shaking hands across table

In the age of the Internet there’s a free template, instructional, and how-to video for just about everything under the sun. And, for many things, from great recipes, to exercise guides, to Ikea furniture blueprints (why is there always one extra piece left over?!), this is fantastic. Sometimes it’s even hard to remember what life was like before we had access to information on just about everything at our fingertips.

There are still some things that, despite being free and appearing easy to do, are better done by a trained professional. For instance, let’s say I wanted to redo my bathroom, but have extremely limited working knowledge of how to reconfigure the plumbing to make sure it’s functional within the new design of the room. I could certainly click through step-by-step instructions on Reddit or watch a smattering of YouTube videos, but I’m still not an expert. If I tried to DIY the plumbing in my new bathroom, it would certainly take me much longer than an expert and without a doubt the finished product would be of a lesser quality. There’s also a good chance I would invest all this time and energy in the project, and still mess up, and end up having to hire a professional contractor to fix my mistakes.

Some things are just better left to the professionals. In regard to your nonprofit’s policies and procedures, this is where an experienced attorney comes in.

As a nonprofit leader, you’ve specialized in a multitude of different aspects while working toward achieving your organization’s mission. But, when it comes the super important policies and procedures, you need to have in place for top of the line legal compliance, it’s best to outsource to a legal expert. You could try the DIY way by finding free templates online and trying to muddle through the process. But, if legal issues arise and your policies are called into question you’re then going to have to call in the specialized professional to help keep the bathroom from flooding (metaphorical reference to my hypothetical plumbing mishap). If written poorly, policies could provide little to no guidance because they were too vague, not applicable to your organization, or contrasting with federal/state/local laws. An attorney can help you put all the pieces of the compliance puzzle together into an image that’s valuable.

puzzle pieces

Avoid the time, energy, and monetary costs of DIY, and opt for quality policies and procedures that are written specifically for your nonprofit by an experienced attorney in nonprofit law. Need a little more information to convince the board, the boss, or yourself? Here are three practical reasons why you should work with a professional to draft your tax-exempt organization’s policies and procedures:

Save Time

Time is a common thread amongst the majority of nonprofits I’m lucky enough to work with. There’s never enough time. When it comes to initiatives like writing a full set of beneficial policies and procedures unique to your organization, it costs time! And that is time away from all the other change-making that could be happening. Without a doubt, most nonprofits are also short on administrative help. When you hire an attorney well-versed in nonprofit law it’s a double win when it comes to time—your time isn’t wasted or misused and you get to reap the benefits of a subject matter expert’s time.

Save Money

My 10 for 990 special for nonprofits includes 10 policies asked about of Form 990 for a flat rate of $990. Sure, it’s an investment. But, less than $1,000 is worthwhile in exchange for policies that limit potential abuse, protect against vulnerabilities, and prevent activities that go beyond permitted nonprofit activities. Adopting internal and external policies can only help in the case that your tax-exempt organization is ever audited by the IRS.

Receive Dedicated Attention & Advice

Just like I tell my estate planning clients, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to the important documents that will be the blueprint to your legacy. The same goes for nonprofits.

Each nonprofit is unique and accordingly your internal and external guidelines will want to reflect this. For instance, a non-operating private foundation will likely need a different set of documents than a public charity. With a dedicated nonprofit attorney working on your policies, you get unparalleled and individualized service. This type of dedicated service and attention to detail will further save you from wasting resources on forms and other legal documents that aren’t useful or beneficial to the organization. Ultimately, working with a nonprofit attorney will mean counsel that sets your nonprofit up for success, unhampered by compliance issues.

The benefits of investing in a qualified attorney to craft your important policies are numerous; the right attorney will put your organization’s best interests first, saving you resources in the long run.

Given my experience, mission, and passion for helping Iowa nonprofits, I would love the chance to fill the role of topical expert for your organization. Learn more about the 10 For 990 policy special and don’t hesitate to contact me via email ( or on my cell (515-371-6077).

Did you miss the most recent edition of my monthly newsletter, GoFisch? It “swam” (punny, get it?) into inboxes on Valentine’s Day and fittingly featured how estate planning is a way of saying “I love you.” While Valentine’s Day has come and gone, every day is a great day to show your friends and family you care, so give the highlighted posts about different aspects of estate planning (like final disposition of remains and testamentary trusts) a read.

This GoFisch edition also included:

  • An exciting policy special for nonprofit organizations running through March 15. Read more about the 10 For 990 deal here.
  • A love-inspired curated Spotify playlist to play while you work through your estate plan.
  • Iowa-based nonprofit & philanthropy news.
  • Must-read GoFisch blog post highlights.

Like what you read? Don’t forget to subscribe to GoFisch and tell your friends! You can also scan through previous editions of the newsletter here.

talking at a table

If you’re like me, you love watching team sports be it baseball in the summer, basketball through the winter, or curling and volleyball during the Olympics! For a shot at winning, each of the team members must expertly perform their position. While not as exhilarating to watch, nonprofit boards are similar to team sports; the board of directors (the team) can only be successful if each of the individual members (just like individual athletes) play their positions well. That means individual board members must hold one another accountable for the overall outcomes of the nonprofit organization. In this way, there is shared responsibility of the individual board members for their actions, for the good of the board as a collective entity.

While each nonprofit can vary in structural organization, let’s review what a typical board of directors is collectively responsible for. (Note: directors can be known by other names, such as trustees, regents, directors, or a council.)

Governing with Compliance Top of Mind

cooperative on rock

The board has a responsibility of compliance.

First off, it’s important to remember that the nonprofit board is the ultimate governing authority of the tax-exempt organization. The board is therefore responsible (and can be held legally liable) for what happens within and to the nonprofit. Compliance is the word to keep in mind. A board makes certain the organization is compliant with local, state, and federal laws, as well as its own policies and procedures. Nonprofit policies are invaluable documents that provide structure and guidance in operations and decision-making. They supersede the individual team members’ opinions for the good of the nonprofit as a whole. Without updated and relevant adopted policies, nonprofit boards have a significantly difficult time achieving a solid standard of compliance.

Download my free guide for nonprofit leaders on policies and procedures your organization needs. Then, check out my special deal on nonprofit policies related to Form 990 (annual information return) such as gift acceptance, investment, conflict of interest, and whistleblower policies.

Money on the Mind

Speaking of important policies, nonprofit boards have a responsibility to approve some compensation decisions. Boards are involved with compensation decisions to various extents, from approval of just the top executive’s salary, to all staffers’ compensations—it just depends on organizational structure. However, at the very least, board members should be involved with compensation points asked about on Form 990. (Again, a great reason to snag the 10 for 990 deal!)

Keep a Quorum

The board has the responsibility to maintain a quorum for meetings. Your nonprofit’s bylaws (a foundational document a part of formation) should define a quorum—the minimum number of voting members present—needed to hold a meeting. How do you decide on a quorum? It’s the minimum number of board member who should be reasonably able to attend a meeting. Maintaining a quorum means a majority of voting members are making decisions on behalf of the organization. If a quorum is left to be too flexible, the organization runs the risk of a few members (not the majority) making executive decisions.

Three Ds

The board’s responsibilities can be summed up in the easy to remember “three Ds”: duty of care, duty of loyalty, and duty of obedience. This isn’t just a useful pneumonic device, these are the legal standards (as defined by case law) to which a board’s actions are collectively held.

  • Duty of care: This means that board members are expected to actively participate in making decisions, resolving issues, and participate in planning.
  • Duty of loyalty: Board members must put the interests of the nonprofit ahead of their own personal and professional interests. This means that even merely potential conflicts of interest must be studiously avoided. (Your nonprofit MUST have a conflict of interest policy dispersed, reviewed, and signed by each board member.)
  • Duty of obedience: Compliance with all local, state, and federal regulations and laws applicable to the nonprofit, is an essential responsibility for board members.

Mission Ready

Ultimately the board has the responsibility to keep the organization committed and focused on its stated mission. This is encompassed within the three Ds. In working to uphold the tax-exempt purpose of the nonprofit it’s important all board members recognize their individual responsibilities, and those of the board as a whole, overlap. If the board fails to uphold its duties, in some situations, an individual on the board could be found legally liable (and typically served with fines and/or other restrictions).

Questions about collective responsibilities and how they apply to a nonprofit board you’re involved with? Want to schedule a board training or orientation to brief board members on their legal and financial duties? Need to get those important policies asked about on Form 990 in place? Don’t hesitate to reach out via email or by phone (515-371-6077).