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.

Have you read GFLF’s latest contribution to the Iowa Bar‘s monthly publication, The Iowa Lawyer? The piece, “IRS Form 990: 10 Policies and Procedures Most Iowa Nonprofits Need” covers:

  • how important the annual information filing (Form 990) is for tax-exempt organizations;
  • top policies and procedures highlighted on the form
  • why investing in sound policies and procedures means investing in success
  • deadlines and failure to file for Form 990

While targeted toward the attorneys who subscribe to the magazine, this article provides excellent information for all nonprofit board members, officers, staff, donors, volunteers, and other stake holders. Give the article a read and then get a jump start on top notch compliance well in advance of next year’s due date for the Form 990!

If your nonprofit hasn’t yet adopted all of policies outlined in the article (or they are in dire need of an update), what are you waiting for? Contact Gordon about the 10 for 990 deal (10 essential policies asked about of Form 990) for just $990. The rate includes a consultation, documents drafted to fit the unique needs of your organization, and one full review round. The benefits are numerous and the compliance risk is frankly too great to NOT have these important policies and procedures in place.

My first attempt at a post to celebrate the spring equinox was a bad pun off of “springing power of attorney” (get it?!) that just didn’t work. Instead, I got by with a little help from my Facebook friends the following query:

March 20 is the very first day of Spring. What’s your most very favorite thing about Spring?

There were many excellent responses and it made me all that more excited to say hello to baseball season (go White Sox!) and goodbye to any “Nor’Easter” storms. Because the GoFisch blog has a knack for tying U.S./world news and events in with the mission to promote and maximize charitable giving in Iowa, I thought this start to the season fits in swimmingly with takeaways for Iowa nonprofits.

Winter Is Not Coming

As might be expected, some folks were simply glad winter was (seemingly, mostly) over. Carol Phillips, Polk County Bar Association executive director, bluntly stated her fave thing about spring was “[t]hat it isn’t winter!”

Ken Fuson, Simpson College’s media strategist, hoped for the “possibility that we may not have any more freezing rain for, say, three months.” Retired Iowa Judge Robb Thorson provided his opinion that he’s glad to travel and visit friends and “not have to worry about the weather.”

bulbs in basket

Nonprofit Lesson: Seasons Change

All nonprofit organizations – no matter how successful – suffer through times of “winter.” Times when things seem bleak, cold, dark, icy, treacherous, and you just can’t get warm enough. But, always, these times pass. Sometimes, the best strategy is to just hang in there, as the seasons – metaphorical and real – always change and this too shall pass.

Flora . . .

Teacher Amy Faralli Grider can’t wait for “the smell of a spring rain . . . . “

And Amy’s rain brings flowers. Attorney Patricia Shoff loves “flowering trees!” and she’s not alone in her affinity.

bee with pink flower

Riki Saltzman and Orchard Place’s Nancy Bobo are partial to lilacs, while Iowa Public Radio’s  Kate Payne likes blooming of both lilacs and daffodils. Bleeding Heartland writer Laurie Belin exclaimed: “Wildflowers!” Tamra Saltzman of Creative Visions Human Development Institute loves tulips.

Peggy Huppert, executive director of NAMI Iowa, includes “green grass, tulips, and flowering crabs,” in her list of fave spring things.

Lynn Meadows, of the College of Human Services at Iowa State University, took it several steps forward: “Everything! Longer days, the bright green grass, the pink and purple and white flowers on the trees…ahhhh…signs of hope and renewal.”

Nonprofit Lesson: Flower Power

The most beautiful flowers require lots of proper ingredients and care. And, are you taking care of your nonprofit’s staff, board members, volunteers, donors, and stakeholders, so they can flower and bloom into the beauty of your mission and vision.

. . . And Fauna

Peggy Rosky loves to hear “birds singing in the morning,” and Mary Brunkhorst likes when robins return. DMACC Dean MD Isley is a big fan of morels and new foals. Phil Specht notes spring is when “fish start biting.”

But perhaps spring-iest comment came from teacher Heather Anderson-Morrow, who can’t wait for her students to help her hatch baby chicks in her classroom!

chick bunny flower outline

Nonprofit Lesson: Take Care of Yourself

Nonprofits are typically understaffed and undercapitalized. Whether it’s a nature walk to hear birds trilling, hunting morels, fishing, or spending time with kiddos, it’s important to engage in your hobbies and peaceful activities to recharge, refresh, and start anew.

 

Everything!

Ann Dickinson Nida wrote about spring: “The anticipation of what was planted last year coming up. Playing in the dirt. Warm sunny days. Hope. Budding trees. Sun. Forsythia. Seed catalogs. Can you tell spring is my favorite?”

Former college basketball standout and current awesome teacher, Ann Cavey Jameson, was similarly effusive: “Flowers! Butterflies! Birds! Hiking, thunder storms, budding trees…so much!”

flowers in hand

Nonprofit Lesson: Time for Spring Cleaning?

After a long Iowa winter, spring is always a welcome and refreshing thought. Yet, on top of all the wonderful aspects of emerging from frozen hibernation, this change of seasons reminds us that 2018 is moving quickly! The second quarter of the year is upon us. What are your favorite nonprofit’s plans moving forward?

Let me suggest one “spring cleaning” project. Whether you’re on a nonprofit board, serving as staff, formed your own organization, or are an active donor or volunteer, the Nonprofit Policy Special: 10 For 990 is an important offer to consider and/or pass along to your colleagues, friends, and clients.

Tax-exempt organizations need to have specific guidelines in place to be compliant and meet the IRS’ expectations. It’s never too late to invest in comprehensive internal and external policies and procedures to help your organization work toward and achieve its mission.

Most annual information filing forms are due May 15, which is why through April 15 Gordon Fischer Law Firm is offering a special offer for 10 important policies asked about on Form 990. This also includes a comprehensive consultation and one full review round. Click here to learn more or contact me at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or 515-371-6077.

paper and phone on desk

Tax-exempt organizations need to have specific guidelines in place to be compliant and in order to meet the IRS’ expectations. It’s never too late (or early!) to invest in comprehensive internal and external policies and procedures. That’s why I’m offering the Nonprofit Policy: 10 for 990 special. You don’t have to feel overwhelmed or burdened at the thought of trying to draft legally correct and comprehensive policies. I’m offering a special deal for 10 important policies (read on for an overview of each) at the rate of $990. This also includes a comprehensive consultation and one full review round.

If you’re a nonprofit founder, executive, board member, or even an active volunteer, this is an excellent way to ensure the organization you’re deeply invested in is meeting (and exceeding!) the gold standard for tax-exempt organizations.

team members holding speech bubbles

I don’t know anyone who loves paperwork more than the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). But, if you’re operating a nonprofit, you’re going to have to learn how to embrace paperwork as well. Why? The IRS requires certain information from your organization be submitted annually via Form 990 “Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax.” This 12-page document (not including schedules) serves as a check to make certain nonprofit organizations are still qualified for that coveted tax-exempt status. To that point, the 990 asks nonprofits about policies and procedures that help ensure the nonprofit is conducting business in a transparent way that’s consistent with their exempt purposes. Specific governance policies encouraged by the IRS limit potential abuse, protect against vulnerabilities, and prevent activities that would go beyond permitted nonprofit activities.

Major Benefits & Reasons for Policies for Compliance

If governance policies are not technically required, why do them?

write ideas

The existence of a policy doesn’t mean compliance is assured, of course, but 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.

One of the major reasons to invest in strongly written, organization-specific policies is because the IRS audits tax-exempt organizations, just as it audits companies and individuals. (Having certain policies in place will only serve to benefit the organization should it happen to be audited.)

Another major reason to have proper policies and procedures in place is because they provide a foundation for soliciting, accepting, and facilitating charitable donations. Last, but not least, the 990 is made accessible to the public, meaning it can be used as a public relations tool if filled out diligently. Major donors can and often do review a charity’s 990 to ensure the charity is compliant, putting charitable donations to good use, and continues to operate in alignment with the overall mission.

Form 990 also serves the greater nonprofit sector as the data collected allows for the monitoring of growth and trends, tracking the types of needs/issues being addressed by nonprofits, and identifying specific adopted practices.

What Policies are We Talking About?

One thing’s for certain, articles of incorporation and bylaws are just the beginning when it comes to foundational documents.

The IRS made a major revision to Form 990 in 2008. The old version focused largely on financial data. Now, Form 990 reports extensive information on operations such as board governance, fundraising, international programs, non-cash receipts, joint ventures, use of subsidiaries, and more. Let’s cover all the policies the IRS asks tax-exempt nonprofits to report on:

Conflict of Interest

Found on Form 990: Part VI, Line 12 a-c

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.

The Form 990 glossary defines a “conflict of interest policy” as follows:

A policy that defines conflict of interest, identifies the classes of individuals within the organization covered by the policy, facilitates disclosure of information that may help identify conflicts of interest, and specifies procedures to be followed in managing conflicts of interest. A conflict of interest arises when a person in a position of authority over an organization, such as an officer, director, or manager, may benefit financially from a decision he or she could make in such capacity, including indirect benefits such as to family members or businesses with which the person is closely associated. For this purpose, a conflict of interest does not include questions involving a person’s competing or respective duties to the organization and to another organization, such as by serving on the boards of both organizations, that do not involve a material financial interest of, or benefit to, such person.

Form 990 asks whether the nonprofit has a conflict of interest policy, as well as how the organization determines and manages board members who have an actual or perceived 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.

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

Found on Form 990: Part VI, Line 14

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 policy (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.

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.

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

Found on Form 990: Part VI, Question 13 

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)

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.

Compensation

Competitive compensation is just as important for employees of nonprofits as it is for for-profit employees. 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

Fundraising

The topic of fundraising gets substantial attention on Form 990; fundraising income and expenses are asked about in Part I, three places in Part IV, Part VIII, Part IX, and Schedules G and M. Almost every nonprofit needs a fundraising policy, as almost all engage in some sort of charitable fundraising. 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. Remember that fundraising doesn’t just include solicitation of donations, but also receipt of donations.

Gift Acceptance

Found on Form 990: Schedule M, Part I, line 31

While related to the fundraising policy, the gift acceptance policy relates to charitable contributions. There are no legal requirements for a gift acceptance policy, however this policy provides written protocols for nonprofit board members and staff to evaluate proposed non-cash donations. The policy can also grant some much-needed guidance in how to kindly reject donations that can carry extraneous liabilities and obligations the organization is not readily able to manage.

rubix cube on desk

Investment

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.

Beyond the specifics of investments, this policy can also govern financial management decisions regarding situations like accepting charitable gifts of securities.

The policy should be written to give the nonprofit’s management personnel the authority to make investment decisions, as well as preserve the board’s oversight ability.

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.

Form 990 does not ask if an organization has a specific investment policy, but it does refer to investments in multiple places throughout the form, hence the obvious need. 

Financial Policies and Procedures

Different than the aforementioned investment policy, the financial policies and procedures policy 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. Similar to the investment policy, Form 990 does not make a specific ask about an organization’s financial policies, but this type of policy will serve as an indispensable guide to organizing, collecting, and reporting financial data.

Form 990 Review

Found on Form 990: Part VI, Section B, Line 11

Form 990 asks the following questions:

  • Has the organization provided a copy of this Form 990 to all members of its governing body before filing the form?
  • Describe in Schedule O the process, if any, used by the organization to review this Form 990.

In asking these questions, the IRS is indicating that distribution of the form prior to filing is optimal. (This is also one of those gold standard governing practices that is beneficial when using the form as a public relations material.) There are no federal tax laws requiring Form 990 review, and Form 990 does not mandate a written policy. However, a written policy is incredibly useful in clarifying a specific process for distribution and procedure review by the governing body (such as the board of directors). It also formalizes a review process and acts as a reminder to nonprofit leaders to distribute accordingly.

paper and pen on desk

Public Disclosure

Found on Form 990: Part VI, Section C, Lines 18 – 20

Public charities exist to serve the public in some way or another, and some organizational documents must be made available to the public upon request. Other documents can be kept entirely internal. This policy should overview (1) what documents must the organization disclose, and (2) to what extent does it want to make other non-required documents and information available to the public.

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.

Where Do I Start?

man writing on paper

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.

The 10 policies 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, present to the public (if appropriate), and fulfill form 990 requirements.

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.

Interested? It’s always a good day to contact Gordon Fischer Law Firm via email Gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or by phone (515-371-6077).

Any good attorney worth their weight will advise you on multiple aspects of any given important action or decision. Let’s say you’re considering forming a new 501(c)(3). You may have thoroughly considered all the prospective benefits of a tax-exempt entity, but what about the responsibilities? Indeed, there are serious obligations that come along with creating and running a nonprofit. These can’t be overstated and should certainly be taken into account. Let’s dive into a few of them

Monetary cost: Establishing a nonprofit organization does require a monetary cost including the filing fees to governmental agencies, such as the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office and the IRS. (The Iowa Secretary of State has a $20 filing fee, and the IRS 1023 Form has a current user filing fee of $600.) If you elect to hire a qualified nonprofit attorney to guide you through the formation process and draft the required forms that will be an additional cost.  (Although I would always argue a worthwhile one!)

Once the nonprofit is formed you’ll also want to invest in keeping your nonprofit organization on track, compliant, and successful. A major part of this is drafting and implementing quality internal and external policies and procedures. Again, a nonprofit lawyer can be a valuable asset and provide expertise here.

Cost of time & effort: On top of the monetary costs, there are the additional costs of time and effort. It typically takes a few months to pull all the paperwork together for the formational documents—especially the lengthy Form 1023. After all the paperwork is submitted for IRS review, actual 501(c)(3) approval can vary in the time it takes. A submitted Form 1023 can take anywhere from a month or two to a year to make its way through the review process; the 1023EZ‘s turnaround time depends on the backlog of review at the time.

Even after all of the required documentation is submitted for recognition of exemption, the IRS may request additional information through follow-up questions and supporting materials. And, of course, actually operating the nonprofit will take significant, continuous time and effort which can range in extent, but can include new employee hires, nonprofit board orientations and trainings, and compliance with state and federal laws (like Sarbanes-Oxley, for instance).

The flip side of this is that nonprofit work is often incredibly rewarding and important, making the effort and time even more worthwhile. But, again, it’s something good to just keep in mind as you weigh all inputs to your nonprofit formation decision.

Paperwork: A nonprofit is required to keep detailed records and also submit annual filings to the state and IRS by particular deadlines to keep its active and exempt status. (Reminder: having well-written policies and procedures will make the annual filings, like Form 990, an easier process!)

Shared control: As an incorporator of a nonprofit you will certainly have a say in the development of the organization. Although one who creates nonprofits may want to shape his/her creation, personal control is limited. A nonprofit organization is subject to laws and regulations, including its own foundational documents such as articles of incorporation and bylaws. An Iowa nonprofit is required to have a board of directors, who have certain legal and financial fiduciary duties to uphold. The board itself also has collective responsibilities, so no one person is held solely accountable. Board orientation, trainings, and materials—like a board handbook—organized in a specific way can go a long way toward ensuring the board is set-up for success in working toward the mission you as the founder envisioned.

Scrutiny by the public: In the eyes of the government and society alike, the nonprofit must be dedicated to the public interest in one area or another. This is where it derives its tax-exempt status. It’s also why its finances are open to public inspection. For these reasons nonprofits must be steadfastly transparent in nearly all their actions and dealings.

Interested parties may obtain copies of a nonprofit organization’s state and federal annual information filings to learn about salaries, program expenditures, and other financial information. You should be able to view copies of exempt organizations’ forms for free on the IRS’ website, or you can request a copy from the organization and they most provide it. Additionally, to make it easy for the public, many nonprofits link to these documents on their website. The information can be useful to current and prospective donors, new board members and employees, and grant-making organizations.

I hate to sound like a broken record, but again, this is where superior policies like “public disclosure” and “Form 990 review” are paramount to the operation.

These responsibilities shouldn’t scare you off from forming your change-making organization, but rather important elements to be aware of from the beginning. Plus, if you know the big picture of what you’re getting into, you can plan by enlisting the appropriate professionals to help you on your endeavor!

Want to discuss how to move forward with your nonprofit? Don’t hesitate to take me up on my offer for a free consult and the 10 For 990 policy special! Contact me via email or by phone (515-371-6077).

#SelectionSunday

As we basketball fans get ready for #SelectionSunday, is your team on the bubble? Lots of reporting (like here and here and here) features teams that are oh-so-close to being in the NCAA Tournament, but perhaps not quite so.

Which reminds me to ask, how is your nonprofit team doing? In terms of compliance, is your favorite nonprofit safely “in” the compliance zone and ready to play to win, or are you hoping that the team can be just compliant enough to slide in?

Who do YOU cheer for?

person shooting on basketball court

When I say favorite nonprofit, think of it like the team you have slated to go all the way and win the final round! Perhaps your fave nonprofit is arts-oriented, like Revival Theatre Company in Cedar Rapids. Maybe your top pick is a local human services organization, like The Crisis Center in Johnson County. You could cheer the most for an animal welfare organization, like Friends of the Animal Center Foundation in Iowa City. You may be a tried and true support for a nonprofit that works for the benefit of developing countries, like Self-Help International based in Waverly, Iowa.

In any case, the nonprofit topping your list will likely need to submit an annual filing with the IRS to be “in” the compliance zone. The majority of nonprofit organizations must file some version of IRS Form 990, which asks about a number of policies and procedures.

Go for the win!

Just like the game of basketball is played within an established set of rules, tax-exempt organizations must also “play” within specific guidelines. Doing so means having specific policies and procedures in place to be compliant and in order to meet the IRS’ expectations. When a nonprofit invests in comprehensive internal and external policies and procedures it’s like investing in the right training and resources to maximize the sport team’s strengths.

To continue the analogy, consider me the coach for these policies and procedures and I want to help all Iowa nonprofits teams play their best. This is why I’m offering the 10 for 990 nonprofit policy special now through March 15. Leave the legal drafting to someone else while you continue to maximize your mission. Note that the $990 rate for the 10 important policies asked about on Form 990 also includes a comprehensive consultation and one full review round.

Help your team!

If you’re a nonprofit founder, executive, board member, or even an active volunteer, this is an excellent way to ensure the organization you’re deeply invested in is meeting (and exceeding!) the standard for tax-exempt organizations.

The 10 policies a part of this promotion will save your tax-exempt organization time, resources, and you can feel good about having a set of high quality policies to guide internal operations, present to the public (if appropriate), and fulfill Form 990 requirements.

Don’t wait for a last second shot!

As the game changes your team needs to adapt. If you already have some (or all) of the policies your team needs 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.

After you’re done filling out your March Madness bracket, commit to helping your own nonprofit team be a champion. Contact GFLF before the policy promotion is up (March 15) via email (Gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com) or by phone (515-371-6077) to get started.