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Better Call Saul's Bob Odenkirk

Yesterday was the season four premiere of AMC’s Better Call Saul, the highly acclaimed “dramedy” which features slippery lawyer Jimmy McGill.

If you have yet to watch this great series, don’t worry no spoilers are needed; the lessons we can learn from the series still make sense even if you know a few basics.

Better Call Saul is a prequel series to Breaking Bad, and if you’ve seen that, you know the character Jimmy (played masterfully by Bob Odenkirk) eventually transforms himself into the very ethically challenged Saul Goodman. In either show, Jimmy/Saul is not someone you want to emulate.

The characters both finds and creates conflict in his life from his warring moral compass against his ambition. What do Jimmy’s complicated character flaws have to do with your estate planning? In the show Jimmy focuses in on elder law, including counseling senior citizens on how to make and reach their estate planning goals. While that’s great, he also makes ample, costly mistakes along the way with his important cases and clients. If there is anywhere in life to avoid preventable, silly mistakes it’s in estate planning. Here are five of the worst mistakes you should avoid like a Jimmy McGill scam with your estate plan.

Thinking you only need a will

As I’ve stated before, but bears repeating, you need more than a will. You need an estate plan. An estate plan consists of several legal documents to prepare for your death or incapacitation and a will is just one of these several documents, although an important one. I’ve written at length about the six “must have” estate planning documents. Don’t get just a will, it’s not enough. Get an estate plan.

Settling for a DIY estate plan

Why would you not hire an Iowa lawyer—particularly one well versed in wills, trusts and estates—and go it alone? Yet, folks write their own “estate plans” all the time. There are at least nine excellent reasons, among many others, to hire an attorney to draft your estate plan.

The question is not, whether you can you write your own “estate plan.” Given the Internet and YouTube, with some training and practice you could no doubt perform oral surgery on yourself. The question is whether that decision is a wise one and will it turn out well? The plain truth is you need a lawyer to help you with your estate plan.

Failing to keep your estate plan updated

The only constant in life is change, and as your life changes your estate plan must adapt. Common events that should cause you to re visit your estate plan include:

  • The birth or adoption of a child or grandchild
  • Marriage or divorce
  • Illness or disability of your spouse
  • Purchasing a home or other large asset
  • Moving to another state
  • Large increases or decreases in the value of assets, such as investments
  • If you or your spouse receives a large inheritance or gift
  • If any family member, or other heir dies, becomes ill, or becomes disabled

There are many other life events that ought to cause you to update your estate plan. Be sure to keep your estate plan current.

Not getting an estate plan at all

Surveys show that about 50% of Americans don’t have even a basic will. Oy. When you consider the bad, even terrible consequences of not having an estate plan, if you don’t have one, get on it stat. A great start would be to download my Estate Plan Questionnaire. My EPQ is free and easy, and truly a terrific first step.

Failure to think about including your favorite charity in your will.

Your estate plan is a great way to fund the causes you care about most. Whether it be a church, hospital, school, social welfare agency, whatever nonprofit you feel strongly toward, why not make a gift to them in your estate plan? You may well make a real difference, perhaps even one large enough to transform your fave charity and affect generations to come.

If you have kids, of course you want to make sure they are well provided for. I certainly understand that. But perhaps your kids are now grown adults, successful in their own careers. Perhaps you are affluent, in which case, maybe you need to ask yourself, How much is enough for the kids? Consider generously giving to that charity (or charities) at your final farewell through charitable bequests as a part of a lasting legacy and impact.

Unlike the Jimmy McGill or Saul Goodman style of attorney, I am honest, ethical, and working with a mission in mind . Be the judge for yourself—I offer a free one-hour consultation and transparent estate planning package rates. Questions or simply want to talk about how great this show is? I can always be reached via email at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com, or by phone at 515-371-6077.

hand holding flowers

It’s the end of January and that means Tax Day is creeping closer. You tend to hear a lot about what sort activities are tax deductible. You may deduct charitable contributions of money or property made to qualified organizations if you itemize your deductions. And, you’ll certainly want to be aware for substantiation purposes what contributions are indeed deductible.

But, in conquering your charitable giving goals, it’s just as important to know which nonprofit organizations are NOT qualified beneficiaries for tax-reducing gifts. Additionally, not all gifts to qualified charities are eligible. Contributions to certain entities may appear to be tax-deductible, but in actuality are not. This is not to say that these contributions are not valuable and helpful to the respective donees, it’s just that the U.S. government isn’t going to give you a tax break.

Knowing what you can and can’t claim helps you maximize the potential tax savings that the charitable tax deduction offers.

Contributions made to the following are NOT considered viable for the charitable deduction:

Promises and Pledges

man on computer in blue room

Let’s say you made a charitable pledge to a local 501(c)(3) for $150, but only paid $50 in donation during the tax year of the respective tax return. You can only deduct the the $50 actually donated. Once you make the transfer of the rest of the pledge ($100) then you could deduct that from the appropriate tax year.

Political parties, campaigns, and action committees

It’s important to get involved in the process fo democracy, but joining politic through monetary support does not translate into a charitable donation. Funds given to political candidates, parties, and PACs cannot be claimed. This also includes money spent to host or attend fundraising events or advertising.

boy skateboarding with American flag cape

Fundraising tickets

I’m sure you cannot count all the times you’ve been asked to purchase raffle tickets, bingo cards, lottery-based drawings and the like. It’s a common fundraising tactic, but such costs are not deductible.

Personal benefit gifts

The IRS considers a charitable contribution to be one-sided. This means if you receive something in reciprocity for a donation—anything from a tote bag, to a plant, to a three-course dinner—only the amount in excess of the fair market value of the item/service received is deductible. Let’s say your little neighbor is selling popcorn to raise money for their scouting troop. You buy some popcorn from the kid for $10 and the retail value of such a popcorn tin is $6. This donation would translate into a $6 charitable deduction. Likewise, you purchase a $75 ticket to an annual event hosted by a qualified charity. The event includes a meal that would have cost you $30 at a restaurant; overall your charitable deduction would be $45. (Read more about quid pro quo donations here.)

Receipt-less donations

You’ve probably given more than you can write off from small cash donations to your church’s collection plate, the Salvation Army holiday bell ringer, and charity bake sales. Why cannot you just guesstimate, add this all up, and deduct the amount off of your taxes? Receipts. The IRS requires proof of all cash donations big and small; a canceled check, statement or receipt from the recipient organization can suffice for cash donations up to a $250 (in total), and then more substantiation is demanded.

Person-to-Person

I’ve seen many successful crowdfunding campaigns for individuals raising money for a multitude of things. Let’s say your cousin is raising money for an expensive medical procedure through an online site and you donate to help them reach their goal. Or, maybe your nephew is raising money to take a mission trip this summer. Unfortunately and contributions earmarked for a certain individual (despite the economic/medical/educational need) are not deductible, according to IRS Publication 526. However, if you were to make a contribution to a qualified organization that in turn helped your cousin or nephew out with a grant or scholarship, for example, the contribution would be deductible. Make note though, even if you were to give a contribution to a charity in order to help a specific individual, you cannot designate the money to one specific individual for the gift to. Basically the contribution cannot be given directly or indirectly to a specific individual and still be tax deductible.

two people talking

The list could go on for contributions that are not deductible, but some other notable inclusions to be aware of include:

  • For-profit schools (nonprofit schools are good to go so long as donations are not made to benefit a specific individual)
  • For-profit hospitals (nonprofit hospitals are A-OK)
  • Foreign governments
  • Foreign-based nonprofits (with some exclusions for specific nation-states)
  • Fines or penalties paid to local or state governments
  • Value of your time for services volunteered to a charity
  • Value of blood donations (you just need to do that one out of the goodness of your heart…literally)
  • Dues, fees, or bills paid to country clubs, lodges, fraternal orders, or similar groups
  • College tuition (Even if the school is a nonprofit, tuition to attend the school is NOT tax deductible as a charitable contribution)
  • Professional groups/associations (such as civil leagues)

This may make it seem like there are many exceptions to the charitable deduction rule, however there are still an innumerable number of qualified nonprofit organizations that are a good way of reducing taxes (remember, you have to itemize) while also helping others. If you have questions about the charitable contribution tax deduction it’s a good idea to consult with your professional advisors. It’s also a good idea to heed these tips prior to making a charitable donation and double-check the organization’s status on the IRS’ Exempt Organizations Select Check tool, which allows users to search a list of organizations eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions.

I would be happy to have a conversation regarding the tax code, the best time and way to maximize a charitable donation, and help ensure you’re in compliance in compliance with all state and federal laws. Contact me at via email or by cell phone (515-371-6077). 

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:              January 24, 2018

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.

church pews

I worry about all the folks going to church this morning. (I use “church” as a term that could be easily replaced with other houses of worship: synagogue, mosque, etc.) Here’s my specific concern: when the collection plate comes around, do folks give cash? Probably. And if so, are they documenting their charitable gift? Probably not. For most people, it’s a $20 here and a $10 there, but over the course of many Sundays that can add up quickly. The total figure of such donations to a tax-exempt organization, like your church, could be claimed as a federal income tax charitable deduction. But, without substantiation, you cannot claim the beneficial charitable deduction.

The IRS requires you to have records and documents backing up your claims of charitable donations. The greater the amount of the deduction you seek, the more records that are required. Let’s start with a basic category: gifts of cash less than $250.

Substantiation requirements for monetary gifts less than $250

wallet with cash money on top

A federal income tax deduction for a charitable contribution in the form of cash, check, or other monetary gift is not allowed unless the donor substantiates the deduction with a bank record or a written communication from the donee showing the name of the donee, the date of the contribution, and the amount of the contribution.

Meaning of “monetary gift”

For this purpose, the term “monetary gift” includes, of course, gifts of cash or by check. But monetary gift also includes gifts by use of:

  • credit card;
  • electronic fund transfer;
  • online payment service;
  • payroll deduction; or
  • transfer of a gift card redeemable for cash.

Meaning of “bank record”

Again, to claim the charitable deduction for any monetary gift, you need a bank record or written communication from the donee. The term “bank record” includes a statement from a financial institution, an electronic fund transfer receipt, a cancelled check, a scanned image of both sides of a cancelled check obtained from a bank website, or a credit card statement.

Meaning of “written communication”

The term “written communication” includes email. Presumably it also includes text messages. But, again, the written communication, whether paper or electronic, it must show the name of the donee, the date of the contribution, and the amount of the contribution.

I must repeat. A federal income tax deduction for a charitable contribution in the form of cash, check, or other monetary gift is not allowed unless the donor substantiates the deduction with a bank record or a written communication from the donee showing the name of the donee, the date of the contribution, and the amount of the contribution.

How about monetary gifts [as defined above] which are $250 or more? As to cash contributions of at least $250, an extra set of substantiation rules apply. Click here to read more.

pulling dollar out of wallet

Responsibility lies with the donor

Interestingly, the responsibility for obtaining this documentation lies with the donor. The donee (the charity) is not required to record or report this information to the IRS on behalf of the donor.

If this sounds like a lot, know you don’t have to navigate these requirements just by yourself. Contact me at any time to discuss your situation and charitable giving goals. We’ll figure out the best course of action together.

Girl hanging ornaments on tree

Merry Christmas and happy last day of the 25 Days of Giving Series! If you’ve been reading along throughout December, thank you. If you’ve happened upon the GoFisch blog just now, welcome. I hope to see you back here often.

Celebrating the holidays with children, be it family or friends’ children, can be an wonderful opportunity to “see” the magic and delight of the season through their experiences. The season of giving is also an opportune time to teach and reinforce the importance of a different kind of giving beyond the wish lists for Santa and filled stockings. Consider these few tips when teaching the future generation of philanthropists about why charitable giving is important, and how to practice charity during December…and all year round.

Think Tradition

holiday themed cupcakes

Just like decorating cookies, trimming the tree, singing carols, or any other one of your family traditions, charitable giving can be made into an annual family affair. Incorporate this in a way that works for you and your family. One idea is instead of the traditional advent calendar in which children would usually get a small toy or candy each day give some loose change or “gift” a charitable activity you can do together. For the money, the child can collect and then then at the end of the advent period have then donate their money to a cause they care about.

Talk About It Together

Similarly to how I counsel my estate planning clients on the importance of speaking with family members about decisions for their estate, it’s important to actually talk about charitable giving as a family. Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy conducted a study and found that children whose parents talk with them about donating are 20% more likely to give to charity than kids who do not have those conversations with their parents.

snowmen figurines

Visit local charitable organizations together. (Or, if that’s not accessible at least go online to the charities’ websites.) Introduce your child to what the charity does and why it’s important. Organizations whose missions align with your child’s interests are a good place to start. For instance, the kid who loves animals may be interested to know that the local animal rescue helps animals when they get lost or hurt.

Practice What You Preach: Volunteer Time

Charitable giving doesn’t just have to be monetary. When possible set up volunteer activities you can do together. However, volunteer opportunities for children can be limited, so don’t be afraid to get creative. If your kiddo loves riding her bike around the park, plan a day where you pick up trash around the park. If your son loves to help you plant flowers, see if he can help out at the community garden. Of course, youth organizations like scouting programs (for example), can be a great opportunity for your child to put charitable work into action. Kids, just like most of us, will better be able to “see” the impact of charitable giving when they experience it firsthand. (Note: volunteer time is not tax deductible, but out-of-pocket expenses associated with volunteer work are!)

child in front of stocking

Shared Generosity

From your year-end giving charitable dollars, set aside a portion specifically for the kids to decide how to allocate. Have them brainstorm on with you and provide them with any suggestions/charities to match the causes they care about. You could also try out a matching program. Explain to them that every dollar they save throughout the year and want to donate to charity, you’ll match. If you need a colorful visual explain with Monopoly money.

 How do you involve your entire family with charitable giving? I would love to hear your ideas. Remember, this doesn’t have to be your own children. If you’re a teacher or simply an involved aunt/uncle or grandparent you can still instill in children the important philosophy of why giving can be the best gift of all.
Questions about your own year-end charitable giving? Contact me by email or phone (515-371-6077) at any time. 
red ornaments Endow Iowa Tax Credit

Merry Christmas Eve and thank you for reading the 25 Days of Giving series! In the spirit of the holiday season I’m covering different aspects of charitable giving…perfect to get you thinking about your end-of-year giving.

There are many, many reasons Iowa is great place to live and work. One reason is the Endow Iowa Tax Credit Program—a smart way to stretch your charitable dollars. Iowa community foundations provide exclusive access to the Endow Iowa Tax Credit program. Giving through the Endow Iowa program allows Iowa taxpayers to receive a 25% Iowa tax credit, in addition to the federal charitable income tax deduction, for qualifying charitable gifts.

gift with glitter ribbon

The Endow Iowa Tax Credit Program provides unique opportunities to meet philanthropic goals while receiving maximum tax benefits. Highlights of this program include:

  • A variety of gifts qualify for Endow Iowa Tax Credits including cash, real estate, grain, appreciated securities, and outright gifts of retirement assets. In fact, appreciated assets, like stocks or real estate, can provide even better value because the donor may avoid capital gains taxes.
  • To be eligible, gifts must benefit an Iowa charity.
  • Tax credits of 25% of the gifted amount are limited to $300,000 in tax credits per individual for a gift of $1.2 million, or $600,000 in tax credits per couple for a gift of $2.4 million, assuming both are Iowa taxpayers.
  • Eligible gifts will qualify for credits on a first-come/first-serve basis until the yearly appropriated limit is reached. If the current available Endow Iowa Tax Credits have been awarded, qualified donors will be eligible for the next year’s Endow Iowa Tax Credits. Donors should be encouraged to to act as early in the year as possible to ensure receipt of credits as soon as possible.
  • All qualified donors can carry forward the tax credit for up to five years after the year the donation was made.

There is one “catch.” Funds can only be granted at a spend rate of 5% per year. It should also be noted that the Endow Iowa Tax Credits are capped. The Iowa Legislature sets aside a pool of money for Endow Iowa, and it’s available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Submitting an application at the beginning of the tax year is advised, as tax credits often run out toward year’s end. In fact, this year approximately $6 million in tax credits were awarded and there are no more available credits to be granted. However, you can submit your application to be placed on the wait list for 2018 tax credits.

In exchange for 25% Iowa tax credit and the opportunity to have an even greater impact on their philanthropic interests in the state of Iowa, now and into the future, the Endow Iowa Tax Credit Program should be seriously considered by all. Any questions or thoughts on how the Endow Iowa Tax Credit Program could mean big benefits for your finances and your state? Don’t hesitate to contact me.

charitable gift tax limits - hand holding christmas gift

The limits on federal income tax charitable deductions are quite high, but they do exist. Keep this in mind as you make any year-end donations. The specific limitations are complicated, and there are numerous exceptions. The limits are based on your AGI (adjusted gross income). AGI is an individual’s total gross income minus specific deductions.

A quick rule-of-thumb for different types of donated assets to public charities:

  • You can deduct appreciated capital gains assets, such as stock, up to 20% of AGI.
  • You can deduct non-cash assets, such as real estate, up to 30% of AGI.
  • You can deduct cash contributions up to 50% of AGI.

Note that these rates are for public tax-exempt organization and private operating foundations. Contributions to certain private foundations, veterans organizations, fraternal societies, and cemetery organizations are limited to 30% adjusted gross income. (Check out these IRS status codes and deductible limits if you’re unsure of an organization’s limit.)

Most people won’t exceed these limits indicated above, but it can happen. For instance, if Jane Donor is a retiree living off of savings and donates more than her investments yield over the year, her limit could be exceeded. The good news is that in this case the IRS allows you carry over excess contributions for up to five following tax years.

I’m happy to advise on your situation and help you maximize your charitable giving for this tax year. I can be reached by phone at 515-371-6077 and by email at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com.

wreath on the door

Thanks for reading the 25 Days of Giving series. We’re “unwrapping” posts on various aspects (some well known, and some more obscure) of charitable giving each day through Christmas.

I know what you’re thinking…a bargain sale means discounts on stuff at the store. But, I’m talking about a different kind of sale—a useful charitable giving tool/technique.

Bargain sales defined

Bargain sales can be a useful charitable giving tool/technique. A bargain sale is a transaction in which a donor receives less than full market value of property transferred to the charity. The transaction is treated as part sale, part gift, with the donor’s basis allocated proportionally between the gift amount and the sale amount.

Simple example of a bargain sale

Let’s take a simple example. Assume Jill Donor owns farmland worth $1 million, for which she paid $200,000 years ago. Jill sells the land to her local community foundation for $500,000, and starts her own donor advised fund. Jill then makes a gift of the difference ($500,000) between the sale price and the fair market value of the farmland. Jill must pay tax on the gain element, but may receive a charitable deduction on the gift element.

farmland bargain sale

The total basis of $200,000 is allocated between the gift and sale portions. Since Jill sold the land for half price of fair market value, the basis is allocated 50/50. Therefore, the allocated basis is $100,000. The gain, then, is $400,000; assuming the top capital gain tax rate of 20%, this would mean $80,000 of cap. gains tax due. But Jill also avoided another $80,000 of capital gains tax by the bargain sale of the property.

The net result in this simple example is positive for Jill. Again, Jill received $500,000 in cash. But, she also may receive a charitable deduction for having gifted $500,000. The charitable deduction at, say, the top rate of income taxation, 39.6%, would be $198,000. One way to look at this entire transaction is that Jill received $500,000, paid $80,000 in capital gains taxes, but received a $198,000 deduction, meaning a net of positive cash flow of $618,000 to Jill.

Remember, all Iowans are unique and have unique legal and tax issues. Consult your own professional advisor for personal advice. Questions? Contact me at any time via email (gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com) or by phone (515-371-6077).

heart in pages of book

Welcome to the newest post in the 25 Days of Giving series. Have questions or a topic  related to charitable giving you want covered as a part of the series? Contact us!

You want your favorite charity to be wildly successful. Whether you’re working for the nonprofit as staff, serving on the board of directors, or assisting as a donor or volunteer, you want your nonprofit to have every chance to reach its goals and objectives. 

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) strongly encourages nonprofits to adopt specific governance policies to limit potential abuse, protect against vulnerabilities, and prevent activities that would go beyond permitted nonprofit activities. The IRS also audits nonprofits, just as it audits companies and individuals, and having these policies in place can only help you should you be audited. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, having solid policies and procedures in place will provide foundation for soliciting, accepting, and facilitating charitable donations. 

Each nonprofit is unique, and accordingly policies and procedures needed will vary for each. For instance, a non-operating private foundation will likely need a different set of documents than a public charity. However, most nonprofits will want, at the very least, to consider having the following policies in place. 

Articles of Incorporation

Articles of incorporation are necessary to even form a nonprofit corporation; the document is filed with the state and accompanied by a filing fee. This policy can be known by other monikers as “certificate of incorporation,” “articles of organization,” or “charter document.” Think of this as the constitution of the organization. While it can be fairly short, there are some necessary elements in the articles that are required for federal tax-exempt status. Those elements include a statement of purpose, legal address, emphasis on not-for-profit activities, duration, names and address of director(s), and a dissolution clause, among others. You may want to check out the IRS’ sample charter.

Board Roles and Responsibilities

Nonprofit board members are generally tasked with two major responsibilities of support and governance. A board’s rules and responsibilities document should outline the requirements and responsibilities of board members. Some examples of basic components include fundraising participation, determining the organization’s mission and direction, selecting and regularly evaluating the nonprofit director/CEO, and protection of public interest. A policy regarding board roles and responsibilities should encourage nothing short of ethical and legal integrity within board members.

 

boardroom chairs

Bylaws

If you’ve ever been part of any board or committee, you’ve definitely heard reference to the bylaws and received a copy upon joining the organization. Nonprofit bylaws serve as the internal operating methods and rules that specify things like the election process of directors, employee roles within the nonprofit, and operational manners of meetings. Specific language in the bylaws is not required by federal tax law, but some states may require nonprofits to have written bylaws to be considered tax exempt. This document can most often be used to resolve uncertainty between board members and takes the guesswork out of operations.

Code of Ethics

Just as it sounds, a code of ethics document puts in place a set of guiding principles for behavior, decisions making, and activities of those involved in the nonprofit, including board members, employees, and volunteers. While principles innate to your organization such as honesty, equity, integrity, and transparency may be understood by all involved, this formal adoption allows those involved to make a formal commitment to ethical actions and decisions. Sometimes this document is known as a “statement of values,” or “code of conduct.” Many organizations post their code on their website to demonstrate accountability and transparency.

Compensation Policy

Competitive compensation is just as important for employees of nonprofits as it is for for-profit 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.

Confidentiality

A nonprofit’s board members have a duty of confidentiality due to their fiduciary obligation to the organization. This duty is there regardless of any written policy or not, but it’s certainly a best practice to clarify and explain why and how confidentiality is important to the specific organization. A confidentiality policy can include elements such as the following:

  • definitions of what matters are considered confidential
  • determination to whom the policy applies
  • statement that board members do not make any public statements to the press without authorization
  • a process by which confidential material may be authorized for disclosure

secret mouth

Conflict of Interest

This is arguably one of the more essential policies a nonprofit board should adopt. A conflict of interest policy should do two important things:

  • require board members with a conflict (or a potential conflict) to disclose it, and
  • exclude individual board members from voting on matters in which there is a conflict.

Note the IRS Form 990 asks whether the nonprofit has such a policy as well as how the organization manages and determines board members who have a conflict of interest. This policy is all too important as conflicts of interest that are not successfully and ethically managed can result in “intermediate sanctions” against both the organization and the individual with the conflicts.

Document Retention

A document retention policy doesn’t mean that EVERY piece of paper and digital report should be kept for a specific duration. But, consider if a document is unknowingly tossed by a nonprofit employee and is later needed in a legal matter. That can cause irrevocable damage. So, ensure all board members, staffers, and volunteers are trained and have a copy of the document retention policy, which should clarify what types of documents should be retained, how they should be filed, and for what duration. This policy should also outline proper deletion/destruction techniques.

Employee Handbook

An employee handbook is another one of the more common nonprofit documents. A quality handbook should clearly communicate employment policies and enforce at-will provisions to all employees. Employment laws are complicated and complex. An employee handbook written/reviewed by a licensed attorney is a good legal step toward avoiding employment disputes. (Yes, just as you need a lawyer to write your estate plan, you’ll need a lawyer to craft/review your employee handbook.) Review your employee handbook regularly, as an out-of-date or poorly written handbook can leave the organization open to employment ambiguity and conflicts.

Financial Policies and Procedures

This document specifically addresses guidelines for making financial decisions, reporting financial status of the organization, managing funds, and developing financial goals. The financial management policies and procedures should also outline the budgeting process, investments reporting, what accounts may be maintained by the nonprofit, and when scheduled auditing will take place.

Endowment

This resolution concerns funds (and the interest from these funds) that are kept long term. It  generally aids the organization’s overall operations. An endowment policy should consider the purpose of the endowment, how the endowment will benefit the mission of the nonprofit, management practices of the endowment, disbursement policies, and investment strategy. (This blog post from GuideStar offers five steps to starting an endowment.)

Gift Acceptance

Gift acceptance is yet another policy the IRS considers to be a best practice for any tax-exempt nonprofit, and the gift acceptance policy can help set acceptance policies for both donors and the board/staffers. There is no federal legal requirement, but this policy does allow you to check “Yes” on Form 990. If well-written and applied across the organization, the policy can help the organization to kindly reject a non-cash gift that can carry extraneous liabilities and obligations the organization is not readily able to manage.

Outstretched hand

Investments

One way a Board of Directors can fulfill their fiduciary responsibility to the organization is through investing assets to further the nonprofit’s goals. But, before investment vehicles are invested in, the organization should have an investment policy in place to define who is accountable for the investment decisions. The policy should also offer guidance on activities of growing/protecting the investments, earning interest, and maintaining access to cash if necessary. Many organizations hire a professional financial advisor or investment manager to implement investments and offer advice. This person’s role can be accounted for in the investment policy.

Whistleblower

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 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. Don’t just take it from me, the IRS also considers this an incredibly helpful policy:

“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)

Policies = Powerful

While these documents may sound like a lot of work, the time and energy you place into ensuring your nonprofit is set up for success will pay off in the long run by saving you legal and IRS fees, internal conflict, violations, and compliance issues. Plus, you can enlist a qualified nonprofit attorney to do the leg work for you! 

You may say, “My organization already has a great set of policies in place!” Which is great. But, you should continuously update them as needed/wanted. A policy from 2002 may have been perfect at the time, but could be in dire need of updates.

I’d advise making policies the main subject of a board meeting to review what policies have been adopted, which policies need revisions, and which policies you’re missing altogether. If you’re not sure where to start, or how policies should be drafted, read, or enacted, I would be happy to offer you a free one-hour consultation. You can also take me up on my 10 for 990 policy special.

I’m here to assist in drafting or revising your set of nonprofit policies, so don’t hesitate to contact me via email or phone (515-371-6077). We’ll schedule your free one-hour consultation and make a plan to set your organization up for success!

(Note this article is provided for general information only and not intended as legal advice for your specific nonprofit organization. Again, please contact me to discuss your organization’s unique needs.)

#GivingTuesday Nov. 28

After the onslaught of Black Friday advertising and Cyber Monday announcements filling up your inbox, Giving Tuesday (November 28) feels like a breath of fresh (wintery) air from the shopping rush. The “holiday,” often known by its social media tag of #GivingTuesday, is all about celebrating generosity and philanthropy. Giving charitably to your favorite organizations feels great and allows you to make a difference in your community, state, and the world. But, you also want to make sure your gift is legally compliant and beneficial when it comes to the charitable deduction on federal income taxes.

Before you donate on #GivingTuesday (or any other day) consider these legal tips:

Make Sure the Charity is Qualified

A charitable deduction can result in significant tax savings, but for that to occur, the donation must be made to a qualified 501(c)(3). While that may sound basic, some initiatives may look like nonprofits but actually operate as a business, not a tax-exempt organization. A little bit of research can go a long way here. First, read up about the organization in question online and don’t hesitate to call to speak to a representative. You can also use the IRS’ Exempt Organizations Select Check; limit the search to organizations eligible for tax-deductible charitable contributions.

(If your favorite organization is in need of assistance for obtaining tax-deductible status, don’t hesitate to reach out.)

#GivingTuesday What Will You Give?

Sufficient Documentation

Proper documentation is required in order to take the charitable contribution deduction for contributions of $250 or more. This means you need written acknowledgement that expresses the required info of the donee (charity), date of donation, and monetary amount. It’s your legal obligation as the donor to ask for the written acknowledgement, not the charity’s obligation to offer it.

Here’s a simple breakdown of what’s needed for specific types of giving-

  • Gifts of less than $250 per donee — you need a cancelled check or receipt
  • $250 or more per donee — you need a timely written acknowledgement from the donee
  • Total deductions for all property exceeds $500 — you need to file IRS Form 8283
  • Deductions exceeding $5,000 per item — you need a qualified appraisal completed by a qualified appraiser

Need more info? I go into detail in this blog post.

Restrict in Writing

If you feel strongly about a specific program, region of operation, or use within the nonprofit, you’ll want to restrict the charitable donation. The restriction must be made in writing, at the same time as the donation is made.

Going Global

#GivingTuesday has expanded greatly since its founding in NYC to become a global event. You may hold a foreign-based charitable organization near and dear to you heart and, of course, you may give to that organization, however your donation won’t qualify for a charitable tax deduction.

Background Research

I work with my estate planning clients on defining their goals for their future and assets. The same baseline advice applies to charitable giving—what are your goals? Do the organizations you’re donating to support your giving goals? Look at materials published by  One way to gauge this is by reviewing the nonprofit’s annual information on its Form 990, “Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax.” This form is intended for the public and includes important financial info. The IRS publishes Form 990 and it’s easy to check out the details on Guidestar, a nonprofit database.


If you have any questions on how to give charitably and do so wisely, don’t hesitate to reach out. Maximizing charitable giving in Iowa is the mission of Gordon Fischer Law Firm and we want to help as many Iowans give confidently as we can.