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discussion over table with laptop

Imagine I’m working with a great new client named Daphne. She wants to found a nonprofit organization to assist at-risk youth in her local community and across Iowa. This is a hypothetical memo I would send to Daphne outlining the steps of what it takes to form a nonprofit in the state of Iowa. (Note, if you’re looking to form a 501(c)(3) it’s best work with a qualified attorney for advice and counsel specific to your situation and goals.)

To:                  Daphne Downright – SENT VIA EMAIL
From:             Gordon Fischer (gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com)
Subject:         How to Form a 501(c)(3) Nonprofit
Date:              April 13, 2019

Dear Daphne:

Good afternoon! I very much enjoyed our phone conversation of this morning, where we discussed your intent to begin a nonprofit to assist at-risk youth. Certainly this is an noble mission and I have no doubt that you could make a big impact. I also acknowledge you are very busy and don’t have the time to allocate to dealing with all of the documentation. So, I’m here to take this stress off of your plate!

Let’s recap some details regarding the process for founding a nonprofit organization. These steps will set your public charity up for the best possible success.

Main Steps to a 501(c)(3)

To recap what we talked over, forming a 501(c)(3) involves four steps:

  1. drafting, editing, and filing articles of incorporation;
  2. drafting and editing bylaws, with new board members then voting in favor of the bylaws in a duly authorized meeting;
  3. applying for an Employer Identification Number (EIN); and
  4. drafting, reviewing, and editing the IRS non-exempt status application, known as IRS Form 1023, as well as all the supporting materials IRS Form 1023 requires.

By far, the most difficult and time-consuming of the four steps is the IRS Form 1023. You should definitely review the form immediately, so you can gain a sense of the level of detail and involvement it requires.

How much does it cost?

While my regular hourly rate can go up to $300 per hour, I often have agreed with clients to perform all the legal work required to successfully begin a nonprofit for a flat fee of $4,800. I typically bill this over the span of five months, i.e., five easy payments of $980, due on, say, the first of each of the months.

Additionally, as you would expect, this matter will necessitate payment of filing fees to governmental agencies, such as the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office and the IRS. (The Iowa Secretary of State has a $20 filing fee, and the IRS 1023 Form has a $850 or $400 filing fee depending on the amount of gross revenue expectations). Of course, clients are solely responsible for payment of all such governmental fees.

How long does this take?

It usually takes a few months to pull all the paperwork together, including and especially Form 1023. I’ve had, however, ambitious clients who wanted to do it much faster, and I was able to accommodate. The flat fee includes as many conferences with me as you reasonably need for us to complete steps 1-4, above.

Benefits of Nonprofit Formation

Daphne, the benefits of a 501(c)(3) are many and include:

Tax exemption/deduction

Organizations that qualify as public charities under Internal Revenue Code 501(c)(3) are eligible to be completely exempt from payment of corporate income tax. Once exempt from this tax, the nonprofit will usually be exempt from similar state and local taxes.

Even better: if an organization has obtained 501(c)(3) tax exempt status, an individual’s or company’s charitable contributions to this entity are tax-deductible.

Eligibility for public and private grants

Nonprofit organizations can solicit charitable donations from the public. Many foundations and government agencies limit their grants to public charities.

Being able to offer donors income tax charitable deductions for donations, as well as eligibility for public and private grants, are probably the two major reasons folks want to obtain 501(c)(3) status.

Formal structure

A nonprofit organization exists as a legal entity and separate from its founder(s). Incorporation puts the nonprofit’s mission and structure above the personal interests of individuals associated with it.

Limited liability

Under the law, creditors and courts are limited to the assets of the nonprofit organization. The founders, directors, members, and employees are not personally liable for the nonprofit’s debts. There are exceptions. A person cannot use the corporation to shield illegal or irresponsible acts on his/her part. Also, directors have a fiduciary responsibility; if they do not perform their jobs in the nonprofit’s best interests, and the nonprofit is harmed, they can be held liable.

Focus your giving

With charitable giving flowing through a central nonprofit organization, and not through, say, a for-profit business, it’s easier to focus the giving on a singular mission. A for-profit business may be easily pulled away from a charitable mission by the pet causes of lots of different customers, clients, vendors, and employees. A nonprofit should be much less susceptible to such pressure.

Responsibilities of Forming & Managing a  Nonprofit

Of course, there are serious responsibilities that come along with creating and running a nonprofit. These can’t be overstated, and include:

Cost

Creating a nonprofit organization takes time, effort, and money. Plus, keeping a nonprofit on track, compliant, and successful also requires great care.

Paperwork

A nonprofit is required to keep detailed records and submit annual filings to the state and IRS by stated deadlines to keep its active and exempt status. 

Shared control

Although one who creates a nonprofit may want to shape his/her creation, personal control is limited. A nonprofit organization is subject to laws and regulations, including its own articles of incorporation and bylaws. A nonprofit is required to have a Board of Directors, who in turn determine policies. 

Scrutiny by the public

A nonprofit is dedicated to the public interest, therefore its finances are open to public inspection. The public may obtain copies of a nonprofit organization’s state and federal filings to learn about salaries and other expenditures. Nonprofits must be transparent in nearly all their actions and dealings.

Continue the discussion

I hope this information is helpful to you as you begin this journey. It won’t always be easy (although I will attempt to make it as simple as possible for you!), but it will be worthwhile.

I would enjoy the opportunity to be of service to you. Thank you for your time and attention. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me. As I told you this morning, I offer anyone/everyone a free one-hour consultation. Simply reach out to me anytime via my cell, 515-371-6077, or my email, gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com.

Warmest regards,

Gordon Fischer

Gordon Fischer Law Firm, P.C.

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.

Conflict of Interest chair with book on table

When you truly believe in a cause or issue your favorite nonprofit is addressing, you want everything to be in place to achieve utmost success. This most certainly means adopting  well written and well thought out policies and procedures.

Make a smart paradigm shift in 2018. Stop thinking about adopting policies and procedures as something you “must” do…just another administrative hassle. Instead, realize that adopting the right policies and procedures protects you and your fave nonprofit, and even more importantly, sets you up for success.

A conflict of interest policy is inarguably one of the most essential policies a nonprofit board adopts. A conflict of interest policy addresses two critically important issues:

  1. Requires board members with a conflict (or a potential conflict) to disclose it.
  2. Excludes individual board members from voting on matters in which there is a conflict.

Who is is responsible, and who gets the credit, for your nonprofit being a nonprofit? If you think about it, it’s the IRS! No less an authority than the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) highly encourages nonprofits to adopt specific types of governance policies to limit exposure to abuse, vulnerabilities, and engagement of nonexempt activities. One important such policy is a conflict of interest policy.

Note the IRS Form 990 (essentially the tax return form for nonprofits) directly asks whether the nonprofit has a conflict of interest policy,  how the organization determines when board members have a conflict of interest, and what steps are taken following such a determination.

If your nonprofit already has a conflict of interest policy already in place, great! It may be a good time to hold a board meeting to review it.

If your organization does not have a conflict of interest policy, and/or you’re unsure of what specifics it should include, don’t hesitate to take me up on my free consultation offer.

If you have any questions or want to discuss further shoot me an email or give me a call at 515-371-6077.