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employees as a desk

An employee handbook is just an employee handbook…or so you may think. But, what happens when it doesn’t have an appropriate “disclaimer?”

Incorporate a Disclaimer

In addition to smart employment policies, all nonprofit entities should develop an employee handbook as a part of the onboarding/training process for all employees. The handbook, like other employment policies, serve the purpose of capturing the values you wish to instill in your workforce, outline the standards of behavior you expect, and provide a clear guide for rights and responsibilities.

That said, an employee handbook can actually be considered an employment contract if you’re not careful. And, to best set out the parameters of the employment relationship, it’s best if the handbook and contract are two different documents.

If you think about it, an employee handbook has all the elements of a contract—it’s written, it’s specific, it “promises” certain things will (or won’t) happen. It’s even “signed” by the nonprofit/company.

An employee handbook could actually be considered a unilateral employment contract unless the employer includes an appropriate disclaimer, with wording like this:

“The policies, procedures and standard practices described in this manual are not conditions of employment.  This manual does not create an express or implied contract between the Nonprofit/Company and employees.  Nonprofit/Company reserves the right to terminate any employee, at any time, with or without notice or procedure, for any reason deemed by the Nonprofit/Company to be in the best interests of the Nonprofit/Company.”

Free Employee Handbook Sample

To make all of this more salient, I’ve compiled a free Employee Handbook guide that you can use as a sample guide to better understand how a handbook and a contract or agreement differ.

There are many reasons why an employee handbook should be just that and not also serve as an employment contract. I would be happy to review the employment documents you currently have in place or outline what documents your nonprofit needs, to ensure you have the best possible foundation for legal compliance. Shoot me an email (gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com) or give me a call (515-371-6077) and we’ll get your free (no-obligation) one-hour consultation scheduled.

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.

jeopardizing investments board meeting

Public charities and private foundations are both classified as 501(c)(3)s by the IRS. However, the different nonprofit operating structures come with different benefits, requirements, and challenges that can make navigating compliance difficult. I’ve written previously on aspects of private foundations including prohibited grants, payout requirements, and avoiding self-dealing. The best way to deal with many of the ins and outs of learning about private foundations is to deal with each individually; today let’s focus on jeopardizing investments.

Don’t Jeopardize the Foundation

Failing to exercise prudence and investing in ways that threaten the foundation’s ability to carry out its exempt purposes—called jeopardizing investment—and can result in a stiff penalty.

Many factors can contribute when determining whether or not an investment can be considered jeopardizing. At the least, a private foundation’s managers must exercise reasonable, ordinary business judgment and prudence in investing a foundation’s assets. Investments should also be made with the short and longterm financial needs of the entity in mind. This is part of baseline fiduciary duty board members must act with by closely overseeing the nonprofit’s finances.

 

Penalty Payment

In cases of jeopardizing investments, an excise tax of 10% is imposed on the foundation for the IRS-defined taxable period. Foundation managers can also be held personally liable and taxed up to a max of $10,000 (or 10% of the jeopardizing investment) if the “knowing, willfully, and without reasonable cause” participated in the making of the investment.

Furthermore, if the foundation does not take steps to remove an investment, an additional tax can be imposed on both the foundation and the responsible foundation managers.

High-Risk Activities: Proceed with Caution

While no category of investment is outright prohibited, a private foundation’s managers must pay close attention to high-risk activities, such as trading securities on margin, trading in commodities futures, and short selling, among others.

Get the Right Advice

All of this said, this is general advice and each charitable organization is unique. I highly recommend seeking out an attorney well-versed in nonprofit law to assist with multiple aspects of the charitable organization life cycle from the formation through employee hiring through board development.

Questions? Want to make sure your private foundation is taking the right steps to avoid adverse consequences like audits and taxes.

private foundation board meeting

When you first read the headline to this blog post you might have been (rightfully) confused. A private foundation is a type of 501(c)(3), so isn’t this type of nonprofit tax-exempt from federal income tax? This is just one of the nuances of private foundations that can make forming and managing them complicated. Previously I’ve covered other aspects about the private foundation that are important for foundation leaders to understand including avoiding jeopardizing investments, prohibited grants, self-dealing, and payout requirements. Today let’s shine the learning spotlight on excise taxes.

Tax Exempt, But…

Even though private foundations are exempt from income tax, they are subject to an annual 2% excise tax on the income they earn on their net investment income. (This is often referred to as the private foundation excise tax.) The purpose of collecting this revenue is to fund IRS oversight of the nonprofit sector.

Can you Reduce the Tax?

In certain circumstances, the excise tax can be reduced to 1%. The tax is reduced in situations where a foundation’s distributions (measured as a percentage of assets) in a given tax year exceed the average payout rate of the foundation over the preceding five years, by an amount at least as much as the 1% tax savings the foundation will obtain. This is called the “maintenance of effort test” and was implemented to make certain that tax savings are being used for added charitable expenditures as opposed to being “pocketed” by the foundation.

Managing & Administering

Managing and administering the private foundation excise tax can be difficult and complicated, particularly because of the two-tier tax structure. This can also be challenging in decision-making because it somewhat discourages foundations to consider increasing gift for unanticipated grants, such as in the case of a natural disaster or other relief efforts. To comply with the private foundation excise tax requires staff to constantly monitor and adjust spending and savings in order to calculate the correct tax rate.

How to Prepare Your Private Foundation

I highly recommend enlisting an attorney well-versed in private foundation operations in order to stay on top all requirement and avoid detrimental missteps. You may also want to consider implementing training for foundation board members. It’s also a good idea to implement sound policies and procedures and update them when necessary as the foundation evolves and circumstances change.

Questions? Want to learn more about how to make certain your private foundation is set up for success from the start? Don’t hesitate to contact me for a free consultation. You can also download my free, no-obligation nonprofit formation guide!

two women talking about forming a nonprofit

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, then 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 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 training, 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.

Man writing on white board

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 must 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 with 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).

two people at board meeting

Typically when you think of a nonprofit you generally think of a public charity. However, private foundations (and private operating foundations) are also 501(c)(3) organizations under the IRS’ classification system. Understanding the difference between the different tax-exempt organization is key because, while public charities and private foundations have much in common, there are also major differences. The most important of these differences to understand is that private foundations are subject to much stricter regulations and oversight than public charities.

Because this can get complicated in this post let’s just cover private foundations and the rules related to “self-dealing.”

Look to the Code

Section 4941 of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) and related regulations prohibit any direct or even indirect financial transaction between a private foundation and virtually every person closely associated with it, who are known as “disqualified persons.”

Disqualified Persons

The IRS code is quite specific as to who “disqualified persons” are—and they can be individuals, as well as legal entities, trusts, and even other foundations; it’s a very wide net.

Disqualified persons include:

  • Any substantial financial contributors to the foundation
  • Officers, directors, trustees, or persons who can act on behalf of the organization
  • All family members, including spouses, children, grandchildren, and spouses of children of individuals described above
  • Controlled entities (e.g., a corporation of which disqualified persons own more than 35% of the combined voting power)
  • Certain government officials

Simply put, if a person has influence over the decisions of the private foundation or a particular relationship with it, it’s extremely likely that they are a “disqualified person.”

Specifically Prohibited Self-Dealing Acts

Self-dealing occurs when a disqualified person acts in his or her own financial interest, rather than in the best interest of the private foundation he or she serves.

The IRS code lists these six (6) specific acts of prohibited self-dealing:

  • The sale, exchange, or leasing of property
  • The lending of money or other extensions of credit
  • The furnishing of goods, services, or facilities
  • Payment, compensation, or reimbursement of expenses
  • Transfer to, or use by, or for the benefit of, a disqualified person of any income or assets of the foundation
  • An agreement to pay a government official

As you can see, rules against self-dealing are quite expansive when it comes to financial transactions.

Exceptions to Self-Dealing Rules

Like most areas of the law, there are exceptions to the self-dealing rules for private foundations. But great care must be taken because they are relatively narrow and require both skill and care to use.

Exceptions to self-dealing rules include:

  • A disqualified person can make a loan to a private foundation with no interest or charge if the funds are used exclusively for purposes related to the foundation’s charitable goals;
  • A disqualified person can enter into a no-rent lease with a foundation or otherwise make its facilities available free of charge;
  • Compensation and reimbursement of expenses for services provided by disqualified persons are permissible if the amount is both reasonable and necessary to carry out the foundation’s charitable goals;
  • Certain scholarship, travel, and pension payments to government officials are allowed.

Common Problem areas

There are several self-dealing hazards for private foundations. The most common include: 

Pledges
  • Allowing the foundation to satisfy a personal pledge of a disqualified person with foundation dollars is considered self-dealing.
Event tickets
  • The foundation’s purchase of event tickets for a disqualified person unless the disqualified person attends a grantee’s event in order to evaluate the charity’s activities.
Family member expenses
  • Family members of disqualified persons are considered disqualified persons, so allowing a foundation to pay their expenses is considered self-dealing if they don’t have foundation duties to justify payment of their expenses.
Shared resources
  • If a company devotes office space, staff, or other resources to a private foundation it establishes, the private foundation must keep meticulous records to avoid self-dealing.

Protect Your Private Foundation with a Team of Advisors

If you’re thinking about forming a private foundation, I highly recommend you see the advice of an attorney well-versed in the nuances of nonprofit law. The info in the blog is, at best, a mere outline of the complex and stringent laws governing private foundations.  That said, forming and growing a private foundation can be immensely rewarding to the communities and causes you want to serve. To best execute, it’s wise to build up a team of knowledgable professional advisors that can safely guide the way through the legal hoops.

If you want to learn more, don’t hesitate to contact me as I offer a free consultation. You can also download my free, no-obligation nonprofit formation guide.

flowers in hand

My first attempt at a post to celebrate the spring equinox was a bad pun off of “springing power of attorney” (get it?!) that just didn’t work. Instead, I got to thinking about how all the great things about spring from green trees and baby bunnies, to finally putting away the snow shovel, evoke a sense of renewal. Spring is a time for cleaning out the old and opening up the windows to the new. So, allow me to plant a metaphorical seed of a few things nonprofit leaders should consider moving into the second quarter of the year so they can grow even stronger.

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Happy #SpringEquinox! #QuoteOfTheDay

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Nonprofit Lesson: Seasons Change

All nonprofit organizations – no matter how successful – suffer through times of “winter.” Times when things seem bleak, cold, dark, icy, treacherous, and you just can’t get warm enough. But, always, these times pass. Sometimes, the best strategy is to just hang in there, as the seasons – metaphorical and real – always change and this too shall pass.

Nonprofit Lesson: Flower Power

The most beautiful flowers require lots of proper ingredients and care. Ask if you are tending to your nonprofit’s staff, board members, volunteers, donors, and other stakeholders, so they can help cultivate the beauty of your nonprofit’s mission?

With that in mind, nonprofits are typically understaffed and undercapitalized. Therefore it’s immensely important for nonprofit leaders to take time for self-care. Whether it’s a nature walk to listen to the birds trilling, taking your dog to the park, fishing, or spending time with your kiddos, it’s important to engage in your hobbies and peaceful activities to recharge, refresh, and start anew.

Nonprofit Lesson: Time for Spring Cleaning?

After a long Iowa winter, spring is always a welcome and refreshing thought. Yet, on top of all the wonderful aspects of emerging from frozen hibernation, this change of seasons reminds us that 2019 is moving quickly! The second quarter of the year is upon us. What are your nonprofit’s plans moving forward?

Let me suggest one “spring cleaning” project. Whether you’re on a nonprofit board, serving as staff, formed your own organization, or are an active donor or volunteer, the Nonprofit Policy Special: 10 For 990 is an important offer to consider and/or pass along to your colleagues, friends, and clients.

Tax-exempt organizations need to have specific guidelines in place to be compliant and meet the IRS’ expectations. It’s never too late to invest in comprehensive internal and external policies and procedures to help your organization work toward and achieve its mission.

Most annual information filing forms (Form 990) are due May 15. Now, through April 15, Gordon Fischer Law Firm is offering a special offer for 10 important policies asked about on Form 990. This also includes a comprehensive consultation and one full review round. Questions? Thoughts of how this can help your nonprofit blossom? Don’t hesitate to contact me at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or 515-371-6077.

march madness basketball

Want to help make your favorite charity a winner? Encourage the charity to discuss the potential of charitable gifts of non-cash assets with donors. Donee charities can gain access to what has been called prospective donors’ “treasure chest” of non-cash assets. After all, the vast majority of a potential donor’s net worth will not be in cash, but in non-cash assets such as a home, retirement benefit plan, life insurance, etc.

Inspired by the start of NCAA March Madness, and the number of bracketed teams, here are 64 non-cash assets that could be used for charitable gifting.

Please note the alphabetized listing, I’m not recommending one gift over another, since so much depends on the individual circumstances of the donor.

airplane flying

  1. Airplanes
  2. Antique Automobiles
  3. Antiques
  4. Artwork
  5. Assets held by C Corporation
  6. Assets held by S Corporation
  7. Autograph Books
  8. Barn Doors
  9. Beach House
  10. Beanie Babies
  11. Boats
  12. Bonds
  13. Books
  14. C Corporation Stock
  15. Coin collections
  16. Comic books collection
  17. Commercial and residential real estate
  18. Condominiums
  19. Credit Card Rebates
  20. Depression-era Glass
  21. Dolls
  22. Enamelware
  23. Equestrian Ribbons
  24. Farmland
  25. Gold Bullion
  26. Grain
  27. Guitars
  28. Hedge Fund Carried Interest
  29. Historic Papers
  30. Installment Notes
  31. Intellectual Property
  32. Life Insurance
  33. Limited Liability Partnerships
  34. Livestock
  35. Marbles
  36. Mineral Rights
  37. MLB Team
  38. Mutual Funds
  39. Oil and Gas Interests
  40. Operating Partnership Units
  41. Paint-by-number Landscapes
  42. Painted Planks
  43. Paintings
  44. Patents
  45. Photographs
  46. Pooled Income Funds
  47. Racehorses
  48. Real estate
  49. Restricted Stock (144 and 145)
  50. Retained Life Estate
  51. Retirement benefits
  52. Royalties
  53. S Corporation Stock
  54. Sculpture
  55. Sculpture Garden
  56. Seat on New York Mercantile Stock Exchange
  57. Seats at Events
  58. Stamp Collection
  59. Stocks
  60. Tangible Personal Property
  61. Taxidermy
  62. Timber Deeds
  63. Vacation Home
  64. Vehicles

Vintage blue car

Pretty exhaustive list right? Like stamps and dolls, there are so many assets that you likely never even considered could be a charitable gift. And, that’s where I come in and can assist! If you’re a donor or donee nonprofit do not ever hesitate to contact me. I can always be reached at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com and 515-371-6077.

board of directors hands in

If you’re thinking of forming a nonprofit organization, joining a board, or being a regular donor you may be confused by the differences between a “board of trustees” versus “board of directors.” It almost seems like they’re used interchangeably, and does it really matter? Isn’t a director a trustee, and vice versa?

In nonprofit practice and law today, both a “trustee” and a “director” describe an individual in a position of governance. But traditionally the term trustee was only used to refer to board members of a charitable foundation or trust. These days, generally, the name of a board of directors versus trustees mean the same thing and largely indicate syntactic differences.

Charitable Trust Laws

That said, some states have charitable trust acts (which are different from nonprofit corporation laws) and the term “trustee” can have a distinct meaning under such laws. In such cases, trustees are held to a higher fiduciary duty than directors, meaning trustees may be held liable for acts related to simple negligence. This means that a trustee could be held personally liable for certain acts even made in good faith.

As you might have presumed, trustees of a charitable trust have a duty to the beneficiaries of that trust.

The role of trustee can also come with an “absolute” duty of loyalty to the trust and a charge to the beneficiaries of the trust. Plus, even if approved by co-trustees, any personal transactions with the trust are prohibited.

What’s in a Name

If a nonprofit’s board members are referred to as trustees instead of directors, it doesn’t magically transform duties to those under the higher standard indicated in trust laws. But, there is a risk that in referencing board members as trustees in lieu of directors may inadvertently increase the governing board’s exposure to arguments that trust law and their associated standards applied.

Make Your Smart Start

When forming an organization or joining a nonprofit’s board, you want to be certain that the governing term—directors, trustees, or even governors—chosen is defined clearly and appropriately in governing documents. This helps ensure that everyone is on the same page regarding obligations, expectation, and legal standing. I highly recommend consulting with an attorney to make certain the officer terminology used with your organization is the best possible fit. It’s also important that the parameters of operation per that term are defined.

Questions? Concerns about your defining your board one way or another? Don’t hesitate to contact me for a free consultation. I can also assist with governing document drafting and review, as well as board training so that members know precisely their roles.

national employee appreciation day

If you manage a nonprofit undoubtedly you recognize that the mission couldn’t be driven forward without the hard work by talented staffers. Indeed, human capital is typically a nonprofit’s greatest asset! Today is National Employee Appreciation Day and the perfect chance to remind your employees that they make a difference. This is also an optimal chance to invest in employee retention; when you find the right people that work well as a team, believe in the mission, and have an admirable work ethic, it is important to keep them happy and engaged.

The nonprofit employee turnover rate is equal to other industries at about 19%. But, unlike other industries, the good news is that 93% of nonprofit employees say they are engaged at work which is three times that of other industries. More good news? 85% of employees who made the switch from a for-profit company to a nonprofit said they planned to continue working in the nonprofit sector long term.

When it comes to nonprofit employment law best practices like an updated employee handbook and quality contracts are essential. But, taking care of your business beyond legal documents is also incredibly important. Here are a few easy ways to invest in your staffers on Employee Appreciation Day and every day:

Break out the Suggestion Box

Sure it’s kind of old school and basic, but a suggestion box can still give employees a chance to share their opinions to make the workplace better. Staffers appreciate the opportunity for another avenue of communication, and acknowledging legit concerns and ideas can only help the organization improve!

employees talking

Build a Better Break Room

Everyone needs a place to take a breather throughout the workday. Whether it’s swapping stories over lunch or sharing posters for upcoming community events, the break room should be inviting, clean, and comfortable. Take a hard look at the status of the break room and determine if furniture should be replaced, decor redone, or appliances upgraded. Even fresh flowers or an improvement in the type of coffee/tea provided can give morale a boost.

A Little Recognition Goes a Long Way

We all loved to be recognized for our achievements, big and small, so do the bragging for your team. Without a doubt, your employees are doing wonderful things outside of the office from starring in the community theater production to coaching their kid’s sports team. Whether it’s a fun, quarterly recognition “party” or a “star wall” where you post compliments/accolades, find what fits with your organization’s culture. This also shows your team you care about them as people, not just as employees.

Thanks a Million!

It may seem obvious, but a simple thank you note can go a long way. Make it handwritten on a nice friendly actual card and it will speak volumes compared to the slog of usual emails.

Fun & Career-Based Rewards

Little rewards for a job well done like a gift card to the movie theater or providing free pizza in the break room just because. Who doesn’t love an unexpected surprise treat? You can also consider career-related rewards, like paying for an employee’s online class of choice or sending them to an industry conference/event. This illustrates your commitment to investing in their continued education and benefits the nonprofit as well!

Any questions related to smart employment practices at your nonprofit? What are your best ideas to celebrate National Employee Appreciation Day? Don’t hesitate to contact me at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or by phone at 515-371-6077.