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.

fireworks with man reaching up to the sky

The talk around New Year’s resolutions tends to focus on personal goals, like getting in better shape, traveling more, reading more, going to bed at a regular time every night, eat less chocolate…the list goes on. But frankly, most of those great January 1 intentions fall by the wayside around Valentine’s Day (and for me, usually even earlier!). But resolutions don’t just have to focus on the personal—what about the professional?

Professional resolutions are promising because they involve the accountability, inputs, and outputs of more than just yourself. Your entire network of employees, volunteers, and/or donors can help the resolutions become a reality. For nonprofit professionals and leaders, now is the perfect time to set actionable goals that can help further your organization’s mission, progress, and fundraising. Here are five ideas to get you started:

Optimize policies and procedures

Both internal and external policies will guide your organization and set standards. These policies should cover certain legal issues including, but certainly not limited to, conflicts of interest, investments, document retention, whistleblower protection, gift acceptance, and endowments. Your organization is always evolving and so should your policies. If your nonprofit is new, you’ll want airtight legal policies in place from the start. (For example, do you have appropriate disclaimers in the employee handbook, so it’s not considered an employment contract?) If your policies have been in place for a while, should you make an annual overview part of your standard operations? Pay attention to provisions that should be added/edited due to government and tax law changes.

Best board ever

Make this the year of the most efficient, effective board ever. Invest in educating and training the board of directors on issues that impact your industry and the nonprofit sector in general. Prepare your board with materials that will set them up for success such as an updated, comprehensive board handbook.

This is also a good place for a reminder to connect and leverage your board members’ experience, connections, and talents. Consider, when was the last time you had a one-on-one conversation with a board member outside of the monthly board meeting? Inviting a board member to lunch or coffee is a good opportunity to ask for valuable ideas on the organization and fundraising. Plus, taking the time to connect as individuals actively shows the board member you care for their connection and investment in the organization.

Excellent ethics

Let this be the year that you put ethics in operations above all. Does your entity have a conflict of interest policy in place? Does it need to be updated? Are there any areas for potential ethical infractions? Make a point to address these BEFORE they become an issue. Provide ethics training to your stewards—board members, employees, volunteers—so that everyone is on the same page of standards.  

Perfected planned giving

Managing planned giving programs is an art in the practice of effectiveness. And, as you may already know, such a giving program is a beneficial investment in future financial well-being; it takes significant time to construct and even more time to see results. From charitable gift annuities to even simple bequest programs, it’s likely that your planned giving program can be better organized and publicized to prospective donors. Review the readiness of your organization’s ability to accept a planned gift or endowment. Don’t be afraid to enlist an external auditor for improvements and legitimate practices.

Volunteer regularly

As a nonprofit leader, you’re dealing with the administrative details of development, human resources, and budgeting. Unfortunately, when you’re in the management weeds, you may not have much time to be on the ground executing programs. Make a commitment to volunteer with the organization at regular intervals. It will remind you of the all-important “why” behind the dollars and will enable you to better communicate this to board members, donors, volunteers, and other stakeholders. Better yet, encourage other employees at your organization to join you or set up a calendar of consistent volunteer slots.

change neon light

As I mentioned, these are just a few ideas to get you started. What resolutions can YOU and your organization’s board members, donors, volunteers, and other stakeholders imagine? Perhaps you should set some time aside for everyone to think about priorities moving forward into the new year. In any case, I’d truly love to hear from you about any and all resolutions you and your fave nonprofit have made!

Working with nonprofit leaders in Iowa is one of the best aspects of my job. The opportunity to help people achieve their goals for the cause or issue they care deeply about, is perpetually awe-inspiring. I believe that nonprofit leaders should focus on what’s most important—the mission and communities their organization serves—and I’m here to help with the necessary legal matters that come with nonprofit operation, like personnel contracts, internal and external policies and procedures, record-keeping requirements, and maintaining compliance with all local, state, and federal laws. Of course, don’t forget the complexities surrounding legal and sustainable fundraising.

I’m looking forward to helping you meet your nonprofit’s resolutions this year; please don’t hesitate to contact me.

25 Days of Giving: Global Trends in Giving 2017 Report

The 2018 Global Trends In Giving report is full of important and valuable statistics for nonprofit professionals. These statistics are not just interesting, but can also impact your donor plans and marketing strategies. But, December is an incredibly busy month with all the year-end fundraising pushes and policy reviews in prep for the coming operating year. So guess what? I read it for you! (You’re welcome.)

The 28-page report, sponsored by Public Interest Registry (PIR) with research completed by Nonprofit Tech for Good, surveyed a global sample of more than 6,000 donors in a time period from April through June of 2018. (It should be noted that although global, the results only represent the views of respondents that read in languages Arabic, English, French, Portuguese, or Spanish; have access to the Internet, and use email and/or social media.) 

Here are just a few highlighted insights from the report:

  • There are some clear similarities across generations. For instance, Millennials, Generation X, and Baby Boomers all prefer to give online, compared with options like cash, bank/wire transfer, and mail. Furthermore, approximate 14-15% of each generation group gave on #GivingTuesday 2017. Additionally, approximately 56% of donors from each generation group attend fundraising events. 
  • Millennials and Generation X donors are both most inspired to give through social media and their top cause category is children and youth. In comparison, Baby Boomers are most inspired to give through email and their top category cause is health and wellness.

Occassion of tribute gift

  • By gender, women make tribute gifts more often than men (35% v. 21%). However, male and female donors are within 1 percentage point of one another when it comes to enrollment in a monthly giving program (~55%) and volunteering locally (~67%).
  • Social media, closely followed by email, are the communication tools that most inspire giving.

nonprofit communication

  • Planning your social media awareness and advertising for the year ahead? Facebook remains the undisputed champion of online donations.

Global giving social media

  • Your nonprofit’s website should end in .org. 68% of donors most trust the “.org” domain extension. 
  • Adopting policies such as those regarding ethics, document retention, and confidentiality are essential! 92% of donors say it is important charitable organizations “make a concerted effort to protect their contact and financial info from data breaches.”

how donors prefer to be thanked for donations

  • When thanking donors, the majority (69%) prefer email the most.

Free gifts report giving

  • When thinking about incentivizing and inspiring donors, free gifts don’t always do the trick. Only 20% of donors are more likely to donate if they’re offered a free gift. (Plus, donors need to be aware of considerations when claiming quid pro quo donations.)

Again, these are just a few of the most important figures picked from an extremely well done and detailed report, 2018 Global Trends In Giving. If you give the report a read, what were the most unexpected and unique statistics to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts and insights!

For any aspect of donation facilitation, organizational compliance, as well as legal training, I’m happy to provide beneficial services to help your nonprofit best pursue its mission. Don’t hesitate to reach out via email or phone (515-371-6077) at any time.

Holding lights

Since 1968, every Section 501(c)(3) organization is classified by the IRS as either a private foundation or a public charity. This classification is crucial for at least two reasons to anyone considering forming a nonprofit or anyone considering making a significant donation to a nonprofit.

First, private foundations are subject to much stricter regulations than public charities. Second, public charities receive more favorable tax treatment than private foundations. Let’s explore each classification a little deeper.

Public Charities

heart ceramics bowls

Public charities must attract broad donor support. Some organizations—churches, schools, and hospitals for instance—are by their very nature considered “publicly supported.” Other organizations must pass mathematical public support tests to qualify as a public charity. These tests require charities to obtain funding from numerous sources, rather than one singular source, or a small group of related funders.

When a charity passes one of the public support tests, it is demonstrating to the IRS that the general public (non-insiders) evaluated the charity’s performance and found it worthy of financial support. As a result, such charities are treated as having a sort of stamp of approval of the general public, lessening the need for the stricter IRS scrutiny applied to private foundations.

Private Foundations

Do something great in neon

Private foundations are funded by an individual, a family, a company, or a small group. Two prominent examples would include the Ford Foundation and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Private foundations are subject to a more strict regulatory scheme than public charities. There are penalties for self-dealing transactions, failure to distribute sufficient income for charitable purposes, holding concentrated interests in business enterprises, and making risky investments. The IRS recognizes two types of private foundations: private non-operating foundations and private operating foundations. The main difference between the two? How each distributes its income:

  • Private nonoperating foundations grant money to other charitable organizations.
  • Private operating foundations distribute funds to their own programs that exist for charitable purposes.

In general, private foundations can accept donations, but many do not and instead have endowments, as well as invest their principle funding. The income from the investments is then distributed for charitable activities/operations.

Deduction limits

Contributions made to public charities and private foundations may be deducted from the donor’s federal income tax. The amount of the deduction is subject to certain limits under federal tax law.

Money and receipts

Gifts to public charities receive more favorable tax treatment than gifts to private foundations—this includes donor limits. For example, a charitable cash donation to a public charity would be deductible at up to 50 percent of the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income (AGI), but the same gift to a private foundation is deductible at a rate of only 30 percent of AGI.

A word on the word “foundation”

Don’t assume that an organization with “foundation” in its title/name is indeed a private foundation and not a public charity. Of course, it could be, but many types of nonprofit organizations have adopted “foundation” as part of their name to help project a mission and/or identity. (Examples include Friends of Animal Center Foundation and the Iowa City Public Library Friends Foundation.) If you’re entirely unsure if a nonprofit you’re considering donating to is a private foundation or public charity, simply ask one of the nonprofit’s executives or appropriate contact.

If you’re wanting to make a complex gift or include nonprofits as beneficiaries in your estate plan it’s wise to work with an attorney experienced in those areas. Of course, I would be happy to help.


Have any questions? Want to discuss your charitable donation or formation of your dream nonprofit? Contact me by email or phone (515-371-6077) .

events on calendar

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

Learning Events & Trainings

Grants

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

volunteers walking on grass

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

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

Build a better nonprofit

tennis court net

Serena-ity Now!

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

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

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

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

Three Truth Bombs

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

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

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

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

Pink tennis ball stuck in fence

From the Tennis Court to Law Court

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

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

IRS Form 990

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

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

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

Compensation Policy

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

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

Generally, this policy provides the benefits of:

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

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

Document Retention and Destruction Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whistleblower Policy

Nonprofits, along with all corporations, are prohibited from retaliating against employees who call out, draw attention to, or “blow the whistle” against employer practices. A whistleblower policy should set a process for complaints, including gender bias or harassment, to be addressed and include protection for whistleblowers.

Ultimately this policy can help insulate your organization from the risk of state and federal law violation and encourage sound, swift responses of investigation and solutions to complaints.

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

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

Employee Handbook

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

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

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

Update As Needed

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

Playing tennis Without a Net?

tennis shoes on red court

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

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

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)