Posts

World Cup Trophy

What a game! Instant classic!

While I’m far from any type of soccer expert, I closely watched the FIFA 2018 World Cup final, and it struck me that there were three evident lessons from the victorious French team’s play that are transferable to your favorite nonprofit.

World Cup Final score

The Need for Speed

Croatia is a truly great team and played extremely well. But it seemed to me France was simply the faster and quicker team. Faster to loose balls, faster down the field, faster to set up defensive and offensive plays.

Does your favorite nonprofit have the requisite speed to operate in our hyper-digital, I-want-it-yesterday world?

Of course, there’s most definitely times for quiet, sure-but-steady deliberation. You don’t want to be rushed into making bad decisions.

But let me ask you: How fast is your fave nonprofit in getting out thank you notes after a donation or event?

When a potential donor contacts you, how fast is your response time?

When a potential donor contacts you with an unusual gift, a non-cash gift, how quickly can you respond as to whether you take such gifts and that you’ll take this particular gift? (A gift acceptance policy and a gift acceptance committee can work wonders here).

How quickly do you respond to someone who contacts you and wants to become more involved in your nonprofit as a volunteer, committee member, or board member?

To take the simplest example of how being quick and “on the ball” can make a difference, think about if you receive a thank you note just a couple days after a donation is made. It means more and makes a lasting impression rather than a thank you note received a month after a donation is made.

One Superstar Is Not Enough, Not Even Luka Modric

Even the most rabid fan of Les Bleus, would probably agree that Croatia’s Luka Modric is/was the best individual player on the pitch today.

Nonprofits often rely on superstars, too–the executive director who toils for decades; the board president with the knack of bringing board members together, and the volunteer who shows up every week to keep the database totally updated.

But, soccer is a team sport, and in the long game, so is philanthropy.

You don’t need just one of the “superstars,” you need all three…plus many other active staff, volunteers, board members, and stakeholders.

As awesome and spectacular as Modric is as a soccer player, he’s just one player. You need a whole supporting cast to win the match, every match, and stay consistent.

As commentators noted even before the game, France has such a litany of stars that anyone could step up to be counted on a given day. Griezmann, Mbappe, GiroudPogba, and others make France champions because they came to the field with such a deep bench.

Calm, Concentration, and Confidence

One of France’s coaches said he wanted his team to remember just three things during the match today: calm, confidence, and concentration. The same could be said by a leader at your favorite nonprofit.

Calm

On any day, at a small (or even large) nonprofit, all heck can break loose. Instead of one big problem, five, six, or 10 “fires” may break out. In these times, calm is needed. Don’t panic. Panicked people are not productive people. Work your way through each problem in order of importance. Communicate with the others that you’ll be back with them as soon as possible. It will get better. We all have bad days, don’t make a bad day even worse or last all week by not remaining cool and collected.

Concentration

Don’t be constantly distracted by our uber busy, get-it-to-me-yesterday work culture. Decide what’s most important and try to stick to not only tackling it but finishing it, despite the myriad of distraction that no doubt will be thrown at you.

Confidence

If you are not fully confident in your mission, goals, and objectives, potential donors and other stakeholders will be able to sense this. I believe expert legal counsel can help tremendously in this regard. To take just one prominent example, there is no such thing as being too compliant. How many of the policies and procedures the IRS asks about on Form 990 do you have? Were they copied off the Internet willy nilly or personally crafted for the unique needs of your nonprofit? When was the last time they were reviewed and updated? Demonstrate confidence by taking charge of your compliance.

What lessons did you and your favorite charity take from today’s World Cup championship game?

Also, what was your favorite part of the match? I’d love to hear from you! Leave your thoughts in the comments below, or contact me by email, gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or on my cell, 515-37-6077.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 a 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.

https://gflf-prod.illuminateddev.net/nonprofit-policy-special-10-form-990/

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 thier connection and investment in the organization.

https://gflf-prod.illuminateddev.net/nonprofit-board-collective-responsibilities/

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.