puzzle pieces

 What is a Grantor-Grantee Policy?

A grantor-grantee policy outlines how the organization expects the relationship with grantees (other organizations applying for funding or grants) to be structured. (Sometimes you’ll see this type of policy called a funder-grantee policy.) A grantor-grantee policy will address details related to the beginning of the grant application process through evaluation and multiple points in between. The intended audience is both your internal board of directors and staff as well as current/prospective grantees.

This type of policy often sets forth details regarding the complicated details that should allow for a better, more transparent relationship from the get-go with grantees. The policy can be as general or as specific as needed for maximized effectiveness to the organization’s specific situation. I’ll explain some of the “common” points often included in successful grantor-grantee policies below.

Benefits of a Grantor-Grantee Policy

By outlining the process and details of grants, your organization benefits from having an approved, agreed-upon plan of action. This is a proactive step toward avoiding wasting time. A grantor-grantee policy also makes it simpler to navigate unexpected situations or complexities as an organization.

Grantees will certainly benefit from a clear-cut, candid grantor-grantee policy as well because it invites them to set realistic expectations about what a relationship with your organization will look like.

Common Points to Include in a Grantor-Grantee Policy

When drafting grantor-grantee policies, it’s important that provisions included are directly related to your actual current and/or intended operations. (This is why it is important to have an attorney draft your policies as opposed to using something found off the internet—it probably won’t apply!) The following are some points you’ll want to consider as a part of a useful policy.

What basics should be included in the guidelines?

Consider details regarding:

  • How you want prospective grantees to approach your organization to submit an application or express interest. Is it by online application, email, letter, visit, etc.?
  • How quickly can prospective grantees expect a response to an initial inquiry or a submitted grant application? How will that contact be made?
  • What does the decision-making process look like? How often does the board meet, and when are decisions made?
  • You can also include here what you do NOT permit in terms of contact, meeting, or presentations by prospective grantees to avoid undue influence or even the appearance of unethical decision-making.
  • Are grants generally restricted, unrestricted, or on a case-by-case basis?

What is the timeline for funding?

  • Can applicants expect grants to be made on a rolling basis or are there specific deadlines?
  • What about the chance for grant renewals? When do those take place?

What are the types of proposals and information are you looking for?

Potential grantees will appreciate upfront information to decide whether to invest scarce resources and considerable time in an application for your organization. This invites a healthy amount of self-screening which enables you to evaluate the most appropriate applications. Consider these essential points:

  • Who is your ideal grantee? Do they need to operate in a certain location or within a specific realm of charitable purpose (such as, through work with animals, human services, or education)?
  • What are your preferred areas of funding? Some preferred funding areas can include: equipment; operating support; special programs/projects; financial stabilization; board/staff development; and capital projects. Will you accept proposals from outside your preferred areas or not at all?
  • What types of funding requests will you NEVER accept?
  • What qualifications and information will you consider in applications?
  • Do you want to give examples of previous grant applications you have funded? Do you want to list all grants made in the previous funding cycle in the policy or perhaps elsewhere (like on your website) or not at all?

What are the specifics of the grant application?

The grantor-grantee policy is not where your grant application should live, but important details about the application should be included. For instance:

  • What will you do to keep the application process reasonable? For instance, asking an applicant to make 10 copies for each individual board member may be unreasonable.
  • Where will the application be made available (online, in-person at the office, etc.) and in what formats (Word document; fillable PDF; etc.)?
  • How often will the grant application process and instructions be reviewed for inconsistencies and clarity? Once a year? Before any given application cycle?

What are the granting process logistics?

  • What is expected of grantees to confirm acceptance?
  • How will funds be distributed—at a specific check presentation event, through electronic transfer, or some other means?

hands in teamwork

How will the organization invite feedback?

Most grantees will not offer invaluable feedback unsolicited. Your organization may want to highlight how and when it will seek productive criticisms for continued growth.

You may not know an adjustment needs to be made until another organization tells you! How will you invite constructive feedback from current and prospective grantees regarding your funding application process? How will make certain it is seen as welcome and important?

What about an exit strategy?

Organizations evolve and priorities change. What does the process look like for informing grantees of a transition away from funding? Certainly, grantees should not expect support for forever, but they should expect respect and clarity when it comes to a grantor planning to pull support. Ample time and notification should be given, as well as the option for support in other ways (if applicable).

How about opportunities for collaboration?

In addition to or apart from funding, what are other ways you invite collaboration with past/current/future grantees? Beyond money, additional chances for working together can further strengthen community connections and enhance mutually beneficial partnerships.

Drafting Your Policies

I would be happy to discuss the particulars of your organization’s needs and goals to ensure your grantor-grantee policy is tailormade to best set your organization up for granting success. Contact me at any time via email (gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com) or by phone (515-371-6077).

charitable giving presentation

If you’re a professional advisor (such as a financial advisor, insurance agent, attorney, or accountant, among others) looking for more information on how to advise your clients on smart charitable giving strategies, I’d love to speak with you and your colleagues. At every chance, I’m happy to share my firm’s mission to “maximize charitable giving in Iowa” with groups of any size!

rows of brown chairs

In terms of topics, there is actually very little in the area of charitable giving that I do not feel comfortable presenting about. So, if you have a specific subject in mind, do not hesitate to propose it. The following is a sampling of topics I’ve spoken about previously. I can easily combine multiple topics to best fit the presentation to the group’s objectives.

Planned Giving 101

  1. What is “planned giving?”
  2. Gifting during lifetime versus gifting at death
    • Advantages and disadvantages of each
    • Meet clients/donors “where they’re at”
  3. What 2017 federal tax legislation changed for charitable giving
    • Two huge challenges: charitable deduction & estate tax
  4. The seven basic estate planning documents everyone needs (and how charitable giving fits in)
  5. IRA Charitable Rollover & other gifting opportunities through retirement benefit plans
  6. The numerous benefits of the Endow Iowa Tax Credit
  7. Ins and outs of donor-advised funds
  8. Highly appreciated stock and other non-cash assets

Planned Giving 201 (Advanced Gift Types)

When I give presentations on advanced gift types, I also include a short summary of Planned Giving 101 topics.

  1. Charitable gift annuity (CGA)
  2. Charitable remainder trust (CRT)
  3. Charitable remainder annuity trust (CRAT)
  4. Charitable remainder uni-trust (CRUT)
  5. Flip CRUT
  6. Charitable lead trust (CLT)
  7. Retained life estate

Working Together is Better

I can also speak to how nonprofit staff (most especially development officers) and professional advisors can best work together for mutual benefit and for the betterment of clients.

four people around a computer

Fundraising Ethics

Another topic I’ve also discussed in the past is the ethics of fundraising: how to spot warning signs of an impending ethical dilemma; the best ways to handle common ethics concerns; what actions to avoid; etc.

Exceed Client Expectations

If you present me with a list of your most top learning objectives, I would be happy to tailor a high-quality presentation to the group targeting those specific points. Really, any presentation related to charitable giving should be about what can make an impact in the lives and decisions of your clients. Let’s work together to help you and your team exceed client expectations and make an actionable impact on charitable giving in Iowa.

Contact me via email or phone (515-371-6077) to get your learning session planned and scheduled!

 

working on paper on desk

It can be difficult upon first glance to understand the differences between the various sets of letters and numbers used to identify nonprofit organizations. You hear a lot about 501(c)(3) organizations, but what if you come across a 501(c)(4) entity when making donations? What if you want to form a 501(c)4)? What does this type of IRS identification mean?

What is a 501(c)4?

Both 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) organizations are tax-exempt from federal income taxes on income earned and raised related to their exempt purposes.

501(c)4s are best categorized as civic organizations and local associations of employees. The Code of Federal Regulations, §1.501(c)(4), says: “A civic league or organization may be exempt as an organization described in section 501(c)(4) if –

  • It is not organized or operated for profit; and
  • It is operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare.”

The most common organizations with a 501(c)(4) designations are those active in politics, lobbying, and advocacy work. Some classic examples include volunteer fire departments, Miss America Organization, and community service clubs like Kiwanis, Rotary, and Lions Clubs.

By comparison, 501(c)3 organizations are recognized by the IRS as tax-exempt because they are organized and operated for: “religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals.”

These organizations tend toward advocacy work, political actions, lobbying, environmental purposes, homeowners’ associations, and various community associations.  Interestingly, it is not uncommon to find some organizations occupying the ranks of 501(c)(4) that would normally be considered 501(c)(3) if it were not for particular activities such as substantial lobbying or political candidate endorsements…things prohibited under 501(c)(3).

Exempt Purpose: Social Welfare

To be granted 501(c)4 status, the exempt purpose of the organization is the promotion of social welfare. What does social welfare mean exactly? The Code reads (with italics added for emphasis):

An organization is operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare if it is primarily engaged in promoting in some way the common good and general welfare of the people of the community. An organization embraced within this section is one which is operated primarily for the purpose of bringing about civic betterments and social improvements.

To achieve and retain 501(c)4 status, the organization’s must primarily engage in activities that further its exempt purpose (promotion of social welfare). However, the organization could engage in activities (like lobbying and political campaign intervention mentioned below), so long as they don’t exceed the primary actions related to social welfare. So, technically, “other activities” should not exceed 49% of the organization’s operations.

In comparison, a 501(c)(3) organization is expressly prohibited from engaging in more than an insubstantial amount of activities that do not further its exempt purpose.

Lobbying

501(c)(4) organizations may engage in unlimited lobbying so long as it is in furtherance of their social welfare purposes.

man reading paper

Political Activities

So long as political campaign activities are not the primary actions (meaning more than 49%) of the organization, the 501(c)(4) may engage in political campaign intervention.

By distinction, 501(c)(3) organizations are prohibited from engaging in any political campaign intervention activities.

Contribution Deductibility

Generally, donor contributions to 501(c)(4) organizations are not deductible. There are limited exceptions for certain contributions to war veterans organizations and volunteer fire companies. In fundraising solicitations, 501(c)(4) organizations must disclose to prospective donors–in an obvious and easily recognizable format–that donations to the organization are not deductible as charitable contributions for federal income tax purposes. Note well that some payments to 501(c)(4)s will be deductible as business expenses in certain situations.

How do you form a 501(c)(4)

If an organization is looking for 501(c)(4) status they may go about it one of two ways. The organization may:

  1. Apply for formal IRS recognition of exemption by filing Form 1024; or
  2. Declare itself as exempt under 501(c)(4).

In both cases, the entity must notify the IRS by electronically filing Form 8976 within 60 days of establishing intent to operate as a 501(c)(4) organization. (Organizations operating under any other 501(c) section should not file this notice!)

Want to learn more? Have questions which organization designation may be best for your entity? Maybe your 501(c)(3) would benefit from establishing a 501(c)(4) arm? Don’t hesitate to contact me to discuss your situation!

hand filling out tax form

In June 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair that changed the way remote sellers (like internet companies) do business in states where they don’t have a physical presence, like a brick and mortar store or a headquarters. Essentially it means these companies will start collecting sales tax in certain states with economic nexus laws already on the books to enforce collection against said remote retailers. Iowa is one such state.

What does this mean for you and your nonprofit? Most nonprofits may start seeing sales tax tacked on to certain receipts for digital accounts/services. (The rate of sales tax is based on your Iowa primary contact address.) But, some nonprofits are exempt from sales tax and therefore will need to remit an exemption certificate to the remote seller.

writing tax on a check

Taxes and Nonprofits

The interplay between taxes and nonprofits can be confusing. Even if a nonprofit is exempt from state and federal income taxes, it does not mean that entity is auto exempt from paying sales tax for goods and (taxable) services. Generally, sales taxes must be paid unless the nonprofit falls under the umbrella of some other applicable general sales tax exemption. (Local option sales taxes must also be paid on purchases made in existing areas.)

However, the Iowa Code does exempt certain nonprofits from paying sales tax on purchases. The Iowa Department of Revenue’s guide to “Iowa Tax Issues for Nonprofits” provides a (non-exclusive) list of entities that are specifically exempt from sales/use taxes under Iowa law. I’ve included the pretty lengthy list here for your convenience!

  • American Red Cross
  • Navy Relief Society
  • U.S.O. (United Service Organizations)
  • Community health centers (as defined in 42 U.S.C.A. subsection 254c)
  • Migrant health centers (as defined in 42 U.S.C.A. subsection 254b)
  • Residential care facilities and intermediate care facilities for the intellectually disabled and residential care facilities for the mentally ill (licensed by the Department of Inspections and Appeals under Iowa Code chapter 135C)
  • Residential facilities for intellectually disabled children (licensed by the Department of Human Services under Iowa Code chapter 237)
  • Residential facilities for child foster care [licensed by the Department of Human Services under Iowa Code chapter 237, except those maintained by “individuals” as defined in Iowa Code subsection 237.1(7)]
  • Rehabilitation facilities which provide accredited rehabilitation services to persons with disabilities and which are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities or the Accreditation Council for Services for intellectually disabled and other developmentally disabled persons and adult day care services approved for reimbursement by the Iowa Department of Human Services
  • Community mental health centers (accredited by the Department of Human Services under Iowa Code chapter 225C)
  • Home and community-based services providers certified to offer Medicaid waiver services by the Department of Human Services that are any of the following:
      • Health and disability waiver service providers, described in 441 IAC 77.30.
      • Hospice providers, described in 441 IAC 77.32.
      • Elderly waiver service providers, described in 441 IAC 77.33.
      • AIDS/HIV waiver service providers, described in 441 IAC 77.34.
      • Federally qualified health centers, described in 441 IAC 77.35.
      • Intellectual disabilities waiver service providers, described in 441 IAC 77.37.
      • Brain injury waiver service providers, described in 441 IAC 77.39.
  • Sales of tangible personal property and services made to nonprofit hospitals and nonprofit hospices (licensed under Iowa Code chapter 135B)
  • Statewide nonprofit organ procurement organizations
  • Nonprofit legal aid organizations
  • Nonprofit organizations organized solely for the purpose of lending property to the general public for nonprofit purposes
  • Nonprofit private museums*
  • Governmental units, subdivisions, or instrumentalities of the federal government or of the state of Iowa (This includes state, county, and local subdivisions of the government of the State of Iowa and those of any other state which provide a similar sales tax exemption to Iowa and its political subdivisions.) *
  • Recreational lake and water quality districts*
  • Federal corporations created by the federal government which are exempt under federal law *
  • Private nonprofit educational institutions located in Iowa *
  • Private nonprofit art centers located in Iowa
  • Habitat for Humanity in Iowa when purchasing building materials *
  • Toys for Tots when purchasing toys
  • Community action agencies as defined in Iowa Code section 216A.93
  • Substance abuse treatment or prevention facilities that receive block grant funding from the Iowa Department of Public Health

Sales Tax Exemption in Action

So, let’s say you’re an Iowa private nonprofit grade school that subscribes to an online newsletter service (which is based in California) so that administrators can design, write, and send a weekly email update to parents of students. Your organization would likely be exempt from the new sales tax charges imposed by the remote seller on your subscription rate.

Down to the Details

Exempt nonprofits must pay for their purchases from the entity’s account and should complete and submit an Iowa Sales Tax Exemption Certificate 31-014 to the remote seller.

Questions? Not sure if your nonprofit qualifies for this exemption? Don’t hesitate to contact me at any time to speak about your situation.

people brainstorming at table

If your nonprofit has an endowment, I recommend adopting and implementing an endowment policy handbook. The benefits of this handbook are numerous. For one, it can best prepare the nonprofit’s leaders to manage and put to use bequests of all sizes. Furthermore, a pre-established set of policies can help your organization avoid legal missteps and other conflicts.

Answer the Important Questions

Endowed funds bring special responsibilities: legal, financial, and ethical. There are many important questions which can only be resolved by:

  1. a full discussion and informed decisions by board members;
  2. the members adopting written and specific policies in clear, plain language; and
  3. putting those policies in a coherent, consistent, and accessible handbook.

In this way, all the many and varied responsibilities of endowed funds will be met. Once legal, financial, and ethical duties are met, the nonprofit can use the endowed fund to effectively grow the organization’s programs, support the mission, and aid the organization’s longitudinal viability.

Recommended Content for the Endowment Policy Handbook

Just like your employee handbook, the set of policies related to the organization’s endowment should be specific to your operations, intentions, and goals. There is no one-size-fits-all document, as what may make sense for a large nonprofit would not apply at all to a small one. (This is a good reason to not steal a template from the internet as it likely won’t serve its purpose and could potentially make things even more confusing.) In general, however, there are some recommended provisions that should be in all handbooks, like the following:

Definition of Terms

Basic terms, like the word “endowment” itself need to be defined. The same goes for restricted versus unrestricted funds, donor intent (to contribute to the endowment rather than other funds), and others.

Types of Gifts

What types of gifts will be accepted for endowment contribution, and under what circumstances?

Donor Recognition for Endowments

Will there be a different or special procedure for donor recognition when a donor gives to the endowment?

Confidentiality

Confidentiality of private information of donors and potential donors to endowment must be maintained. What’s the specific process for doing so?

 Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act

Rules which ensure the requirements of the law UPMIFA are fully meet, if not exceeded.

Accounting of Endowment Funds

How will financial standards be applied to endowment funds? Who specifically will ensure the appropriate and proper accounting of endowment funds?

Management of Endowment Funds

The management of endowment funds is to provide consistent sources of income for which programs or activities?

Investment of Endowment Funds

Is investment of the endowment directed toward maximizing the return of principal while maintaining prudent fiscal guidelines? A basic question for both the management and investment of endowed funds is: what institution shall hold the funds?

Restrictions of/on Endowment Funds

Endowment funds can NOT be spent on certain categories or items. What are they?

Revision or Amendment

In the future, how can the endowment policies handbook be revised or amended, under what circumstances, and for what reasons?

It’s also a smart idea to include a copy of the Endowed Fund Gift Agreement you have donors sign when making a gift to the endowment.

Drafting Your Endowment Policy Handbook

I would be happy to discuss the particulars of your organization to ensure your endowment policy handbook is tailor-made to set the organization and its fundraising efforts up for success. Contact me with your questions and thoughts! One thing is for certain–you shouldn’t be managing an endowment fund without having a clear blueprint for how it should run.

man typing on macbook

I’ve written a lot about IRS Form 990 on this blog, but all nonprofits organized in Iowa or authorized to business in the state also need to file a Biennial Report with the office of the Iowa Secretary of State. The report is required under Iowa Code §504.1613.

The report is pretty basic and is essentially entity information updates of which the Iowa Secretary of State’s office records. Report requirements vary by state, so I’ve laid out all the basics below!

When is my nonprofit’s Biennial Report due?

Biennial Reports should be submitted between January 1 and April 1 in odd-numbered years (like this one, 2019!). An organization’s first Biennial Report is due on the first odd-numbered year following the calendar year of formation. So, if your nonprofit was formed (meaning you submitted articles of incorporation) in October 2017, the first Biennial Report would be due by April 1, 2019.

Does someone have to sign it? Does it need to be notarized?

Yes; someone with authority in the organization should sign it (such as the president of the board of directors), however, original signatures are not required. Notarization is also not required.

person at conference table

What information is included in the biennial report?

The statute requires the following information be reported. (Note that a nonprofit is still a “corporate” entity, even though we don’t typically refer to nonprofit organizations as corporations.):

  • Name of the corporation
  • State or country under whose law the nonprofit incorporated
  • Address of the corporation’s registered office
  • Name of the corporation’s registered agent at that office in Iowa
  • Consent of any new registered agent, if applicable
  • Address of the corporation’s principal office
  • Names and addresses of the president, secretary, treasurer, and one member of the board of directors
  • Whether or not the corporation has members

The information on the Biennial Report should be related to the two-year period immediately preceding the calendar year in which the report is filed.

Is there an form?

Yes, there is a form you can file online or by mail. You will need both the corporation number and a temporary code to begin the filing process. Each corporation’s registered agent will receive a Biennial Report notice in early January.

Does it cost money?

Unlike the costs for LLCs or for-profit corporations, for nonprofit corporations, the filing fee is $0.

While you’re thinking about reporting, once you have the Biennial Report submitted turn your attention to Form 990. Do you know which version you can submit? Do you need to adopt any beneficial policies and procedures to boost your filing (and amplify good governance and successful operations in your organization)? Don’t hesitate to contact me with questions about any forms and reporting. It can seem like a pain at first, but the more prepared you are and the more knowledge you have, the faster you can get back to work, forwarding your mission.

board meeting with materials on table

I love the opportunity to speak with nonprofit boards of all sizes to help them govern the charitable organization in mission fulfillment in the utmost ethical and legal manner possible.

I highly recommend organizations of all sizes host training for their board members regarding their 10 basic responsibilities, individually and collectively, within the broader context of modern best practices. I provide a two-hour training/orientation on these ten basic responsibilities, and the information below is intended as a brief summary of this training!

Tailored Presentations

My live training session can be tailored to the nonprofit’s specific size, needs, and experience. The training includes an engaging visual presentation, handouts, and plenty of time for questions and discussion. Slides will also be sent out to attendees following the training. The following is a brief outline of the information I would present to the board.

10 Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Board Members

The ten basic responsibilities of nonprofit board members are as follows:

  1. Determine the organization’s mission, vision, objectives, and goals, and then advocate for them.
  • The board is responsible for ensuring’s mission, vision, objectives, and goals are plainly stated, embraced by all, and enthusiastically supported.
  1. Hire successful staff.
  • The board’s ability to recruit, support, reasonably compensate, and retain effective staff, especially the executive director, will be a crucial factor in the nonprofit’s success.
  • No matter how talented and experienced, employees need to clearly know their rights and responsibilities, through written policies and procedures, such as an employee handbook, employee agreement(s), and regular, formal performance review(s).
  1. Adopt “best practice” policies and procedures.
  • The IRS requires certain information from your organization be submitted annually via Form 990 “Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax.” 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.
  1. Ensure effective planning.
  • Through planning, the board and staff translate the nonprofit’s mission into objectives and goals to be used to focus resources and energy.
  • The board is responsible for actively participating in and approving decisions that set the nonprofit’s strategic direction.
  1. Monitor and strengthen programs and services.
  • Given limited funds, but unlimited demands on those funds, the board ultimately must decide among competing priorities.
  • What the nonprofit actually does, and how well it does it, should guide all board inquiries.
  1. Ensure adequate financial resources.
  • A nonprofit can only be as effective as its financial resources.
  • Although much can and should be expected of the staff, the board is chiefly responsible for ensuring it has the funds it needs and that the organization does not spend beyond its means.

board training at wood table

  1. Provide financial oversight.
  • Safeguarding organizational assets is one of the most important board functions.
  1. Build and sustain a competent board.
  • A major issue the board and executive director need to answer is: How should we define the ideal mix and number of professional skills, backgrounds, experience, demographics, and other characteristics we should seek in our board members?
  • Board members must set and persistently articulate the level of expectation that they will hold themselves and the organization to.
  1. Ensure legal and ethical integrity.
  • The organization’s reputation and public standing require everyone to take three watchwords seriously: compliance, transparency, and accountability.

Compliance

The term “compliance” is simply shorthand for the regulatory and legal requirements imposed by government and regulatory bodies at local, state, and federal levels that are considered part of a board’s fiduciary responsibility.

Transparency

Nonprofit organizations are expected to routinely and openly share more, and more complete, information to the media and the public about their financial condition, major activities, and staff compensation. A charitable nonprofit should make certain information about its operations, including its governance, finances, programs, and activities, widely available to the public.

Accountability

Although the board sets and periodically assesses the adequacy of major organizational policy, accountability measures ordinarily and appropriately fall to management. But the board needs to consistently ensure the organization is accountable to those who it serves, those who support it, and to the greater community.

  1. Enhance the organization’s public standing.
  • Board members serve as a link – the vital link – between the nonprofit and its board members, donors, potential donors, employees, volunteers, other stakeholders, and the community at large.
  • Board members should think of themselves as the nonprofit’s foremost advocates and ambassadors, hopefully, even after they leave the board!

Training Beneficial for New and Continuing Members

The 10 basics as set forth above tends to be an important training I recommend all nonprofit boards of both new and continuing members attend. However, if your board is in need of a different, specific training related to a specific aspect of organizational governance, do not hesitate to propose an idea or two. Most importantly, the training needs to be related to your board.

Let’s Discuss What Your Organization Needs

Interested in hosting a two-hour training containing content individualized to your organization? That’s great! Generally, I charge a flat fee and this fee means no surprises for you or your budget. It also includes as many conferences as needed in preparation, materials during and following the training, and an active Q&A session throughout the training. To discuss further, please don’t hesitate to contact me via email (gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com) or on my cell phone (515-371-6077).

red carpet up stairs

For every Golden Globes show, a consensus emerges as to who The Big Winner was, the Biggest Winner of all the Big Winners. And, without any doubt, the most favored of the star-studded night (beyond the impressive Sandra Oh)…was “Fiji Water Girl.”

In case you haven’t heard, Fiji Water Girl (AKA model Kelleth Cuthbert) traversed the pre-show carpet in a bold blue dress and had a knack for finding the perfect camera angles while carrying a tray of Fiji Water. Her immediate job was to hydrate the stars on the red carpet, but, she went above and beyond. By working strategically, she made it into the background of photo after photo of high profile stars. Fiji Water Girl was so noticeable she soon became a meme-worthy “celebrity” herself, and her employer undoubtedly appreciated the free/extra publicity.

Fiji Water Girl’s moment of fame is also a moment for nonprofit pros to learn three important lessons.

Everything you do, do well

There’s an old saying in Hollywood regarding bit parts, “there are no small roles, only small actors.”

I don’t have to tell you not every job in the nonprofit world is glamorous. Sure, sometimes you’re receiving accolades from your peers, scoring that massive grant, or your board is celebrating a particularly successful program you started. But, often your day is taken up by gobs of paperwork, stay atop of fundraising, field messages from donors and potential donors, and handling a veritable ocean of other administrative tasks. But, when you do have to do mundane tasks, do them unceasingly well! When you keep up an enthusiasm for tasks, no matter how seemingly small, your reputation for being dependable will bode well with colleagues, donors, and board officers.

Stay Current With Your Calendar

There are certain community events that nonprofit leaders must attend. You likely know what they are in your situation, for example, the grand opening of a donor or potential donor’s business or the big annual gala in your town. Make certain that you, or representatives from your nonprofit, are properly seen at these must-attend events. The vast majority of such events will be publicized well in advance, so it might be good to do a little brainstorming at a board meeting, to identify must-attend events and decide who’ll attend on your nonprofit’s behalf. Before anyone does attend on the nonprofit’s behalf it’s a good idea to be sure they are well versed on talking points, and fully understand the connection the nonprofit has with the event.

Go Ahead and Rock the Boat

Think about doing conventional things in unconventional ways. As many have written before, sending a receipt to a donor is mandatory – but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun, imaginative, or convey a meaningful message in a memorable way. Make waves! Or, let’s say your fellow board members or staff are hesitant to invest in a set of influential, important policies. Maybe they’re dragging their feet on updating a set of outdated formational documents. Make your mark by explaining the many benefits and how it will further the organization’s mission. Or, bring in a speaker (like me!) to explain the legal consequences of NOT having quality policies and procedures in place.

In short, when you’re working with a nonprofit, you could just keep to the status quo. Or, you can seize this moment, your moment, to find your light and shine. Sure, the Internet may not make a meme of you, but you can smile knowing you’re making a difference where it matters. Want to strategize? Don’t hesitate to contact me or to read more information useful for nonprofit pros.

never settle ethics picture

Acting ethically as a charitable organization is paramount to success. Even the illusion of unethical operations can cause lasting damage to your organization. (Case in point: Look at what happened to the Donald J. Trump Foundation and, by association, Eric Trump’s foundation.)

Smart nonprofit boards adopt, in writing, crucial values such as honesty, integrity, transparency, confidentiality, and equity. Sure a policy or two cannot “create” a certain culture or ethical operations by itself. But, well-drafted policies CAN actively promote and reinforce ethics in conduct and decision-making to all involved within the organization.

Major Benefits of Promoting Ethics

The realities of modern communication and social media mean that just about anyone can be a publishing “journalist.” This also means that organizations, especially nonprofits, can be subject to intense scrutiny. Because of tax-exempt status and dependence on charitable donations, nonprofits tend to be held to a higher standard than their for-profit counterparts.

An ethical issue—even the illusion of one—can split boards, cause stakeholders to pull back, snap donors’ wallets shut, and even result in expensive litigation. Fortunately, there are policies and procedures that can prevent your hardworking organization from having to deal with such controversy, by deterring unethical situations from every occurring. These policies include:

Code of Ethics

Every nonprofit should adopt a set of ethical principles to guide its decisions and conduct of its board members, officers, employees, independent contractors, volunteers, and other stakeholders. These ethical principles are typically called a “code of ethics,” “statement of values,” or “code of conduct.” Regardless of the title, the purpose of formally adopting a set of ethical principles is to provide guidelines for making ethical choices and to ensure that there is accountability for those choices. When board members adopt a code of ethics, they are actively expressing their deep commitment to ethical behavior. Making such a commitment can help earn and maintain the public’s trust.

 Confidentiality

Respecting the privacy of donors, prospective donors, employees, and volunteers, as well the nonprofit itself, must be a paramount value. For example, financial information of a donor must be treated as highly confidential, and not be disclosed or discussed with anyone without the express, explicit permission.

Care should also be taken to ensure that unauthorized individuals do not overhear any discussion of confidential information and that documents containing confidential information are not left in the open or inadvertently shared. In short, it is critical to adopt a confidentiality policy regarding identity, financial institution accounts, credit card numbers, and all such information about finances.

 Ethical Fundraising

Federal and state law significantly impact nonprofit fundraising. Beyond merely meeting what the law requires, nonprofits can demonstrate a first-class commitment to legal compliance by adopting an ethical fundraising policy. This would codify, for example, that all communications to donors and potential donors are honest and accurate. Another example: requirements to provide attributions for marketing imagery and never include information with minors that could be considered personal identifying information.

 Financial Management

Nonprofit board members, both individually and collectively, owe a fiduciary duty to ensure the organization’s assets are used in accordance with donors’ intent and the charitable mission. To ensure prudent financial management, nonprofits should adopt financial management policies.

Financial management policies clarify the roles, authority, and responsibilities for essential activities and decisions. Examples of nonprofit financial policies commonly used include a description of how cash is handled; whether and how travel expenses will be reimbursed; and the board’s role in reviewing executive compensation. 

Financial Transparency

Nonprofits also should adopt a financial transparency policy. An example of a fundamental financial transparency practice is to make information accessible to interested individuals regarding the nonprofit’s budget, sources of revenue, and information about board composition, programs, outcomes/impact, and staffing.

Basic “Good Governance” Practices

There are several basic practices every nonprofit should engage in to maintain “good governance”:

  1. Maintain corporate minutes
  2. Annual review of “conflicts of interest”
  3. Annual review of compensation
  4. Self-assessment process
  5. Diversity
  6. Board orientation/training

Updating Ethics Policies

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 new legislative policies impacted these policies at all? It may be time for a new set of ethics policies for your organization.

Additional Policies Need

Note nonprofits also need additional policies for optimal compliance. In addition to the ten major policies and procedures that support the best possible IRS Form 990 (such as public disclosure, gift acceptance, and whistleblower) nonprofits should have documents in place covering the topics of employment; grantors and grantees; endowment management; and legal training for directors.

Questions? Please don’t hesitate to contact me via email (gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com) or on my cell phone (515-371-6077). I’d be happy to discuss your nonprofit’s specific needs and policies promoting ethics, with you at your convenience.

man holding glasses talking about employment policies

Employment policies are vital to the well-being of your nonprofit. Such policies set workplace expectations, define work guidelines, reduce or eliminate confusion and misunderstanding, and provide steps for any necessary disciplinary action. Because every nonprofit organization is unique, your organization may well need a particular set of specific policies. However, the following are the general ones that benefit most all nonprofits.

Benefits of Employment Policies

An official set of employment policies provides many benefits for your nonprofit. For nonprofit employers, policies capture the values you wish to instill in your workforce, outline the standards of behavior you expect, and provide a clear guide for rights and responsibilities.

Instituting strong, fair, and unambiguous policies not only contributes to a happier workforce it can also improve employee retention. Further, employment law is vast, complicated, and can be tricky to navigate. Well-drafted employment policies can also help you avoid legal issues and costly mistakes.

Employee Handbook

Employee handbooks are not required by law, but having one is in the best interest of your nonprofit and those who work for you— even if you have just one employee! A good employee handbook effectively communicates the nonprofit’s policies and procedures and makes clear the rights and responsibilities of employees in your organization. Many disputes can be avoided by a clear, easy-to-read, and straightforward employee handbook.

Employment Agreement

Not to be confused with the handbook, an employment agreement sets the conditions, terms, and obligations between you as the employer and an employee. Employment agreements often include details regarding salary, benefits, paid time off, work schedule, mandatory mediation/arbitration, and defining the at-will employment relationship. Employment agreements need to be individualized to suit each employment relationship. It is considered a binding contract that should be administered in writing and signed by both employer and employee.

Formal Performance Review

Formal performance reviews are an assessment of an employee by a supervisor and the employee themselves. It’s a two-way, not a one-way discussion! The review should be based on jointly pre-determined goals and performance objectives. While often overlooked (and sometimes dreaded), performance reviews are of great value to nonprofit employers and their employees.

three people at table talking over computers

You should have in place a standardized form and consistent processes for conducting individual performance reviews of all employees. Evaluating the quality of an individual’s work, ability to meet goals, communication skills, adherence to your nonprofit’s mission, attendance, and dependability, among other criteria, is key to effective workforce management and to building trust with employees. You may also consider whether performance reviews for board members would be advantageous to the organization.

Employee Personnel File

A personnel file is a hard copy folder and/or digital file that contains information related to every new, existing, and former employee. Knowing what needs to be stored (and what should not) in a secure personnel file will help your nonprofit in promotion and termination decisions; provide a means of tracking vacations, training, and achievements; and is necessary to comply with regulations.

A personnel file should only contain items related to his or her job or employment status. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Application and resume
  • Signed acknowledgment page from the employee handbook
  • Pay information including time sheets, W-4s, and withholding forms

Just as important as having the right information in a personnel file, is to avoid placing the wrong documents in a personnel file. Some items that should not be in an employee’s personnel file include:

  • Medical information and accommodation requests
  • Whistleblower complaints
  • Court orders, such as garnishment or restraining orders

Independent Contractor Agreement

Self-employed, freelancer, consultant…people who provide goods or services to your nonprofit, but are not your employees, are considered independent contractors. Independent contractors differ from employees in that they control their financial and work-related relationships and pay their own self-employment, Social Security, and Medicare taxes.

When you hire an independent contractor, you should have a written and signed contract that clearly outlines the scope of work, rate/payment, severability, deliverables, and clearly identifies the person as an independent contractor. Also, you can minimize and avoid legal liability by placing the right provisions in an independent contractor agreement.

three employees talking at cafe table

Updating Employment Policies & Additional Policies You Need

If you already have some (or even all) of the above-listed employment policies in place, when were they last updated? Think about the many ways your organization has changed since they were written, including new employees you hired and existing employees whose roles have evolved.

Changes to state and federal laws may have rendered some elements of your employment policies incomplete or out of compliance. It may be high time to renew your commitment to a productive, happy workplace by revising employment policies.

Also, be aware this memo discusses only employment policies. To work toward optimal IRS compliance, you should adopt the nine key policies and procedures which appear on IRS Form 990. Also, you should consider having documents in place relating to the organization’s ethics, grantors and grantees, endowment management, and legal training for board directors.

To discuss further, please don’t hesitate to contact me via email (gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com) or on my cell phone (515-371-6077). I’d be happy to speak more to the particulars of employment policies, with you at your convenience.