t hesitate to tag Gordon Fischer Law Firm on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

The title of this sounds pretty lacking in the “merry and bright” department…especially considering this is the 25 Days of Giving series! But, the name here describes a little-known deduction beneficial for volunteers…and nonprofits to stress to volunteers to indeed encourage more volunteering!

The IRS does NOT allow a charitable deduction for volunteering your services. However, out-of-pocket expenses relating to volunteering are deductible. Yes, seriously!

Any given charity should provide volunteers with a description of the contributed services and state whether there has been any transfer from the charity of goods or services back to the donor. In addition to other out-of-pocket expenses, mileage is deductible at the IRS rate. Also, expenses like tolls and parking can be deductible.

For example, if a volunteer travels to attend a meeting or conference sponsored by the charity, then there is a deduction only if there is “no significant amount of personal pleasure” in the meeting. This has become known as the “no smile” rule. To be deductible, the principal purpose of the meeting must be to further charitable goals (aka operative mission). Which, if you think about it, is something worth smiling about!

2 girls "no-smile rule"

Any questions as to what donors can and can’t deduct? If you’re a nonprofit organization you may have questions about the extent of information you’re required to provide. I welcome any questions on the topics. Gordon can be easily reached by phone at 515-371-6077; by email at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com.

heart in pages of book

Welcome to the newest post in the 25 Days of Giving series. Have questions or a topic  related to charitable giving you want covered as a part of the series? Contact us!

You want your favorite charity to be wildly successful. Whether you’re working for the nonprofit as staff, serving on the board of directors, or assisting as a donor or volunteer, you want your nonprofit to have every chance to reach its goals and objectives. 

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) strongly encourages nonprofits to adopt specific governance policies to limit potential abuse, protect against vulnerabilities, and prevent activities that would go beyond permitted nonprofit activities. The IRS also audits nonprofits, just as it audits companies and individuals, and having these policies in place can only help you should you be audited. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, having solid policies and procedures in place will provide foundation for soliciting, accepting, and facilitating charitable donations. 

Each nonprofit is unique, and accordingly policies and procedures needed will vary for each. For instance, a non-operating private foundation will likely need a different set of documents than a public charity. However, most nonprofits will want, at the very least, to consider having the following policies in place. 

Articles of Incorporation

Articles of incorporation are necessary to even form a nonprofit corporation; the document is filed with the state and accompanied by a filing fee. This policy can be known by other monikers as “certificate of incorporation,” “articles of organization,” or “charter document.” Think of this as the constitution of the organization. While it can be fairly short, there are some necessary elements in the articles that are required for federal tax-exempt status. Those elements include a statement of purpose, legal address, emphasis on not-for-profit activities, duration, names and address of director(s), and a dissolution clause, among others. You may want to check out the IRS’ sample charter.

Board Roles and Responsibilities

Nonprofit board members are generally tasked with two major responsibilities of support and governance. A board’s rules and responsibilities document should outline the requirements and responsibilities of board members. Some examples of basic components include fundraising participation, determining the organization’s mission and direction, selecting and regularly evaluating the nonprofit director/CEO, and protection of public interest. A policy regarding board roles and responsibilities should encourage nothing short of ethical and legal integrity within board members.

boardroom chairs

Bylaws

If you’ve ever been part of any board or committee, you’ve definitely heard reference to the bylaws and received a copy upon joining the organization. Nonprofit bylaws serve as the internal operating methods and rules that specify things like the election process of directors, employee roles within the nonprofit, and operational manners of meetings. Specific language in the bylaws is not required by federal tax law, but some states may require nonprofits to have written bylaws to be considered tax exempt. This document can most often be used to resolve uncertainty between board members and takes the guesswork out of operations.

Code of Ethics

Just as it sounds, a code of ethics document puts in place a set of guiding principles for behavior, decisions making, and activities of those involved in the nonprofit, including board members, employees, and volunteers. While principles innate to your organization such as honesty, equity, integrity, and transparency may be understood by all involved, this formal adoption allows those involved to make a formal commitment to ethical actions and decisions. Sometimes this document is known as a “statement of values,” or “code of conduct.” Many organizations post their code on their website to demonstrate accountability and transparency.

Compensation Policy

Competitive compensation is just as important for employees of nonprofits as it is for for-profit employees. Having a set policy in place that objectively establishes salary ranges for positions, updated job descriptions, relevant salary administration, and performance management is used to establish equality and equity in compensation practices. A statement of compensation philosophy and strategy which explains to current and potential employees and board members how compensation supports the organization’s mission can be included in the compensation policy.

Confidentiality

A nonprofit’s board members have a duty of confidentiality due to their fiduciary obligation to the organization. This duty is there regardless of any written policy or not, but it’s certainly a best practice to clarify and explain why and how confidentiality is important to the specific organization. A confidentiality policy can include elements such as the following:

  • definitions of what matters are considered confidential
  • determination to whom the policy applies
  • statement that board members do not make any public statements to the press without authorization
  • a process by which confidential material may be authorized for disclosure

secret mouth

Conflict of Interest

This is arguably one of the more essential policies a nonprofit board should adopt. A conflict of interest policy should do two important things:

  • require board members with a conflict (or a potential conflict) to disclose it, and
  • exclude individual board members from voting on matters in which there is a conflict.

Note the IRS Form 990 asks whether the nonprofit has such a policy as well as how the organization manages and determines board members who have a conflict of interest. This policy is all too important as conflicts of interest that are not successfully and ethically managed can result in “intermediate sanctions” against both the organization and the individual with the conflicts.

Document Retention

A document retention policy doesn’t mean that EVERY piece of paper and digital report should be kept for a specific duration. But, consider if a document is unknowingly tossed by a nonprofit employee and is later needed in a legal matter. That can cause irrevocable damage. So, ensure all board members, staffers, and volunteers are trained and have a copy of the document retention policy, which should clarify what types of documents should be retained, how they should be filed, and for what duration. This policy should also outline proper deletion/destruction techniques.

Employee Handbook

An employee handbook is another one of the more common nonprofit documents. A quality handbook should clearly communicate employment policies and enforce at-will provisions to all employees. Employment laws are complicated and complex. An employee handbook written/reviewed by a licensed attorney is a good legal step toward avoiding employment disputes. (Yes, just as you need a lawyer to write your estate plan, you’ll need a lawyer to craft/review your employee handbook.) Review your employee handbook regularly, as an out-of-date or poorly written handbook can leave the organization open to employment ambiguity and conflicts.

Financial Policies and Procedures

This document specifically addresses guidelines for making financial decisions, reporting financial status of the organization, managing funds, and developing financial goals. The financial management policies and procedures should also outline the budgeting process, investments reporting, what accounts may be maintained by the nonprofit, and when scheduled auditing will take place.

Endowment

This resolution concerns funds (and the interest from these funds) that are kept long term. It  generally aids the organization’s overall operations. An endowment policy should consider the purpose of the endowment, how the endowment will benefit the mission of the nonprofit, management practices of the endowment, disbursement policies, and investment strategy. (This blog post from GuideStar offers five steps to starting an endowment.)

Gift Acceptance

Gift acceptance is yet another policy the IRS considers to be a best practice for any tax-exempt nonprofit, and the gift acceptance policy can help set acceptance policies for both donors and the board/staffers. There is no federal legal requirement, but this policy does allow you to check “Yes” on Form 990. If well-written and applied across the organization, the policy can help the organization to kindly reject a non-cash gift that can carry extraneous liabilities and obligations the organization is not readily able to manage.

Outstretched hand

Investments

One way a Board of Directors can fulfill their fiduciary responsibility to the organization is through investing assets to further the nonprofit’s goals. But, before investment vehicles are invested in, the organization should have an investment policy in place to define who is accountable for the investment decisions. The policy should also offer guidance on activities of growing/protecting the investments, earning interest, and maintaining access to cash if necessary. Many organizations hire a professional financial advisor or investment manager to implement investments and offer advice. This person’s role can be accounted for in the investment policy.

Whistleblower

Nonprofits, along with all corporations, are prohibited from retaliating against employees who call out, draw attention to, or “blow the whistle” against employer practices. A whistleblower policy should set a process for complaints to be addressed and include protection for whistleblowers. Ultimately this policy can help insulate your organization from the risk of state and federal law violation and encourage sound, swift responses of investigation and solutions to complaints. Don’t just take it from me, the IRS also considers this an incredibly helpful policy:

“A whistleblower policy encourages staff and volunteers to come forward with credible information on illegal practices or violations of adopted policies of the organization, specifies that the organization will protect the individual from retaliation, and identifies those staff or board members or outside parties to whom such information can be reported. (Instructions to Form 990)

Policies = Powerful

While these documents may sound like a lot of work, the time and energy you place into ensuring your nonprofit is set up for success will pay off in the long run by saving you legal and IRS fees, internal conflict, violations, and compliance issues. Plus, you can enlist a qualified nonprofit attorney to do the leg work for you! 

You may say, “My organization already has a great set of policies in place!” Which is great. But, you should continuously update them as needed/wanted. A policy from 2002 may have been perfect at the time, but could be in dire need of updates.

I’d advise making policies the main subject of a board meeting to review what policies have been adopted, which policies need revisions, and which policies you’re missing altogether. If you’re not sure where to start, or how policies should be drafted, read, or enacted, I would be happy to offer you a free one-hour consultation. You can also take me up on my 10 for 990 policy special.

I’m here to assist in drafting or revising your set of nonprofit policies, so don’t hesitate to contact me via email or phone (515-371-6077). We’ll schedule your free one-hour consultation and make a plan to set your organization up for success!

(Note this article is provided for general information only and not intended as legal advice for your specific nonprofit organization. Again, please contact me to discuss your organization’s unique needs.)

Candles and christmas tree for charity auction

Thanks for reading the 25 Days of Giving series! Share with friends, family, & colleagues. Knowledge is indeed a “gift” when it comes to encouraging and maximizing smart charitable giving

Headed to a holiday party this season? If it’s to celebrate/fundraise for your favorite charity, you might experience an auction (silent or otherwise). Charity auctions can be great fun and it feels like you’re giving back while also gaining a great gift to tuck under the Christmas tree!

Sometimes charity auction participants mistakenly believe their successful bids are completely deductible. However, since the individual receives the auction property, there is usually no federal income tax charitable deduction. But, if the bid can be shown to be in excess of the fair market value of the item, the amount in excess can be deducted as a charitable contribution.

The charity may make a “good faith estimate” of the fair value of the auction item before bidding commences.

Noel at charity auction

Let’s look at a few easy examples:

Example 1. A $50 gift certificate to a retail store is purchased at charity auction for $40. No deduction.

Example 2. A different $50 gift certificate to the spa is purchased at the charity auction for $70. This generates a $20 charitable deduction.

Example 3. You bid on and win a fruit basket for $30 at an auction supporting a local high school basketball program. The equivalent fruit basket at a local grocery store would cost $15, so you may receive a $15 tax deduction.

Unsure if your actions at a charity auction mean a charitable deduction? It’s always a good idea to get a second opinion. Also, if you’re a nonprofit leader planning on hosting a charity auction it’s advantageous to be briefed on all the tax and legal rules surrounding the event in case donors ask. I’m always happy to help and offer a free one-hour consultation. Reach me by phone at 515-371-6077 or by email at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com.