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board meeting with materials on table

I love the opportunity to speak with nonprofit boards of all sizes to help them govern the charitable organization in mission fulfillment in the utmost ethical and legal manner possible.

I highly recommend organizations of all sizes host training for their board members regarding their 10 basic responsibilities, individually and collectively, within the broader context of modern best practices. I provide a two-hour training/orientation on these ten basic responsibilities, and the information below is intended as a brief summary of this training!

Tailored Presentations

My live training session can be tailored to the nonprofit’s specific size, needs, and experience. The training includes an engaging visual presentation, handouts, and plenty of time for questions and discussion. Slides will also be sent out to attendees following the training. The following is a brief outline of the information I would present to the board.

10 Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Board Members

The ten basic responsibilities of nonprofit board members are as follows:

  1. Determine the organization’s mission, vision, objectives, and goals, and then advocate for them.
  • The board is responsible for ensuring’s mission, vision, objectives, and goals are plainly stated, embraced by all, and enthusiastically supported.
  1. Hire successful staff.
  • The board’s ability to recruit, support, reasonably compensate, and retain effective staff, especially the executive director, will be a crucial factor in the nonprofit’s success.
  • No matter how talented and experienced, employees need to clearly know their rights and responsibilities, through written policies and procedures, such as an employee handbook, employee agreement(s), and regular, formal performance review(s).
  1. Adopt “best practice” policies and procedures.
  • The IRS requires certain information from your organization be submitted annually via Form 990 “Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax.” To that point, the 990 asks nonprofits about policies and procedures that help ensure the nonprofit is conducting business in a transparent way that’s consistent with their exempt purposes. Specific governance policies encouraged by the IRS limit potential abuse, protect against vulnerabilities and prevent activities that would go beyond permitted nonprofit activities.
  1. Ensure effective planning.
  • Through planning, the board and staff translate the nonprofit’s mission into objectives and goals to be used to focus resources and energy.
  • The board is responsible for actively participating in and approving decisions that set the nonprofit’s strategic direction.
  1. Monitor and strengthen programs and services.
  • Given limited funds, but unlimited demands on those funds, the board ultimately must decide among competing priorities.
  • What the nonprofit actually does, and how well it does it, should guide all board inquiries.
  1. Ensure adequate financial resources.
  • A nonprofit can only be as effective as its financial resources.
  • Although much can and should be expected of the staff, the board is chiefly responsible for ensuring it has the funds it needs and that the organization does not spend beyond its means.

board training at wood table

  1. Provide financial oversight.
  • Safeguarding organizational assets is one of the most important board functions.
  1. Build and sustain a competent board.
  • A major issue the board and executive director need to answer is: How should we define the ideal mix and number of professional skills, backgrounds, experience, demographics, and other characteristics we should seek in our board members?
  • Board members must set and persistently articulate the level of expectation that they will hold themselves and the organization to.
  1. Ensure legal and ethical integrity.
  • The organization’s reputation and public standing require everyone to take three watchwords seriously: compliance, transparency, and accountability.

Compliance

The term “compliance” is simply shorthand for the regulatory and legal requirements imposed by government and regulatory bodies at local, state, and federal levels that are considered part of a board’s fiduciary responsibility.

Transparency

Nonprofit organizations are expected to routinely and openly share more, and more complete, information to the media and the public about their financial condition, major activities, and staff compensation. A charitable nonprofit should make certain information about its operations, including its governance, finances, programs, and activities, widely available to the public.

Accountability

Although the board sets and periodically assesses the adequacy of major organizational policy, accountability measures ordinarily and appropriately fall to management. But the board needs to consistently ensure the organization is accountable to those who it serves, those who support it, and to the greater community.

  1. Enhance the organization’s public standing.
  • Board members serve as a link – the vital link – between the nonprofit and its board members, donors, potential donors, employees, volunteers, other stakeholders, and the community at large.
  • Board members should think of themselves as the nonprofit’s foremost advocates and ambassadors, hopefully, even after they leave the board!

Training Beneficial for New and Continuing Members

The 10 basics as set forth above tends to be an important training I recommend all nonprofit boards of both new and continuing members attend. However, if your board is in need of a different, specific training related to a specific aspect of organizational governance, do not hesitate to propose an idea or two. Most importantly, the training needs to be related to your board.

Let’s Discuss What Your Organization Needs

Interested in hosting a two-hour training containing content individualized to your organization? That’s great! Generally, I charge a flat fee and this fee means no surprises for you or your budget. It also includes as many conferences as needed in preparation, materials during and following the training, and an active Q&A session throughout the training. To discuss further, please don’t hesitate to contact me via email (gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com) or on my cell phone (515-371-6077).

Arrows pointing up

An estate plan is simply a set of legal documents to prepare for your death or disability. The specific documents you’ll need depends on various factors, including the number, size, type of your assets, and your overall estate planning goals.

If forced to list the top 10 major components and the associated goals of a comprehensive estate plan, I’d list the following (in rough order of importance):

  1. A plan for orderly disposition of all your property of your choosing.
  2. Naming guardians to raise and care for minor children.
  3. Naming fiduciaries to handle minor children’s assets.
  4. A plan to help fund the charities you supported during your lifetime.
  5. A financial power of attorney so you can name an agent to manage your financial decisions, if you are ever unable to do so, with as specific (or non-specific) directions to the agent as you desire.
  6. A healthcare power of attorney so you can name an agent to manage your financial decisions, if you are ever unable to do so, with as specific (or non-specific) directions to the agent as you desire.
  7. A plan for succession or sale of a business (often a close corporation or family business).
  8. A plan to dispose of property in a tax advantaged manner.
  9. Planning for life insurance to support those economically dependent on you and/or to provide liquidity for the estate.
  10. Making known your wishes (whether simple or complex) regarding the disposition of your final remains.

Of course, any order of importance is unique to that individual. Someone with, say, minor children will find items #2 and #3 incredibly important. Someone else with adult children, or no children at all, but with a very large estate may look at #8 as quite significant. One list doesn’t fit all, just like there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for estate planning.

 

woman cheering at water's edge

What are your estate planning goals? Feel free to share with others in the comments below.

Estate planning is a smart step you can take today. The easiest way to get started is with my free, no-obligation estate plan questionnaire. If you have questions or want to discuss your individual situation, don’t hesitate to reach me by phone (515-371-6077) or email.

Estate planning revisions

You have an estate plan? High five! You are already better off than most of your fellow citizens. In fact, numerous surveys have shown that about half of adult Americans do not even have a basic will. So, kudos to you if you’ve already knocked out this major life decision and planning initiative. If you already have a will, there are at least five major scenarios in which you should revisit and make changes accordingly:

  1. Moving out-of-state or out-of-country. What makes a will legal and valid in Iowa is not the same in other states, like, say, Ohio or Rhode Island. Each state has its own set of laws governing wills, probate, and so on. Also, if you buy property in another state and/or set-up a secondary residence, this must be included in your estate plan.
  2. If something happens to one of your beneficiaries or fiduciaries. Life happens to everyone else in your plan, and sometimes this means beneficiary passes away or a fiduciary retires. Reviewing your plan’s key contact list at least annually, in addition to on an as-needed basis, will keep everything fresh and relevant.
  3. If your marriage status changes. Needless to say, you will want to update your estate plan in the case of a marriage or divorce. Most estate planners you’ll meet can attest to horror stories on behalf of their clients of what happens when an ex-spouse inherits a huge sum of money, merely because an estate plan wasn’t properly updated.
  4. If you have kids (or more kids). You’ll want to ensure that in case something happens to you that your children are going to be protected by a trusted guardian. And, also, presumably you’ll want to add the children as beneficiaries, etc.
  5. If your financial situation changes significantly. This includes inheriting money or complex assets. Perhaps your business accelerates astronomically. Maybe you have what professional advisors call “a liquidity event,” (e.g., you’re flush with cash). Your estate plan, and its distributions, will need to be revisited to accommodate such changes in fortune.

This, however, is just the tip of the iceberg! While your estate plan never expires, many other situations involving shifts in personal/financial goals, changes in needs (such as deciding you need a trust instead of just a basic estate plan), and even changes to legislation can mean estate planning revisions.

Have questions? Need more information?

If you think you may need to revise your estate plan and would like a free consult feel free to reach out at any time! You can contact me by email at Gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or give me a call at 515-371-6077.

August includes it’s fair share of obscure “holidays” including National Catfish Month, Friendship Week, and Bad Poetry Day. This month is also your chance to celebrate National Make-A-Will Month! (Yes, seriously. This is a thing.) I recommend celebrating this quite literal month by creating an estate plan. A will is one of six key documents in a quality, individualized estate plan. (If you were to elect to make a living revocable trust a part of your plan, then you would still need a will—often referred to as a pour-over will—it would just read a little different!)

national make-a-will month

Depending on your personal/family situation and assets, a will can be a bit more complicated and longer in page length than the other estate plan documents. It’s important you work with a lawyer experienced in estate planning to be sure your will covers the three major questions of:

  1. Who do you want to be the executor of your will? The executor is in charge of carrying out your directions and wishes as expressed in the will. They will also pay any outstanding debts and distribute assets as you express in the document.
  2. Who do you want to be the legal guardians for your minor children until they’re adults (age 18), if something were happen to you?
  3. What do you want done with both your tangible and intangible property? (An example of tangible property is your books or your boat. Intangible property includes assets like stocks.)

Yet another reason to work with a professional estate planner to craft a will is to avoid costly mistakes and to legitimately donate to your favorite charities.

Why Does a Will Matter?

I cannot reinforce enough that everyone NEEDS a will. Leaving your family and friends without a clearly written will in place can result in worst case scenarios such as litigation or confusion in who is to be the proper guardian of your minor child(ren). Real world examples of this are unfortunately all too common and no one is immune. For instance, Prince died without a will leaving family infighting and conflict.

Without a will the Iowa probate court is forced to name an executor and there is the possibility that the appointed executor is not who you would have chosen. It’s simply better not to gamble with who has control over dispersing your hard earned assets.

Regular Revisions

If you already have a will (and other necessary estate planning documents) congrats! You’re better prepared for the inevitable than about half of Americans. Yet, just because you created an estate plan at one point doesn’t mean it automatically adapts to how your life changes.

While estate plans never expire, for your will to be most effective it needs to be reviewed at least annually and updated as needed. Common scenarios for estate plan revisions can be a death in the family, change in marriage status, birth of a child, major changes in financial situation, and moving out of state.

Your estate plan should also be updated if your goals change over time. For example, you may want to alter the amounts of inheritance or increase/decrease charitable bequests.

Where There’s a Will There’s a Way

I would love to help you solidify your family’s future, help you achieve peace of mind, and celebrate Make-A-Will Month in the best way you can! The best place to start is by filling out my Estate Plan Questionnaire. It’s easy, free, and there’s no obligation. It’s simply a document that gets you thinking and planning. You can also contact me at any time via email (Gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com) or phone 515-371-6077.

flower-pink-mothers-day

To all the moms out there (including my own!), happy Mother’s Day! We all have our own unique relationships and therefore unique lists with an endless number of things we can and should thank our moms for. But the one thing we all have in common is there are not enough words and never the perfect gifts that fully encompass how thankful we are for all they’ve given us. Bath salts, candles, and lotions are nice. A massage or pedicure sounds even better! These gifts are kind, but they pale in comparison to all the tangible and intangible things your mother has given you over the years.

mom tattoo

That’s why I propose this year you give your mom a gift that’s unconventional, yet incredibly valuable…an estate plan! Why is this one of the greatest gifts for a loved one?

  • An estate plan leads to peace of mind. Your mom can feel good knowing if the unexpected happens, then the legal “stuff” surrounding your life is accounted for.
  • Estate planning means that you (the testator) get to make the decisions about who you want to have what stuff and when.
  • Estate planning isn’t just about death. Documents like financial and health care powers of attorney play an important role if your mom were to be incapacitated by a debilitating accident or illness. Everyone wants the ability to choose the people they want to make important decisions regarding their money and health instead of a court-appointed guardian or conservator.
  • Estate planning means your mom can plan for her estate to benefit the causes and organizations she cares for through charitable bequests.
  • Estate planning saves your mother’s family (like you!) time and money in attorney’s fees and court costs in the probate process.
  • By encouraging your mom to execute an estate plan, you are recognizing that you want her wishes to be heard on important matters like disposition of final remains and a living will. (It makes up for all the times you didn’t follow her directions as a kid!)
  • Estate plans can also be seen as a representation of your everlasting love for your mother, because estate plans never expire! They need to be reviewed regularly and updated when goals or big life-changing events happen, but a valid estate plan will last as long as your mom wants it to. What other Mother’s Day gifts can you say that about?

How do you gift someone an estate plan you ask? Well, you certainly can’t buy one at a store, but this is your chance to get creative.

  • Gift the gift of information. Even sharing the benefits and educating her on the main components of an estate plan is an amazing present.
  • Connect her with an estate planning attorney. Sometimes the hardest part of estate planning is simply getting started. When you work with an estate planning attorney (in lieu of something with a high potential for negative unintended consequences like a DIY will off the internet), they help guide and consult you through the process on top of writing the actual documents.
  • Give a storage container. This is a gift you could actually put a bow on! There are many different ways you can choose to store your estate plan, so take stock of what your mother has in terms of secure storage. Is there a locked file cabinet readily available or does she need a water-proof, fire-proof place to keep her original estate plan? The storage container could be a sort of representative for the estate plan that is to come.
  • Help her gather her information to fill out the Estate Plan Questionnaire. An Estate Plan Questionnaire helps you and your attorney collect all the important details related to your estate in one place.
  • Gift your assistance. Let your mom know that when she’s ready to discuss her planning decisions that you’ll be there to listen, and if necessary, bring your siblings (if any) and other family members to the table so that everyone is on the same page.

Already got your mom a gift? That’s cool. I’m sure she would love it in addition to the estate plan!

Questions, concerns, or otherwise from you or your mother? Contact me at any time via email or phone (515-371-6077).