events on calendar

Halloween and Thanksgiving aren’t the only things you should be looking forward to in October and November! I like to help spread the word about all the awesome events, awards, and grants available in Iowa. There are so many great opportunities for nonprofit pros, board members, volunteers, and donors, that range from webinars to workshops. But, life is busy, and it can be hard to keep track of what you should register for or put on your calendar. That’s why I compiled a list for your convenience!

Learning Events & Trainings

Grants

There are so many great events and opportunities for nonprofits and the people that advance them that there is no doubt I missed some in the list above. Please feel free to add applicable events for October and November in the comments below! If you would like to notify GFLF of any upcoming nonprofit-focused events and opportunities in the coming months, don’t hesitate to email GFLF’s Chief Content Officer at mackensie@gordonfischerlawfirm.com.

Girl holding scary pumpkin

Horrifying. Blood curdling. Hair raising.

These are just a few of the adjectives that can be used to describe six of the scariest things your nonprofit can do (or fail to do). As a lawyer who regularly works with nonprofits, trying to protect nonprofits and help them succeed in pursuing their mission, these six items literally haunt my nightmares.

  1. Failing to have an employee handbook with necessary policies.

Spine chilling!

Seriously? How can you NOT have an employee handbook? An employee handbook (even if you have but a single employee) makes clear the rights and responsibilities of both the employer and employee. So many disputes can be avoided by a clear, easy-to-read, and direct employee handbook. One of your best bets to fight off this spooky scenario is to get my free guide to developing a quality employee handbook!

  1. Merely copying a handbook off the Internet or “borrowing” it from another nonprofit.

Very eerie!

This is about as bad as not having a handbook at all! Just grabbing a random handbook and adopting it as your own makes as much sense as picking up a random hitchhiker on a foggy night. Others’ employee handbooks may have provisions you don’t need, or worse, ones you don’t want.

I once reviewed a handbook for small-but-sincere nonprofit that worked with the homeless. Several times in the handbook, quite specific medical terms came up—there was a HIPPA provision, there was talk about medical certifications, medical training, and proper handling of medical records. I realized, with a shock, this nonprofit had “borrowed” a handbook from a hospital.

How much faith or confidence will employees have in an employee handbook that’s filled with irrelevant stuff that clearly doesn’t apply to them at all? This is scary stuff, folks, very scary stuff.

Scary skeleton skull

  1. Failing to have an appropriate disclaimer in your nonprofit’s employee handbook

Truly frightening!

An employee handbook is just an employee handbook . . . or so you may think. But, what happens when it doesn’t have an appropriate “disclaimer?”

An employee handbook may constitute an employment contract! If you think about it, an employee handbook has all the elements of a contract—it’s written, it’s specific, it “promises” certain things will (or won’t) happen. It’s even “signed” by the nonprofit/company.

So, an employee handbook could actually be considered a unilateral employment contract unless the employer includes an appropriate disclaimer. Make sure you do so.

  1. Not having adequate job descriptions

Terrifying!

Job descriptions are so important – for the same or similar reasons that employee handbooks themselves are needed. Job descriptions lay out in writing what is required of employees.

Job descriptions are also helpful in relation to what is now-called the American with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA). Job descriptions demonstrate the “essential functions” (as opposed to non-essential) job functions of each position.

Also, strongly consider job descriptions for board members.

  1. Failing to have an acknowledgement page in your nonprofit’s employee handbook

Dreadful!

It is critically important your employee handbook include an acknowledgment page that the employee signs and returns. The acknowledgement page should state that the employee understands it is his or her responsibility to both read and follow the policies. The acknowledgement page should be able to be separated from the handbook, so that it can be signed by the employee and saved in the employee’s personnel file.

harvest moon

  1. Not making absolutely clear that your new employee handbook supersedes other, older policies

Ghastly!

Your nonprofit’s new employee handbook must make clear it trumps other, older policies and provisions. The employee handbook needs a “superseding” provision. This provision must state unambiguously this employee handbook is indeed the most up-to-date guidance on your nonprofit’s policies.

ghost in coffee mug

Wow, that was super scary!

After writing this post, I probably won’t sleep well tonight. But, if you follow these six pieces of advice you’ll rest easy knowing that you’re more likely avoid the nonprofit graveyard. If you’re facing these spooky scenarios don’t hesitate to reach out by phone (515-371-6077) or email to schedule a free consultation. You can also

volunteers walking on grass

Even if you don’t work at a nonprofit organization, undoubtedly you know someone who does! There are more than 26,361 nonprofit organizations (including public charities, private and public foundations, civic leagues, chamber of commerce, veterans organizations, and others) in Iowa. Nonprofits not only make our state and world a better place to live, they also make a substantial economic impact in Iowa. The nonprofit sector employs 135,300 people (11% of the total workforce) and generates annual revenue of more than $20.3 billion (according to data from 2016)!

I founded Gordon Fischer Law Firm with a dream of a legal practice that involved consistently strives to promote and maximize charitable giving. A big part of that mission is assisting nonprofit organizations of all creeds and sizes be successful through all stages of operation. From formation to hiring, board building and donor retention, to legal compliance and facilitation of charitable gifts, GFLF is here to help nonprofits build up to be the best they can be. So, if not for your own use, pass along the good word of our services to just one person you know in the nonprofit sector, be it an executive, fundraiser, board member, or active volunteer! Click the image below to get an easily shareable PDF on how to build a better nonprofit.

Build a better nonprofit

tennis court net

Serena-ity Now!

On the blog we’ve been going “back to school,” and our lessons wouldn’t be complete without a mandatory gym class. Which brings us to the question: is there gender bias in sports? Duh, yes. Mos def. It’s been especially newsworthy in tennis too.

There was nothing wrong with Serena Williams’ catsuit. Please, if a guy wore that, it would be noticed for sure, but certainly not banned.

Even worse: France’s Alizé Cornet received a code violation at the U.S. Open on Tuesday for removing her shirt on the court sidelines (she had a sports bra underneath). This is something men do all the time, and even while on the court.

The conversation continues in the aftermath of the US Open Finals last night between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka. Were the umpire’s penalties in U.S. Open Final match the result of sexism? I certainly think so. I mean, I’ve seen male players such as, say, Rafael Nadal or John McEnroe, go absolutely bananas on the court and not receive a penalty to the tune of $17k.

Three Truth Bombs

Here are three truths that aren’t changed by any contretemps at Arthur Ashe Stadium:

First, Serena Williams is the greatest tennis player in history.

Second, at least on this day, Naomi Osaka outplayed Williams thoroughly for an amazing upset win.

Third, America, I love you like crazy, the crazy way that only an immigrants’ kid could love America. But, you have serious problems with sexism and misogyny.

Pink tennis ball stuck in fence

From the Tennis Court to Law Court

Here’s yet another truth bomb: nonprofits, already under terrific scrutiny by board members, donors, stakeholders, and government agencies, can’t afford even a whiff of a controversy like the tennis examples above. Even allegations of scandal can destroy previously successful nonprofits. And, just like the game of tennis, both need to consistently be working toward implementing rules and standards that ensure equity.

Such situations can split Boards, cause stakeholders to resign or pull back, snap shut donors’ wallets, and even result in expensive litigation. Fortunately, there are policies and procedures that can prevent your hardworking organization from ever having to deal with controversy (particularly those relating to discrimination, gender bias, and the like), by deterring such actions from every occurring. Let’s first discuss the IRS Form 990 and then the policies that relate to this annual information return.

IRS Form 990

IRS Form 990. This is the form that (most) nonprofits have to annually file some version of. Say what you will about the IRS – but in Form 990, the IRS provides nonprofits a path to prosperity. On Form 990, the IRS asks about several major policies and procedures that actually help nonprofits govern smarter. Any and every nonprofit should have all of these policies and procedures in place, with regular updates as appropriate. But, in our context, three policies are particularly relevant here.

At this point in the blog post, I feel as though I can actually hear you: “I don’t think we could ever afford that in our budget…we don’t know where to start!”

Before I delve into specific policies that will help your fave nonprofit combat discrimination and bias, let me repeat a special offer. I offer all nonprofits 10 major policies and procedures on IRS Form 990, drafted specifically and individually to each organization. for a flat fee of $990. No jokes, tricks, or hidden fees. Interested in learning more? Give this post a read, and don’t hesitate to contact me to take advantage of this solid, straight-up deal.

Compensation Policy

Data related to compensation is reported in three different sections on Form 990: “Officers, Directors, Trustees, Key Employees, and Highest Compensated Employees;” “Statement of Functional Expenses,” lines 5, 7, 8, and 9; and Schedule J;” and “Compensation Information for Certain Officers, Directors, Trustees, Key Employees, and Highest Compensated 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.

Generally, this policy provides the benefits of:

  • Enhanced confidence of donors and supporters
  • Consistent framework for decision making on compensation
  • Increased compliance with federal and state employment laws
  • Reduced risk to the organization and its management and governing board

This policy can state clearly an organization’s intention to abide by federal and state law under which it is illegal to have pay differentiate based on gender.

Document Retention and Destruction Policy

This policy should clarify what types of documents should be retained, how they should be filed, and for what duration. It should also outline proper deletion and or destruction techniques.

The document retention and destruction (DRD) policy is useful for a number of reasons. The principle rational as to why any organization would want to adopt such a policy is that it ensures important documents—financial information, employment records, contracts, information relating to asset ownership, etc.—are stored for a period of time for tax, business, and other regulatory purposes. No doubt document retention could be important for proof in litigation or a governmental investigation.

When I was a litigator, I represented employers who could not find a key document–a personnel file; written warning; performance review, and the like. Needless to say, in all these situations, the missing documents were a huge disadvantage to the employer in defending itself. Make sure that doesn’t happen to you by setting down rules as to what documents to keep and how long to keep them.

You know, there’s even a question of federal code. You may have heard of the federal law, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. It reaffirms the importance of a DRD policy. Sarbanes-Oxley reads:

“Whoever knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsifies, or makes a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation or proper administration of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States or any case filed under title 11, or in relation to or contemplation of any such matter or case, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.”

While the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation generally does not pertain to tax-exempt organizations, it does impose criminal liability on tax-exempt organizations for the destruction of records with the intent to obstruct a federal investigation.

Yet another reason a DRD policy is an excellent idea, is it forces an organization to save space and money associated with both hard copy and digital file storage, by determining what is no longer needed and when…it’s like sanctioned spring cleaning!

Whistleblower Policy

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, including gender bias or harassment, 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.

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)

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act (referenced under the document retention and destruction policy above) also applies here. If found in violation of Sarbanes-Oxley, both an organization and any individuals responsible for the retaliatory action could face civil and criminal sanctions and repercussions including prison time.

Employee Handbook

On top of the super important policies he first line of defense for nonprofits is a well drafted, individualized employee handbook. Really, how can you NOT have an employee handbook? An employee handbook even if you have but a single employee makes clear the rights and responsibilities of both the employer and employee. So many disputes can be avoided by a clear, easy-to-read, and direct employee handbook.

In terms of gender discrimination, there are several provisions that should help insulate your favorite nonprofit. Your employee handbook would have an equal opportunity statement; anti-harassment policy; complaint procedure; and rules about compensation, document retention, and whistleblowing.

I offer a free “starter” employee handbook that can get you thinking about the types of provisions you should/could include in your employee handbook.

Update As Needed

If you already have some (or all) of the above policies or employee handbook in place, seriously consider the last time they were updated. How has the organization changed since they were written? Have changes to state and federal laws impacted these policies at all? It may be high time for a new set of policies that fits your organization.

Playing tennis Without a Net?

tennis shoes on red court

Robert Frost famously opined that writing free verse is like playing tennis without a net. Well, I don’t know about that, but any nonprofit without the 10 major polices asked about on IRS Form 990, or without an employee handbook, is definitely like playing tennis without a net, ball, lines, umpires, or rules! And, the best way to play the “game” while assuring equity and fairness for all the players involves preventing bias and discrimination from ever holding a place on the court.

Schedule your free one-hour consultation and let’s talk about your organization’s needs!

September calendar

Recently my social media feeds were alight with friends and family member’s grinning kiddos holding signs announcing their first day of a new grade. It made me nostalgic! While I wouldn’t want to repeat law school all over again, I do think it’s never too late to head back to the classroom—proverbial or real. So, the GFLF is heading back to school with lessons in English (like legal words/phrases of the day), reading (GoFisch book club) history, finance and the like. Today’s lesson on planned giving crosses over between business and economics, and it’s super important for donors of all gift amounts and nonprofit pros alike.

Back to school

What is planned giving?

Planned giving is the process of charitably donating planned gifts. A planned gift is a charitable donation that is arranged in the present and allocated at a future date. A planned gift is often, but not always, donated through a will or trust. (I would say this is true 80-90% of the time; put another way, planned gifts are bequests 80-90% of the time). As such, planned gifts are very often granted after the donor’s death.

Besides charitable gifts made through wills and trusts after death, other planned gifts include charitable gift annuities; charitable remainder trusts (along with the entire alphabet soup of CRATS; CRUTS; NIMCRUTS; FLIPCRUTS; etc.); charitable lead trusts, and remainder interest/life estates in real property. All these gifting tools/techniques/vehicles I’ve discussed previously, sometimes numerous times.

What is a Nonprofit?

  • You give $20 to a person you meet on the street who lost his bus ticket home.
  • At your local gas station, there is a collection jar for a local child with leukemia. You donate your change.
  • You leave money in your will for your niece Jane, hoping she uses it to continue her collegiate studies in engineering.
  • You have a neighbor who suffers from dementia. You and your friends decide to have an informal walk to raise awareness about the disease and raise money for your neighbor’s health care needs.

While noble, these are not examples of “charitable giving,” as we use the term here. In this context, we are talking about charitable giving to an organization formed under 501c3 of the Internal Revenue Service Tax Code. A 501c3 agency can be known by several terms in general usage, including “nonprofit organization” and “public charity.” For simplicity’s sake, we’ll use the term nonprofit throughout.

Nonprofits cover an extremely broad swath of types of organizations, including schools, churches, hospitals, museums, social services organizations, animal welfare groups, and community foundations.

Nonprofits Must Embrace Planned Gifts

Sometimes nonprofits are overwhelmed at the thought of expansive planned giving because of the number and complexity of some of the planned giving vehicles. How does this match up when you want to donate a less obvious gift than cash, such as stocks and bonds or grain? Nonprofits need to expand their ability to accept gifts of many varieties for at least three reasons:

Craft Beer Factor

The first reason I call the “craft beer factor.” (Bear with me here for a moment). I’m old enough to remember when there were just two kinds of beer. Don’t believe me? You should, as it was immortalized in one of the most famous advertising campaigns of all time–“tastes great, less filling!” This ad campaign strongly implied there were really just two types of beers.

craft beer on table

Then came the craft beer movement. I’m not sure whether craft beers were a response to consumers, or whether craft beers created a demand; presumably both. In any case, now a place like Toppling Goliath Brewing Company in Decorah, Iowa, has about thirty varieties of beers (this is based on an informal count from their website).

Now any retail establishment which sells beer must offer lots and lots of different kinds of beer. Any retail establishment which isn’t able to offer its customers wide variety risks irrelevance, or worse.

This is true not just of beer, but of everything. Another quick example– McDonald’s has around 145 menu items, that’s up from about 85 items in 2007. Also, McDonald’s now offers breakfast items not just in the morning, but all day-long.

Consumers want what they want, when they want, how they want.

Donors expect and often demand the opportunity to use many different options to assist their favorite charities. No longer can nonprofits simply ask folks to pony up cash, or just accept credit cards. Donors want to be able to converse with their fave charity and discuss using their whole portfolio. Nonprofits need to be able to accept, and intelligently discuss, gifting of many different types of non-cash assets.

A nonprofit which doesn’t offer its supporters a wide variety of giving options risks irrelevance, or even worse fates! So, as a donor, if you’re interested in donating an asset that your favorite nonprofit doesn’t typically facilitate, connect them with an experienced nonprofit attorney to make the gift a reality.

Planned Gifts Consist Overwhelmingly of Bequests

Second, planned giving is still mostly about wills and trusts. As already stated, I estimate 80-90% of planned gifts are bequests. Simple! Nonprofits should put substantial efforts to encouraging increased, larger testamentary bequests. Donors who already have an estate plan, but didn’t realize they could designate their favorite organizations as beneficiaries should contact an estate planning attorney.

Everyone can Understand Planned Giving!

Be it strategies for a monthly giving program or facilitating complex planned giving vehicles like NIMCRUTs, the opportunities for continuous learning about different planned giving technique are seemingly endless! And, there are so many different options, that all donors should feel great about supporting their fave causes with tax-wise gifts that work best for them. I strive to offer free information that breaks down different aspects of planned giving in human terms, as well as promoting community opportunities/events for nonprofit professionals.

heart on blue wood

Still need help understanding planned giving or any particular tool or technique? Want assistance coordinating a complex gift? Reach out to me anytime. I offer a free one-hour consultation to anyone and everyone. You can contact at my email (gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com) or on my cell (515-371-6077). I’d truly love to hear from you.

calendar on desk

Beyond my own information and resources I love offering Iowa nonprofits for free (like this board responsibilities handout or this nonprofit formation guide), I like to call attention to all the awesome events, awards, and grants available. There are so many great opportunities for Iowan nonprofit pros, board members, volunteers, and donors, that range from conferences to workshops, and grant applications to award nominations. But, life is busy, and it can be hard to keep track of what you should register for or put on your calendar. That’s why I compiled a list for your convenience:

Learning Events & Trainings

Awards

  • The AARP is accepting nominations for the 2018 Andrus Award for Community Service. AARP’s most-prestigious volunteer tribute recognizes outstanding individuals who are sharing their experience, talents and skills to enrich the lives of others.
    Nominations are due August 10.

Grants

  • Storey Kenworthy Foundation for Giving is accepting grant applications for five $5000 awards. The scope of giving priorities includes: “Honoring our Heroes, Medical Research and Support, Children & Education.” Application period available through August 31.
  • Nonprofits that on families, education or the environment are invited to apply for a grant from the Alliant Energy Foundation. Applications are accepted through September 1.
  •  Tourism-related entities (including nonprofits) based in Iowa can apply for the Iowa Tourism Grant Program. Awards range from $500 to $5,000 and require a 25% cash match. There is $150,000 available for the fiscal year 2019 grant cycle. Applications are due September 12.
  • The Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation launching a grant opportunity for small to mid-sized towns and cities. Up to 15 grantees will be awarded $25,000 each in matching funds to produce their own free outdoor concert series. The prospective series should feature a diverse line-up of quality entertainment for people of different ages and backgrounds. Finalists are chosen through online public voting. Grant applications are due by September 25.

hands on phone with calendar app

There are so many great events and opportunities for nonprofits that there is no doubt I missed some in the list above. Please feel free to add applicable events for August and September in the comments below! If you would like to notify GFLF of any upcoming nonprofit-focused events and opportunities in the coming months, don’t hesitate to email GFLF’s Chief Content Officer at mackensie@gordonfischerlawfirm.com.

shaking hands over interview table

As a candidate for a job, we all remember those pre-interview jitters. You’re worried you’re going to say something awkward, fail to demonstrate your aptitude and experience, or show up at the wrong time in the wrong place. Maybe your resume has grammatical errors, or you’ll have food stuck in your teeth. And, then there’s that anxious thought that you may completely freeze up when asked a question!

But, the interview is not just a daunting affair for the prospective candidate. On the other side of the interview table, the process can also be worrisome to the interviewer! Employers want to make sure they’re hiring the most qualified candidate for the job, while also assessing if the prospective employee is aligned with the organization’s mission and will fit well with company culture. To achieve this, employers (for non and for-profits alike) must be well informed on how to conduct an effective interview. An effective interview requires at least two major components from the employer: carefully prepared interview questions and carefully phrased interview questions.

Choose interview questions with care

shaking hands over table with computer

Carefully prepared interview questions require the employer to determine the critical success factors of the job. Prior to the interview, employers should formulate a detailed job description along with a list of the qualities, skills, certifications/degrees, and previous work experience they are looking for in a candidate. From this, an employer should be able to formulate questions in advance, some open-ended and some not, to ask the candidates.

Avoid certain interview questions like the plague

If you’re hiring for a position you may feel like you can just wing it–one less thing on your to-do list, right? Wrong. There are interview questions and practices that could make the organization a likely target of an employment or discrimination lawsuit. While not illegal in the strictest interpretation of the word, any questions related to the following should be avoided at all costs:

  • Race and ethnicity
  • Sex and gender
  • Race
  • Country of birth/origin
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Age
  • Marital/family status/pregnancy

Why are questions related to these topics not okay?

Phrase interview questions with care

As an employer, it’s not just what you ask, but how you phrase it. Let’s cover a couple examples:

Age

  • You cannot ask: How old are you?
  • You can ask: Are you over 18?

Asking a candidate about their exact age can lead to accusations of age discrimination or even unconscious ageism bias in hiring.

The concern here can be whether the candidate is old enough to perform the work they are interviewing for, so ensuring that the candidate is legally old enough to work is sufficient. Child labor laws exist to prevent exploitation of minors and mean to make sure education is a higher priority for minor students than work. So, if your organization is considering hiring minors for entry-level part-time roles, make sure you have full understanding of the restrictions on the types of work that can be completed, maximum working hours, and late-night work hours limitations. For instance, work permits are mandatory in Iowa for minors under 16 and violations of limitations and permits come with civil penalties.

watch on wrist

Of course, age discrimination can go the other way too. For instance:

  • You can’t ask: How long do you plan to work until you retire?
  • You can ask: What are your long-term career goals?

According to a survey of older workers by the AARP, not getting hired is the most common type of age discrimination they experienced. An additional 12 percent of older workers say they missed out on a promotion because of age, and eight percent say they were laid off or fired due to their age.

Children and family

  • You cannot ask: Do you have children?
  • You can ask: Are you available to work overtime on occasion? Can you travel for work?

Asking a candidate about children can lead to gender and/or family discrimination. The fact that someone does or does not have children should have no bearing on consideration of the candidate.  The concern here is whether family obligations will interfere with work. Asking directly about the candidate’s availability should be sufficient.

In a similar thread, you cannot ask a female candidate if/when they plan to become pregnant. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act means employers cannot discriminate on the basis of childbirth, pregnancy, or medical conditions related to pregnancy.

two kids on scooters

As an employer, you also cannot condone Family Responsibilities Discrimination against caregivers under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This means prohibiting discrimination against prospective and current employees who take leave from work if they have to care for a new baby, aging parent, or sick kid.

Marriage

No one is required to tell you as an employer their marital status or any marriage plans.

  • You can’t ask a female candidate: What’s your maiden name?
  • You can ask: Have you ever graduated or held a job under a different name?

Marriage - bride and groom

Physical abilities & health

  • You can’t ask: How tall are you and how much do you weigh?
  • You can ask: Are you able to perform the specific duties of this position such as lift a box weighing 50 pounds or reach items on a certain size shelf.

Asking for personal details about someone like their weight or height aren’t just “banned,” but they can so be incredibly uncomfortable for the interviewee. Some jobs do require specific physical abilities, but don’t make assumptions about a candidate based on appearance. Ask only direct questions related to what’s required of them.

person walking down path

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is another super important employment-related law under this category, as it prohibits workplace discrimination based on a person’s disabilities. The ADA defines disability as, “A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment.” A good question to ask avoid questioning physical abilities while still gauging if the candidate can perform the job is: “Are you able to perform the essential functions of this job with or without reasonable accommodations?”

Transportation & residence

people on subway train

  • You can’t ask: How far is your commute?
  • You can ask: Are you able to start work at 8 a.m.? Or, are you willing to relocate?

Asking a candidate about where they reside can lead to location discrimination. The concern here should be whether the candidate can regularly show up to work on time. Ensuring that the candidate is able to make it to work on time for a shift or open of business is sufficient.

What else can you ask?

Don’t let all of this scare you off from interviewing and hiring the great people you need to carry out your mission! There are plenty of questions you ask that get to the important stuff related to qualifications, experience, behavior characteristics, and career goals, such as:

  • Tell me about your past work experience.
  • What are you looking to gain from this position?
  • Tell me about you previous experience managing teams.
  • What languages do you speak, read, and/or write fluently?
  • Previously, have you ever been disciplined for violating company policies regarding the use of alcohol or tobacco products?
  • Tell me how you became interested in this industry?

By carefully preparing and phrasing questions in an interview setting, nonprofit employers can minimize legal risks while eliciting information they actually need from job candidates to inform successful hiring decisions!

Interview with the right intel

two people sitting at table

It’s okay to have questions about nonprofit employment decisions like the interview process. It’s better to do it right and be legally prepared for it from the beginning to protect your organization against allegations of discrimination and potential litigation. This dedication to excellence in employment law should then extend through the entire employment process with tools like the ever-important employee handbook and well-crafted executive agreements.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to GFLF via email or by phone (515-371-6077)

boardroom with large table and chairs

Recently I had the pleasure of presenting on the legal and financial duties of nonprofit boards at the Iowa Museum Association. One of my main core services is nonprofit formation and compliance, and a nonprofit’s board of directors (or supervisors, depending on what they’re called) is essential to both of those categories.

Had a great time speaking with the wonderful people at the #Iowa #Museum Association on the legal & financial duties of #nonprofit boards, earlier this week! 👨🏼‍💻👨🏼‍💼#presentation #GFLF #boardroom #nonprofitlaw

Posted by Gordon Fischer Law Firm, P.C. on Wednesday, July 11, 2018

When submitting a 501(c)(3) application (or a different type of tax exempt application), the IRS almost always requires at least three distinct individuals be listed on the board of directors. In terms of compliance, the nonprofit board is the governing body of the organization and therefore has distinct duties and obligations to the corporation.

Whether just starting out or continuing a long-standing tradition of operational excellence, it’s essential your nonprofit’s board know their responsibilities, understand their fiduciary role, and implement best practices. This goes for the board of directors as a collective body, as well as each of the individual directors.

Each nonprofit organization is unique and consequently, each nonprofit benefits from individualized counsel on how to maximize board operations. But, there are general guidelines of good advice that apply across the board. (Ha! Get it?) To that point, I’ve created a resource explaining board duties, best practices, and legal and financial responsibilities that most all nonprofits will find useful. If you’re a nonprofit leader (such as an executive director) you could even print this out and include it in board orientation materials and board handbook.

Download your copy of the “Best Board Ever” guide here!best board ever handout image

Questions? Thoughts? Need a speaker to present on a topic related to nonprofit formation and guidance or employment law? Don’t hesitate to contact Gordon via email at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or by phone at 515-371-6077.

World Cup Trophy

What a game! Instant classic!

While I’m far from any type of soccer expert, I closely watched the FIFA 2018 World Cup final, and it struck me that there were three evident lessons from the victorious French team’s play that are transferable to your favorite nonprofit.

World Cup Final score

The Need for Speed

Croatia is a truly great team and played extremely well. But it seemed to me France was simply the faster and quicker team. Faster to loose balls, faster down the field, faster to set up defensive and offensive plays.

Does your favorite nonprofit have the requisite speed to operate in our hyper-digital, I-want-it-yesterday world?

Of course, there’s most definitely times for quiet, sure-but-steady deliberation. You don’t want to be rushed into making bad decisions.

But let me ask you: How fast is your fave nonprofit in getting out thank you notes after a donation or event?

When a potential donor contacts you, how fast is your response time?

When a potential donor contacts you with an unusual gift, a non-cash gift, how quickly can you respond as to whether you take such gifts and that you’ll take this particular gift? (A gift acceptance policy and a gift acceptance committee can work wonders here).

How quickly do you respond to someone who contacts you and wants to become more involved in your nonprofit as a volunteer, committee member, or board member?

To take the simplest example of how being quick and “on the ball” can make a difference, think about if you receive a thank you note just a couple days after a donation is made. It means more and makes a lasting impression rather than a thank you note received a month after a donation is made.

One Superstar Is Not Enough, Not Even Luka Modric

Even the most rabid fan of Les Bleus, would probably agree that Croatia’s Luka Modric is/was the best individual player on the pitch today.

Nonprofits often rely on superstars, too–the executive director who toils for decades; the board president with the knack of bringing board members together, and the volunteer who shows up every week to keep the database totally updated.

But, soccer is a team sport, and in the long game, so is philanthropy.

You don’t need just one of the “superstars,” you need all three…plus many other active staff, volunteers, board members, and stakeholders.

As awesome and spectacular as Modric is as a soccer player, he’s just one player. You need a whole supporting cast to win the match, every match, and stay consistent.

As commentators noted even before the game, France has such a litany of stars that anyone could step up to be counted on a given day. Griezmann, Mbappe, GiroudPogba, and others make France champions because they came to the field with such a deep bench.

Calm, Concentration, and Confidence

One of France’s coaches said he wanted his team to remember just three things during the match today: calm, confidence, and concentration. The same could be said by a leader at your favorite nonprofit.

Calm

On any day, at a small (or even large) nonprofit, all heck can break loose. Instead of one big problem, five, six, or 10 “fires” may break out. In these times, calm is needed. Don’t panic. Panicked people are not productive people. Work your way through each problem in order of importance. Communicate with the others that you’ll be back with them as soon as possible. It will get better. We all have bad days, don’t make a bad day even worse or last all week by not remaining cool and collected.

Concentration

Don’t be constantly distracted by our uber busy, get-it-to-me-yesterday work culture. Decide what’s most important and try to stick to not only tackling it but finishing it, despite the myriad of distraction that no doubt will be thrown at you.

Confidence

If you are not fully confident in your mission, goals, and objectives, potential donors and other stakeholders will be able to sense this. I believe expert legal counsel can help tremendously in this regard. To take just one prominent example, there is no such thing as being too compliant. How many of the policies and procedures the IRS asks about on Form 990 do you have? Were they copied off the Internet willy nilly or personally crafted for the unique needs of your nonprofit? When was the last time they were reviewed and updated? Demonstrate confidence by taking charge of your compliance.

What lessons did you and your favorite charity take from today’s World Cup championship game?

Also, what was your favorite part of the match? I’d love to hear from you! Leave your thoughts in the comments below, or contact me by email, gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or on my cell, 515-37-6077.

hockey-rink-stanley-cup

Robert Frost famously quipped that writing poetry that doesn’t rhyme is like “playing tennis without a net.”

Right now, a different sport without a net is grabbing our attention. Currently the NHL sports fans are tuned into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, an epic battle between two seemingly evenly matched teams: the Washington Capitals and the Vegas Golden Knights. So, allow me to make a Frost-ian point about nonprofits in a hockey context.

For a nonprofit to operate without having proper policies and procedures in place, is like playing the Stanley Cup without a net – and without sticks, skates, helmets, or a puck. Without certain policies in place, a nonprofit simply cannot run properly. Without rules, there can be no expectations. Board members, officers, staff, donors, volunteers, and other stakeholders must work to ensure they’re not skating on thin ice. Give your stars the protection they need, and the tools they require, to be a winning team.

don't just stand there book on table

Where to Start?

From working with a wide range of nonprofit clients, I’ve learned that many want proper policies and procedures, but they are simply stymied or confused on where to start. That’s where an attorney well-versed in nonprofit law can come in.

Many nonprofits have to fill out an annual form, IRS Form 990. Form 990 is unique in that it not only asks about financial information, but also many of its questions directly ask about policies and procedures. There are at least 10 major polices asked about on Form 990.

Special Offer!

Right now, I’m offering 10 major policies and procedures nonprofits definitely need for a flat fee of $990. This includes consultations and a full review round to make sure the policies and procedures fit the needs and operations of your particular nonprofit. Adopting the policies explained in this guide will ultimately save your nonprofit organization time and resources, and you can feel great about having a set of high quality documents to guide internal operations, and present to the public.

All Nonprofits Need These 10 Policies

Whether a nonprofit is large or small, new or decades-old, a mission which is narrow or multi-faceted, all nonprofits should have these policies in place. Yes, these policies are asked about on Form 990, but even if a tax-exempt organization is not required to submit a variation of the 990, the benefits are still immense. In general, having policies in place provides a framework and the expectations for an organization’s executives, employees, volunteers, and board members. Such policies can also be referenced if/when issues arise.

Another major reason to have proper policies and procedures in place is because they provide a foundation for soliciting, accepting, and facilitating charitable donations.

Additionally investing in strongly written, organization-specific policies is a practice in preparation in case of an audit. (The IRS audits tax-exempt organizations, just as it audits companies and individuals.

Policy Highlight

Among the major policies and procedures included in my special 10 for 990 offer are the following. (You can download my free guide with more extensive information and explanations regarding these policies and procedures.)

Compensation

Under IRS rules, compensation for nonprofit staff must be “reasonable and not excessive.” The IRS recommends a three- step process for determining appropriate compensation: (1) conduct a review of what similarly-sized peer organizations, (2) in the same or similar geographic location, (3) of comparable positions.

Conflict of Interest

A conflict of interest policy should do two important things: (1) require board members with a conflict (or a potential conflict) to disclose it, and (2) exclude individual board members from voting on matters in which there is a conflict. If consistently adhered to, this policy can inspire internal and external stakeholder confidence in the organization, as well as prevent potential violations of federal and state laws.

Document Retention and Destruction

The document retention policy should specify 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.

Financial Policies & Procedures

This 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.

Form 990 Review

Form 990 asks about . . . . Form 990! That’s about as meta as the IRS gets. Specifically this policy covers how Form 990 was prepared and how it was approved. A written policy is incredibly useful in clarifying a specific process for distribution and procedure review by the board of directors.

Fundraising

This one may seem obvious, but almost every nonprofit needs a fundraising policy, as almost all nonprofits engage in some sort of charitable fundraising. Your organization is no exception! This policy should include provisions for compliance with local, state, and federal laws, as well as the ethical norms the organization chooses to abide by in fundraising efforts.

Gift Acceptance

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.

Investment

Before investments are made on behalf of the organization, there should be a sound 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 maintain access to cash if necessary.

Public Disclosure

Form 990 specifically asks the filing organization to report if certain documents are made available to the public, such as governing documents (like the bylaws), conflict of interest policy, and financial statements. Additionally, the form asks for the name, address, and phone number of the individual(s) who possesses the financial “books” and records of the organization.

Whistleblower

Nonprofits, along with all corporations, are prohibited by the federal government from retaliating against employees who call out, draw attention to, or “blow the whistle” against the employer’s practices.

Keeping Up-To-Date

If you already have some (or all) of the above listed policies in place, seriously consider the last time they were updated. How has the organization changed since they were written? Have changes to state and federal laws impacted these policies at all? It may be high time for a new set of policies that fits your organization.

Why 10 For 990

The mission of Gordon Fischer Law Firm is to promote and maximize charitable giving in Iowa, and to that point I want to help every Iowa nonprofit be legally compliant. It’s like how the coach wants to do everything they can to help their team win the coolest sports trophy—the Stanley Cup. The 10 policies a part of this promotion will save you time, resources, and you can feel good about having a set of high quality policies to guide internal operations and present to the public.

Again, for now, I’m offering these 10 policies—including needed consultations—for the low flat fee of only $990. Contact me anytime at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or give me a call at 515-371-6077. I look forward to discussing your tax-exempt organization’s needs and how we can set you up for compliance success.