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September calendar

Recently my social media feeds were alight with friends and family member’s grinning kiddos holding signs announcing their first day of a new grade. It made me nostalgic! While I wouldn’t want to repeat law school all over again, I do think it’s never too late to head back to the classroom—proverbial or real. So, the GFLF is heading back to school with lessons in English (like legal words/phrases of the day), reading (GoFisch book club) history, finance and the like. Today’s lesson on planned giving crosses over between business and economics, and it’s super important for donors of all gift amounts and nonprofit pros alike.

Back to school

What is planned giving?

Planned giving is the process of charitably donating planned gifts. A planned gift is a charitable donation that is arranged in the present and allocated at a future date. A planned gift is often, but not always, donated through a will or trust. (I would say this is true 80-90% of the time; put another way, planned gifts are bequests 80-90% of the time). As such, planned gifts are very often granted after the donor’s death.

Besides charitable gifts made through wills and trusts after death, other planned gifts include charitable gift annuities; charitable remainder trusts (along with the entire alphabet soup of CRATS; CRUTS; NIMCRUTS; FLIPCRUTS; etc.); charitable lead trusts, and remainder interest/life estates in real property. All these gifting tools/techniques/vehicles I’ve discussed previously, sometimes numerous times.

What is a Nonprofit?

  • You give $20 to a person you meet on the street who lost his bus ticket home.
  • At your local gas station, there is a collection jar for a local child with leukemia. You donate your change.
  • You leave money in your will for your niece Jane, hoping she uses it to continue her collegiate studies in engineering.
  • You have a neighbor who suffers from dementia. You and your friends decide to have an informal walk to raise awareness about the disease and raise money for your neighbor’s health care needs.

While noble, these are not examples of “charitable giving,” as we use the term here. In this context, we are talking about charitable giving to an organization formed under 501c3 of the Internal Revenue Service Tax Code. A 501c3 agency can be known by several terms in general usage, including “nonprofit organization” and “public charity.” For simplicity’s sake, we’ll use the term nonprofit throughout.

Nonprofits cover an extremely broad swath of types of organizations, including schools, churches, hospitals, museums, social services organizations, animal welfare groups, and community foundations.

Nonprofits Must Embrace Planned Gifts

Sometimes nonprofits are overwhelmed at the thought of expansive planned giving because of the number and complexity of some of the planned giving vehicles. How does this match up when you want to donate a less obvious gift than cash, such as stocks and bonds or grain? Nonprofits need to expand their ability to accept gifts of many varieties for at least three reasons:

Craft Beer Factor

The first reason I call the “craft beer factor.” (Bear with me here for a moment). I’m old enough to remember when there were just two kinds of beer. Don’t believe me? You should, as it was immortalized in one of the most famous advertising campaigns of all time–“tastes great, less filling!” This ad campaign strongly implied there were really just two types of beers.

craft beer on table

Then came the craft beer movement. I’m not sure whether craft beers were a response to consumers, or whether craft beers created a demand; presumably both. In any case, now a place like Toppling Goliath Brewing Company in Decorah, Iowa, has about thirty varieties of beers (this is based on an informal count from their website).

Now any retail establishment which sells beer must offer lots and lots of different kinds of beer. Any retail establishment which isn’t able to offer its customers wide variety risks irrelevance, or worse.

This is true not just of beer, but of everything. Another quick example– McDonald’s has around 145 menu items, that’s up from about 85 items in 2007. Also, McDonald’s now offers breakfast items not just in the morning, but all day-long.

Consumers want what they want, when they want, how they want.

Donors expect and often demand the opportunity to use many different options to assist their favorite charities. No longer can nonprofits simply ask folks to pony up cash, or just accept credit cards. Donors want to be able to converse with their fave charity and discuss using their whole portfolio. Nonprofits need to be able to accept, and intelligently discuss, gifting of many different types of non-cash assets.

A nonprofit which doesn’t offer its supporters a wide variety of giving options risks irrelevance, or even worse fates! So, as a donor, if you’re interested in donating an asset that your favorite nonprofit doesn’t typically facilitate, connect them with an experienced nonprofit attorney to make the gift a reality.

Planned Gifts Consist Overwhelmingly of Bequests

Second, planned giving is still mostly about wills and trusts. As already stated, I estimate 80-90% of planned gifts are bequests. Simple! Nonprofits should put substantial efforts to encouraging increased, larger testamentary bequests. Donors who already have an estate plan, but didn’t realize they could designate their favorite organizations as beneficiaries should contact an estate planning attorney.

Everyone can Understand Planned Giving!

Be it strategies for a monthly giving program or facilitating complex planned giving vehicles like NIMCRUTs, the opportunities for continuous learning about different planned giving technique are seemingly endless! And, there are so many different options, that all donors should feel great about supporting their fave causes with tax-wise gifts that work best for them. I strive to offer free information that breaks down different aspects of planned giving in human terms, as well as promoting community opportunities/events for nonprofit professionals.

heart on blue wood

Still need help understanding planned giving or any particular tool or technique? Want assistance coordinating a complex gift? Reach out to me anytime. I offer a free one-hour consultation to anyone and everyone. You can contact at my email (gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com) or on my cell (515-371-6077). I’d truly love to hear from you.

marketing strategy

All nonprofits can benefit from smart and targeted outreach to donors and potential donors. This is especially true when donors are increasingly demanding more options when giving. Long gone are the days when nonprofits can simply ask donors to write a check. Rather, current and potential donors want a wide menu of choices when it comes to charitable giving—choices that give them flexibility in the type of gift, in the timing of the gift, in the tool or vehicle that maximizes their tax benefits, and in how to make their support meaningful both to themselves and to the nonprofit.

There are three methods I’ve found that work well for nonprofits to communicate the many ways donors and potential donors can maximize their charitable giving. The communication methods include (1) newsletters; (2) in-person seminars; and (3) website content. Sure, this may seem obvious, but all of these tactics should be well done for the greatest impact. I am happy to advise and assist nonprofits in developing and implementing off of these methods to create an effective and sustainable program for outreach, information, and advocacy.

Newsletters

Nonprofits interested in using newsletters to communicate with donors should start with an up-to-date email list. Next, divide the list into three groups: (1) donors/potential donors; (2) nonprofits and nonprofit personnel; and (3) professional advisors (accountants, financial advisors, insurance agents, and lawyers…anyone who may recommend or advise your nonprofit). Each group would receive its own newsletter tailored according to its connection to the nonprofit, its interests, and the relationship you want to build with it. Generally speaking, sending newsletters one a month is a good balance. More often than this and you become email clutter, less than this and you’re not keeping the nonprofit top of supporters’ minds.

Donors

The newsletter sent to current and potential donors could focus on a specific topic such as the types of and flexibility of gifts the nonprofit accepts; explanation and use of the Endow Iowa tax credit; and giving through estate planning.

Nonprofits

The newsletter sent to nonprofits and related personnel could focus on compliance controls and internal policies, such as:

Professional advisors

The newsletter sent to professional advisors could take deep dives into complex charitable gifting tools such as different charitable remainder trusts (CRATs, CRUTs, NIM-CRUTS, FLIP-CRUTS, etc.), donor-advised funds, and IRA charitable rollover. Illustrating these tools with real-life case studies (with details changed to preserve privacy) will help professional advisors learn how to recognize philanthropic opportunities when presented by their clients.

Seminars

Monthly seminars on charitable giving are a great way to familiarize current and potential donors about what the nonprofit does and to inform them about the many ways their support can be crafted to fit their financial situation, needs, and interests. Holding seminars at the nonprofit’s offices, rather than at a soulless hotel meeting room or corporate campus, has a number of benefits. Visitors can see where the hard work gets accomplished; they can meet staff and volunteers; and overall, they will develop a closer emotional connection to the organization.

Seminars would be customized to the nonprofit’s unique needs and its targeted audience. I have given many nonprofit-focused seminars over the years and am happy to work together to develop the perfect presentation. There are few topics in the area of nonprofits, estate planning, and charitable giving that I do not feel completely comfortable speaking on.

All presentations I give include an engaging visual presentation, handouts, and plenty of time for questions and discussion. I also send slides used in the session to attendees following the training.

In terms of promotion, it’s best to announce the seminar program well in advance, schedule seminars at the same time every month, and hold them at the same location (e.g., the third Thursday of every month, at 8 a.m., at the Nonprofit Offices).

Website Content

There are three topics I recommend every nonprofit website have no matter its size or mission:

  1. charitable giving through estate planning
  2. tools and techniques for charitable gifting
  3. professional advisors

These topics should each have their own webpages.

The “charitable gifting through estate planning” webpage should describe what an estate plan is; how charitable giving happens through an estate plan; the benefits of trusts; and ways to use the beneficiary designations. The page can provide the official and full name of the nonprofit; address; and federal tax ID number. Also, providing sample bequest language can be incredibly helpful to both donors and professional advisors in starting to organize and think through a bequest.

“Tools and techniques for charitable gifting” should describe options aside from checks and credit cards. Short, concise paragraphs should highlight gifting retirement benefit plans; real estate; gifts of grain; charitable remainder trusts; and charitable gift annuities, among others.

The page for professional advisors ideally has a two-fold purpose. First, it is to demonstrate the nonprofit wants to work with professional advisors; that the nonprofit should be seen as another “tool in the toolbox” for professional advisors. Specific examples of ways the nonprofit have previously worked with professional advisors should be provided. Second, it could provide a deep-dive into the charitable gifting tools and techniques discussed earlier: really provide the gritty details, so it’s a valuable resource for professional advisors, complete with case studies.

Cautionary Note: Policies & Procedures

Before tackling these marketing ideas, nonprofits should put first things first, and be in optimal compliance with proper, well-drafted, and up-to-date policies and procedures. These should include the 10 major policies and procedures that support the best possible IRS Form 990 practices (such as public disclosure, gift acceptance, and whistleblowing). Nonprofits should also have documents in place covering the topics of employment, grantors and grantees, and endowment management. Further, nonprofits should provide regular training for boards of directors.

Please do not hesitate to contact me via email (gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com) or on my cell phone (515-371-6077). I’d be happy to discuss prospective nonprofit marketing strategies through newsletters, seminars, and website content, with you at your convenience.

glasses on notebook

A nonprofit is obligated, just like any other employer, to conduct an investigation when nonprofit management knows or has reason to know, that an employee is being subjected to discrimination, harassment, or other unlawful conduct in the workplace. That is true even if the complainant never submits a formal written complaint and no witnesses provide written statements. For today, let’s focus on sexual harassment and what steps nonprofits should take to make certain that allegations are handled seriously and followed-up on thoroughly.

What is Sexual Harassment?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines sexual harassment to include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. It also can include offensive remarks about a person’s gender. Both the victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex. The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a manager in another area, a co-worker, or even someone who is not an employee, such as a board member, volunteer, donor, or vendor.

Sexual harassment is considered illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile work environment and/or adversely affects the victim’s job, such as being fired or demoted. Iowa courts and administrative agencies ask, “would a reasonable person find the conduct offensive?”

 

What Should a Nonprofit Organization Do When They Receive a Complaint?

A. A thorough and complete investigation

All sexual harassment allegations should, indeed must be investigated. If an organization refuses to investigate, it can obviously be later accused of not taking complaints seriously. A superficial investigation could also send the message to employees that the organization doesn’t care, or is more concerned about protecting a person in power.

B. Contact your insurer

The nonprofit should contact, just as soon as possible, their insurance carrier (all nonprofits at a minimum should carry directors’ and officers’ liability insurance), to provide the insurer “notice of a potential claim.” If the nonprofit does not provide the insurance company with notice, the insurance company won’t have the opportunity to mitigate or address a potential claim. As a result, the insurance company may well have grounds to refuse to cover any resulting liability. Keep in mind too the insurance carrier will usually have an incentive to assist the nonprofit in avoiding legal liability and may offer resources and expertise, potentially even advice of legal counsel.

C. The investigation

The first step to beginning the investigation is to make a plan and determine the scope of the investigation. Questions to ask and answer: Who will investigate? What evidence needs to be collected? What are the main questions the investigator wants to ask? Who will be interviewed? To protect the integrity of the investigation and the credibility of the process, an organization may
want to bring in an outside, independent investigator.

D. Stay neutral

It is very important to stay neutral throughout the process and focus on the alleged conduct, remembering that harassment is subjective. I cannot emphasize enough that the organization should conduct a thorough investigation. Basic steps include preparing interview questions in advance; gathering evidence that might support or negate the complaint like text messages, voicemails, emails, photos, timecards, business expense reports, and social media posts; check past performance evaluations and prior complaints about the accuser and the accused; document every step; and encourage confidentiality, although never make confidentiality mandatory nor “absolutely guarantee” confidentiality.

E. Decision in written report

After an investigation is conducted, the organization will need to weigh the evidence and make a decision. Here the appropriate standard is what’s known as “preponderance of the evidence.” This is otherwise though of is it more likely than not that the incident occurred?

Then the organization should write a report. If the allegations by the accuser are supported, the employer should take immediate and appropriate corrective action. The EEOC recommends that the written report document the investigation process, findings, recommendation, and any disciplinary action imposed as well as any corrective or preventative action. After the nonprofit has submitted the report to the decision-maker and determined the appropriate action, it should follow up with the parties. The organization should tell the person who filed the complaint that appropriate action was taken, even if it can’t share all the details for privacy reasons.

F. NO Retaliation

After an investigation is complete and action is taken, it is very important is to check back with the employee regularly to ensure that no further harassment or retaliation has occurred. It is essential to explain to the victim that the nonprofit will not retaliate, and indeed will protect the victim from retaliation. It is also essential for all involved to understand (especially the alleged harasser) that retaliation is a separate and equally serious violation of the nonprofit’s policies, whether or not the underlying harassment did in fact occur.

G. No retaliation against third parties, such as witnesses

Prohibited retaliation can take place against anyone involved in the investigation, not just the accuser. It can take the form of leaving someone out of activities or decision-making that the person would normally participate in or be as direct as refusing to provide a requested accommodation or terminating employment. It can even be unintentional! A too-common example is moving an individual’s office thinking that by moving the office the employer is “protecting” the alleged victim.

H. Retaliation is the most common mistake

Retaliation for filing a complaint of sexual harassment is the most common mistake employers make in connection with their response to a complaint of sexual harassment. Again, for emphasis: do not retaliate against any employee or independent contractor who participates in the investigation.

Keep Protection Top of Mind

Remember: protecting the harassed employee is exactly the same as protecting the nonprofit. In sexual harassment situations, the best way that the board and executive director can protect the nonprofit is to make sure they find out what’s really going on, and if necessary, punish and remove harassers from the workforce. So, protecting employees is really protecting the nonprofit.

What questions or concerns do you have on this topic? What is your nonprofit doing currently in regards to potential situations such as this? Is it time to make a change or implement quality policies and procedures? Please do not hesitate to contact me via email (gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com) or on my cell phone (515-371-6077).

compass over land

Forming a new nonprofit can involve a lot of organization and decision making. There are some essentials you need to put in place, including two important documents—articles of incorporation and bylaws. I would be remiss if I didn’t delve into a couple of mistakes I often run across when reviewing nonprofits’ articles and bylaws.

volunteers walking in field

DIY Internet-Sourced Documents

Some nonprofits pull their articles of incorporation and bylaws from the Internet. These may or may not have all the Iowa-specific info required. Also, there may be provisions that simply don’t apply. For example, if a “regular” nonprofit copies governing documents from a granting nonprofit, like a community foundation, there’s sure to be language that doesn’t fit.

Pulling articles of incorporation off the web may seem cheap and time-saving, upfront. But, if mistakes and oversights from the template render the document ineffective or lacking legal requirements, you’ll be way worse off than if you just enlisted a nonprofit attorney to draft your articles suited to your organization’s unique needs, goals, and mission.

Misplaced Provisions

This may go along with copying off the web. There are sometimes provisions in bylaws and articles that belong somewhere else—the governing documents aren’t the proper place for them. For example, I sometimes see employee rules in articles/bylaws. Generally speaking, employment provisions belong in an employee handbook or employment contract. The same goes for certain policies and procedures such as those on document retention and the whistleblower process. A nonprofit should definitely have these policies, but they don’t fit in the foundational documents.

arrow to the left

So, How Do I Go About Avoiding Mistakes in my Formational Documents?

Each organization is unique and it’s wise to enlist someone (like an attorney well-versed in nonprofit law!) to draft a quality, comprehensive set of documents personalized for your particular situation.

Questions? Want to learn more about turning your dream of an organization that makes a significant impact or positive change? Grab my complimentary Nonprofit Formation Guide and then contact GFLF for a free consult!

two men shaking hands

You’re not imaging things if it seems like nonprofit charitable organizations are popping up like sweet corn in the summer. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, more than 1.5 million nonprofits were registered with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in 2015—an increase of 10.4% from 2005.

Is this a good thing?

On the one hand, Americans are incredibly generous, donating $427.71 billion to charity in 2018. On the other hand, more nonprofits mean more competition for those dollars and the duplication of services, both of which can limit a nonprofit’s effectiveness. When nonprofits can’t pursue their missions effectively, those who benefit from their services may suffer.

The issue of whether or not some nonprofits might be better off merging in order to be more efficient and successful in fulfilling their objectives and meeting their goals is a real one. But for the average donor, or those designating an organization in a will or trust, learning that a favorite nonprofit is merging with another nonprofit can raise questions about what this means immediately and in the long run.

The urge to merge

Philanthropy can be incredibly personal. We are motivated to donate time and money to organizations that represent some of our most deeply felt attachments and interests, so when a beloved nonprofit announces it is merging with another one, it can feel like a kind of betrayal.

A merger is a kind of partnership in which two or more organizations become a separate entity. Mergers between and among nonprofits can be well-planned, strategic, and result in greater collective impact and growth. Or, they can be messy, fraught, and lead to confusion and a loss of support.

Nonprofit mergers are more common than you might think and even though they’re often seen as simply a survival tactic to stave off financial ruin, they can take place for many different reasons:

  • Expand the range or improve the quality of services each provides by pooling and leveraging resources
  • Diminish competition between organizations that vie for donors, board members, and funding
  • Compensate for the loss of a founder or key leader that leads the board to question its viability
  • Establish stronger strategic positioning with funders, competitors, and policymakers
  • Formalize an existing relationship or collaboration

Donors and nonprofit mergers

While a merger might be good for a nonprofit, what about donors or volunteers?

Nonprofits should send out a notice to stakeholders early in the merger process and be completely transparent. It’s a smart step to make supporters aware of the following:

  • The reasons behind the merger
  • Information about the other nonprofit and how each organization’s mission and programs align
  • A timeline and status updates
  • The names of the merger team
  • Any anticipated changes in leadership

If donors plan to give a donation during life or make a charitable bequest through an estate plan will they go to the new organization? Or the old organization? For donors, one way to make certain a donation is honored for the purpose it’s given by setting clearly articulated expectations. Merging nonprofits can honor this by offering options for donors to do this via a templated form.

Nonprofits are often reluctant to merge because they fear alienating loyal donors, but a merger can mean reducing costs. It can also mean cutting duplication of services and increasing reach and effectiveness for the charity. Nonprofits that effectively articulate these benefits to their loyal funders will be unlikely to lose supporters of the mission. Furthermore, it’s a good idea to invest in a strong set of policies and procedures, including a gift acceptance policy so that equal standards for all gifts are communicated to current and prospective donors.

Donors that happen to already support both nonprofits already, should consider contributing the total amount to the merged nonprofit. The old nonprofits will cease to exist upon the merger, but that shouldn’t be let that be a reason to end full support for the causes the donor cares about!

Is your Iowa nonprofit considering a merger? Please contact me via email (gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com) or on my cell phone (515-371-6077). I’d be happy to discuss best practices for your merger with you anytime. I offer a free, one-hour consultation for all!

handshake

At times nonprofits that share highly similar missions, goals, and the like can be consolidated to maximize impact. So, in Iowa, what’s the process of a legal merger between two nonprofits?

Definition of Terms: What’s a Merger

Like many legal terms, the word “merger” is capable of multiple definitions. A merger can mean an asset acquisition; partnership; parent-subsidiary relationship; umbrella organization; and, of course, an outright merger.

Asset Acquisition: Assets of an organization are transferred to another entity, but the organization itself is not acquired.

Partnership: A relationship in which two or more organizations pool money, skills, and/or other resources and share risk and reward, in accordance with mutually agreed-upon terms.

Parent-Subsidiary: A relationship in which two separate corporations are maintained after a merger, with one (the “parent”) being a member corporation with its only member being the other corporation (the “subsidiary”).

Umbrella: An overarching organization that holds several smaller organizations under it, each participating in the same branding and organizational structure as the umbrella, for the purpose of gaining efficiencies, improving and expanding available administrative services, and coordinating programs to better and/or more widely serve the community.

Outright merger: The process of combining two or more organizations into one organization.

Iowa Revised Nonprofit Corporation Act 

The Iowa statute which governs nonprofits is known as the Iowa Revised Nonprofit Corporation Act (“RINCA”) and can be found at Iowa Chapter 504. RINCA has a specific subchapter on mergers, Subchapter XI. Here’s a list of the major sections:

RINCA, Iowa Code Chapter 504, Subchapter XI: Merger

504.1101         Approval of plan of merger

504.1102         Limitations on mergers by public benefit or religious corporations.

504.1103         Action on plan by board, members, and third persons

504.1104         Articles of merger

504.1105         Effect of merger

504.1106         Merger with foreign corporation

504.1107         Bequests, devises, and gifts 

RINCA Definition of Terms

RINCA continually refers to nonprofit as “corporations.” To prevent confusion, and for simplicity’s sake, I change this and refer to “nonprofits.”

Also, RINCA discusses three kinds of nonprofits: religious, mutual benefit, and public benefit.

  • Religious nonprofits,” just as you would expect, refer to nonprofits with a sole or primary purpose that is religious in nature.
  • Mutual benefit nonprofits” work for the betterment of a select group of members, rather than for the benefit of the public. The most obvious type of mutual benefit nonprofit is a membership organization, such as a union, business chamber of commerce, or homeowner’s association.
  • Most nonprofits fall into the third category — “public benefit” nonprofits. This would include nonprofits like the Girl Scouts, Red Cross, and Iowa Public Radio.

Also, RINCA repeatedly refers to “foreign” nonprofits. Foreign nonprofits are simply nonprofits organized under other state laws; states other than Iowa.

Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws

RINCA continually refers to nonprofit articles of incorporation and bylaws. Usually, in a phrase like, “Unless the articles of incorporation or bylaws provide otherwise . . . . ” RINCA very often defers to the nonprofit’s own governing documents. In that way, RINCA acts as a “gap filler,” providing rules where nonprofits’ governing documents are silent or ambiguous.

Step One to Merger: Plan of Merger

RINCA begins quite sensibly by stating that nonprofits may merge. Nonprofits may merge, IF a proper plan of merger is properly approved.

What’s a plan of merger? A plan of merger must contain all of the following:

(1)       The name of the nonprofits;

(2)       The terms and conditions of the planned merger; and

(3)       The manner and basis, if any, of converting the memberships of each nonprofit into memberships of the surviving nonprofit.

A plan of merger may include any of the following:

(1)       Any amendments to the articles of incorporation or bylaws of the surviving corporation to be affected by the planned merger.

(2)       Other provisions relating to the planned merger.

Step Two: Approval of Plan of Merger

Who Approves the Plan of the Merger

Precisely who has the right or obligation to approve the plan of merger? The Iowa Code starts to answer that question with the common phrase, “unless . . . . the articles or bylaws impose other requirements . . . ” and then goes on to say: . . . a plan of merger for a corporation must be approved by all of the following to be adopted:

(1)       The board

(2)       The members, if any, by two-thirds of the votes cast or a majority of the voting power, whichever is less.

(3)       In writing by any person or persons whose approval is required by a provision of the articles authorized by section 504.1031 for an amendment to the articles or bylaws.

OK, so of course the Board of Directors approve the plan of merger, makes perfect sense. What about (2) & (3) above?

Members’ Approval

Who are the “members”?  That term, “members,” has a very specific meaning under RINCA.

RINCA defines “members” as: “Member” means a person who on more than one occasion, pursuant to the provisions of a corporation’s articles or bylaws, has a right to vote for the election of a director or directors of a corporation, irrespective of how a member is defined in the articles or bylaws of the corporation. A person is not a member because of any of the following:

(1)       The person’s rights as a delegate.

(2)       The person’s rights to designate a director.

(3)       The person’s rights as a director.

Note, again, very unusual for RINCA, that the definition of a “member” is given by RINCA, period, irrespective of how a member is defined in the articles or bylaws of the corporation. And, under RINCA, a member is someone who has a right to vote for directors.

laptop with case and teacup

Third Person’s Approval

As to who approves the plan of merger, RINCA goes further, however, to include:

. . . a plan of merger for a corporation must be approved by all of the following to be adopted:

. . . In writing by any person or persons whose approval is required by a provision of the articles authorized by section 504.1031 for an amendment to the articles or bylaws.

What is this Section 504.1031? That section reads as follows:

504.1031 Approval by third persons. The articles of a corporation may require that an amendment to the articles or bylaws be approved in writing by a specified person or persons other than the board. Such a provision in the articles may only be amended with the approval in writing of the person or persons specified in the provision.

So, nonprofits looking to merge must look to their own Articles to see if any third persons must also approve the plan of merger.

 How Does the Board and Members Approve the Plan of Merger

According to RINCA, there are three different ways that a plan of merger can be approved:

(1)       at a membership meeting;

(2)       by “written consent;” or

(3)       by written ballot.

Each of these has different requirements.

Requirements for Membership Meeting, at Which Plan of Merger is to be Approved

If the board seeks to have the plan approved by the members at a membership meeting, the following requirements must be met:

(1)       Notice to its members of the proposed membership meeting in accordance with Section 504.705.

(2)       The notice must also state that the purpose, or one of the purposes, of the meeting is to consider the plan of merger and contain or be accompanied by a copy or summary of the plan.

(3)       The copy or summary of the plan for members of the surviving nonprofit shall include any provision that, if contained in a proposed amendment to the articles of incorporation or bylaws, would entitle members to vote on the provision.

(4)       The copy or summary of the plan for members of the disappearing nonprofit shall include a copy or summary of the articles and bylaws which will be in effect immediately after the merger takes effect.

What is sufficient “notice” under Section 504.705?

Under RINCA, nonprofits must give notice, consistent with its bylaws, and in a fair and reasonable manner. Helpfully, RINCA provides a description of when a notice is fair and reasonable.

Notice is fair and reasonable if all of the following occur:

(a)        The corporation notifies its members of the place, date, and time of each annual, regular, and special meeting of members not more than sixty (60) days and not less than ten (10) days, or if notice is mailed by other than first-class or registered mail, not less than thirty (30) days, before the date of the meeting.

(b)       Again, the notice of a meeting includes a description of the plan of merger.

(c)        Again, the notice of a special meeting includes a description of the purpose for which the meeting is called, e.g., approval of the plan of merger.

Requirements for Merger is to be Approved by Written Consent

Under RINCA, nonprofits may take action by “written consent.” In other words, action by written consent refers to a person’s right to act by written consent instead of a meeting, e.g., a signed document.

Written consent can be limited or even prohibited by a nonprofit’s articles or bylaws of the corporation. Here’s a potential problem: the action must be approved by members holding at least eighty percent (80%) of the voting power. That is a high bar.

Requirements for Merger to be Approved

By Written Consent or Ballot

Whether approval by written consent or written ballot, both share some requirements. If a nonprofit seeks to have the plan of merger approved by the members by written consent or written ballot:

(1)       The material soliciting the approval shall contain or be accompanied by a copy or summary of the plan of merger.

(2)       The copy or summary of the plan for members of the surviving corporation shall include any provision that, if contained in a proposed amendment to the articles of incorporation or bylaws, would entitle members to vote on the provision.

(3)       The copy or summary of the plan for members of the disappearing corporation shall include a copy or summary of the articles and bylaws which will be in effect immediately after the merger takes effect.

writing on desk with coffee and phone

Email for Written Consents or Written Ballots

Can email be used for either written consents or written ballots? Yes! (The issue with email and written consents is the requirement of a signature; the issue of email and ballots is the “checkmark” or “X”).

Unless prohibited by the articles or bylaws, a written ballot may be delivered, and a vote may be cast on that ballot by electronic transmission. Electronic transmission of a written ballot shall contain or be accompanied by information indicating that a member, a member’s agent, or a member’s attorney authorized the electronic transmission of the ballot.

The last sentence simply means there must be an indication that the returned ballot was from the member to whom it was emailed (a block signature, etc.).

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 Step Three: Prepare Articles of Merger

Let’s assume a plan of merger has been approved pursuant to RINCA, specifically, Iowa Code Sections 504.1101 and 504.1103 (and the Iowa Code provisions set forth therein). Next step? Articles of merger.

The articles of merger must contain all of the following:

(1)        The names of the parties to the merger.

(2)        If the articles of incorporation of the survivor of a merger are amended, or if a new corporation is created as a result of the merger, the amendments to the articles of incorporation of the survivor or the articles of incorporation of the new nonprofit.

(3)        If the plan of merger required approval by the members of a nonprofit that was a party to the merger, a statement that the plan was duly approved by the members.

(4)        If the plan of merger did not require approval by the members of the nonprofit that was a party to the merger, a statement to that effect.

(5)        If approval of the plan by some person or persons other than the members of the board is required a statement that the approval was obtained. (This is the “approval by third persons” (Section 504.1031) discussed above).

Articles of merger must be signed on behalf of each party to the merger by an officer or other duly authorized representative. (But only to be signed after the plan of merger is approved).

Step Four: File Articles of Merger with the Iowa Secretary of State

Articles of merger must be delivered to the Iowa Secretary of State for filing by the survivor of the merger. If there are other filings resulting from the merger, say, new and revised Articles of Incorporation, these may be filed as a “combined filing.”

Once the articles of merger are successfully filed, the merger is complete.

Step Five: Recognize the Legal Effect of Merger

Upon a successful merger, all the following occur:

(1)       Every other party to the merger merges into the surviving nonprofit and the separate existence of every nonprofit except the surviving corporation ceases.

(2)       The title to all real estate and other property owned by each party to the merger is vested in the surviving nonprofit without reversion or impairment subject to any and all conditions to which the property was subject prior to the merger.

(3)       The surviving nonprofit has all the liabilities and obligations of each party to the merger.

(4)       A proceeding (e.g., a lawsuit) pending against any party to the merger may be continued as if the merger did not occur or the surviving corporation may be substituted in the proceeding for the nonprofit whose existence ceased.

(5)       The articles of incorporation and bylaws of the surviving nonprofit are amended to the extent provided in the plan of merger.

“Bequests, Devises, and Gifts”

An interesting side note: RINCA’s subchapter on merger contains a provision about “bequests, devises, and gifts.” Bequests are property left to someone by a decedent through his or her will. A devise is the same, only given through a trust. The term “gifts” here means “charitable gifts.”

Any bequest, devise, gift, grant, or promise contained in a will or other instrument of donation, subscription, or conveyance, that is made to a constituent corporation and which takes effect or remains payable after the merger, inures to the surviving corporation unless the will or other instrument otherwise specifically provides.

That’s really pretty great, right? So, if someone should leave property (cash, stock, bonds, real estate, whatever) through a will or trust, or just about any other way, to a “non-surviving” nonprofit after a merger with a surviving nonprofit, the property will go directly, without question, to the surviving nonprofit (unless specific instructions are left to the contrary).

Is your Iowa nonprofit considering a merger? Please contact me via email (gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com) or on my cell phone (515-371-6077). I’d be happy to discuss the Iowa laws on merger with you anytime. I offer a free, one-hour consultation for all.

planned gift pink bow

A planned gift is literally what is sounds like. Sort of. The term refers to the process of creating a charitable bequest now that will take effect later. In other words, during your lifetime you plan for a gift that will be given a future date—usually at or upon your death. A planned gift is best accomplished as part of an overall estate plan and it is usually delivered through a will or trust.

While you can make provisions to give a specific dollar amount, there are many different types of planned gifts. You can make a planned gift of real estate, life insurance, and retirement plans, or tangible property (such as artwork). You can also remember organizations with planned gifts of charitable remainder annuity trusts (CRATs), charitable remainder unitrusts (CRUTs), Net Income with Makeup Charitable Remainder Unitrusts (NIMCRUTs), FlipCRUTs.

For now, let’s go over exactly what planned giving is; the benefits of planned giving; the kinds of charities you need to consider when making a planned gift; and the kinds of gifts that qualify for a tax deduction.

Who gives? Donors and benefactors

In July 2018, Warren Buffet donated about $3.4 billion to five charities, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—itself headed by the country’s most generous philanthropic couple who gave it $4.8 billion. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, donated $1 billion to their charitable foundation.

It’s fun to read about the super-rich and their bountiful bequests, but you don’t have to be a modern-day Rockefeller or a member of the one percent to donate to charity or create a planned gift. Indeed, ordinary people with ordinary means can bequeath gifts that make an extraordinary difference.

In 2016, a legal secretary in Brooklyn, New York, who had worked at the same law firm for 67 years, bequeathed $8.2 million to, among others, New York City’s Henry Street Settlement and Hunter College to help disadvantaged students. Sylvia Bloom, who worked until she was 96 years old, saved her fortune through frugal living and savvy investing.

People make planned gifts for any number of reasons:

  • Streamline estate planning and closing;
  • Make a meaningful contribution to a cause or organization that reflects their beliefs and values;
  • Create a legacy that will have lasting impact into the future;
  • Gain income and tax benefits.

There are three types of planned gifts:

  • Outright gifts that use assets instead of cash;
  • Gifts that return income or other financial benefits to you in return for a contribution;
  • Gifts payable upon your death.

Who receives? Planned giving beneficiaries

Organizations love planned gifts. After what are known as “major gifts”—the six-figure endowment, the priceless Old Master painting, the stretch of valuable coastline—planned giving makes up the largest chunk of donations a nonprofit receives. Planned giving helps nonprofits weather fluctuations in other kinds of charitable giving and income, such as yearly donations and gift shop sales. It can alleviate the possibility of dipping into an endowment or cutting back on services and programs. Planned giving is also a way to develop and sustain relationships with donors — and in an increasingly competitive giving environment, nonprofits can’t afford to ignore planned giving programs. Even though organizations don’t immediately receive a planned gift, it is worth the wait.

The reality is that nonprofits can no longer simply ask donors to pony up with cash by writing a check. Donors expect and often demand an array of choices when it comes to helping their favorite nonprofits. Many if not most nonprofits have programs in place to accept planned gifts. But if you’re interested in donating an asset your favorite nonprofit isn’t accustomed to accepting, your best bet is to connect it with an experienced nonprofit attorney to make your gift a reality.

Not all nonprofits are the same when it comes to giving

When we talk about “charitable giving,” it is usually when referring to a particular kind of nonprofit organization. Specifically, organizations formed under 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Service tax code.(Click to the IRS website to check if a possible beneficiary is a qualified 501(c)(3).) A 501(c)(3) can come in many different forms: foundations, charities, churches, community organizations, schools. They all have one thing in common in that they are formed to benefit the general public, not individuals, not for the mutual benefit of their members (such as homeowners associations, and not for political coalitions).

Be aware, however, that not every nonprofit is a 501(c)(3) organization. There are actually 29 types of nonprofits in the U.S. federal tax code, but when it comes to planned giving you can only take a tax deduction if you donate to one that the IRS has conferred 501(c)(3) status. Contributions to non-501(c)(3) groups, charities, and organizations can be valuable to recipients and make you feel good as well. It’s just that the federal government is not going to give you a tax break for your donation. Knowing what you can and can’t claim helps you maximize the potential tax savings that the charitable tax deduction to a 501(c)(3) offers.

Before we discuss what kinds of giving qualify for a tax deduction, here are some that don’t qualify:

Promises and pledges

Let’s say you made a charitable pledge of $150 to a 501(c)(3), but only gave $50 that particular tax year. You can only deduct from your taxes the $50 that you actually donated that year. Once you donate rest of the pledge (the remaining $100) you can deduct that amount for the tax year in which this occurred.

Political support

While it is important to be involved in the democratic process, monetary support is not considered charitable giving. Monies given to political candidates, campaigns, parties, and political action committees (PACs), as well as money spent to host or attend fundraising events, or to purchase advertising, lawn signs, and bumper stickers are not considered charitable giving.

Fundraising and special event tickets

I’m sure you can’t count the number of times you’ve bought raffle or lottery tickets, bingo cards, and partook other kinds of games of chance. These classic and popular fundraising methods support charities and are fun to imagine winning, but you can’t claim a deduction for them.

Personal benefit gifts

The IRS considers a charitable contribution to be one-sided. This means if you receive something in return for your 501(c)(3) donation — from a tote bag to a T-shirt, from a side of beef to a three-course meal — only the amount above the fair market value of the item/service is deductible. Let’s say your neighbor’s child is selling popcorn to raise money for a scouting troop. You buy a bag of popcorn for $10 whose retail value is $6. This amounts to a $4 charitable donation. Similarly, you purchase a $75 ticket to a fundraising dinner sponsored a favorite charity. The dinner would cost you $30 at a restaurant, so your charitable deduction would be $45.

Gifts without proof

Cash placed in your church’s collection plate, dropped into the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle, and handed to a student for a cupcake at a bake sale…these are all worthy donations, but you can’t just guesstimate how much you’ve given and deduct the amount from your taxes. Of course, I believe, you gave, but the IRS demands documentary proof of all cash donations, no matter the amount in order for you to claim the deduction. Proof might be bank records such as a canceled check, a receipt from the nonprofit organization, or a pay stub if the donation was made through a payroll deduction. For single cash donations of more than $250, the IRS requires a statement from the organization.

Gifts to individuals

I’ve seen many successful crowdfunding campaigns to support any number of good causes. Let’s say a friend is raising money for her child’s expensive medical procedure through an online site and you make a donation to help her reach her goal. Or, perhaps your nephew is raising money for a mission trip over the summer and you write him a check for $25. Unfortunately, contributions earmarked for certain individuals (despite their economic, medical, educational or other needs) are not deductible according to the IRS. However, if you donate to a qualified organization that in turn helps your friend or nephew, that contribution would be deductible — although you can’t designate your donation to be directed to that person. Again, a contribution can’t be given directly or indirectly to a specific individual and still be tax-deductible.

Bountiful opportunities for charitable giving

It may seem like there are a lot of kinds of giving and plenty of nonprofits that do not qualify for the tax benefits you’re looking for, but don’t worry!  There is a multitude of ways for you to show your generosity and contribute to a charity that can minimize your estate taxes, bypass capital gains taxes, and receive current tax deductions. Of course, planned giving is not the only kind of giving. Unplanned giving is no less a means of showing your generosity and supporting those organizations whose mission and activities you believe in.

I’d love to discuss your charitable giving goals and options tailored to your individual situation. Don’t hesitate to contact me via email or by phone (515-371-60770).

nonprofit paperwork

Employment policies are vital to the well-being of your favorite nonprofit. Such policies set workplace expectations, define work guidelines, reduce and eliminate confusion and misunderstanding, and provide steps necessary for any disciplinary action. Formalizing workplace rules makes certain that everyone—from independent contractors to management to staff to board members—are informed and on the same page.

Benefits of Employment Policies

An official set of well-developed employment policies provides many benefits for your nonprofit. For nonprofit employers, policies capture 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. Instituting strong, fair, and unambiguous policies not only contributes to a happier workforce, but it can also improve employee retention. Further, employment law is vast, complicated, and can be tricky to navigate. Well-drafted employment policies, as described below, can also help you avoid legal issues and costly mistakes.

Employee Handbook

Employee handbooks are not required by law, but having one is in the best interest of your nonprofit and those who work for you— even if you have just one employee. A good employee handbook effectively communicates your nonprofit’s policies and procedures to employees and makes clear the rights and responsibilities of employees in your organization. Many disputes can be avoided by a clear, easy-to-read, and straightforward employee handbook.

 Employment Agreement

An employment agreement sets the conditions, terms, and obligations between you as the employer and an employee. It’s considered a binding contract that should be administered in writing and signed by both the employee and an acting officer.

Employment agreements need to be individualized to suit each employment relationship. But important elements of employment agreements may include salary; benefits; work schedule; paid-time off (PTO) allotment; restriction on confidential information; non-compete and non-solicitation provisions; mandatory mediation and arbitration for all disputes; and making certain the employee is considered to be only “at-will,” that is, the employee can be fired at any time for any reason.

 Formal Performance Review

Formal performance reviews are an assessment of an employee by a supervisor and employee (it’s a two-way, not a one-way discussion) that are based on jointly determined job goals and performance objectives. While often overlooked—and sometimes dreaded—performance reviews are of great value to nonprofit employers and their employees.

You should have in place a standardized form and consistent processes for conducting individual performance reviews of all employees. Evaluating the quality of an individual’s work, ability to meet goals, communication skills, adherence to your nonprofit’s mission, attendance, and dependability, among other criteria, is key to effective workforce management and to building trust with employees.

 Employee Personal File

A personnel file is a hard copy folder or digital file that contains information related to every new employee, existing employees — full and part-time — and former employees. Knowing what needs to be stored in a secure personnel file — and what NOT to keep in it — will help your nonprofit in promotion and termination decisions; provide a means of tracking vacations, training, and achievements; and are necessary to comply with local, state, and federal regulations.

A personnel file should only contain items related to his or her job or employment status. These include (but are not limited to):

  • Application and resume
  • Signed acknowledgment page from employee handbook
  • Pay information including timesheets, W-4s, and withholding forms

Just as important as having the right information in a personnel file, is to avoid placing the wrong documents in a personnel file. Some items that should NOT be in an employee’s personnel file include:

  • Medical information and accommodation requests
  • Whistleblower complaints
  • Court orders, such as garnishment or restraining orders

Independent Contractor Agreement

Self-employed, freelancer, consultant. No matter what they call themselves, people who provide goods or services to your nonprofit, but are not your employees, are considered independent contractors. Independent contractors differ from employees in that IC’ers control their financial and work-related relationships and pay their own self-employment, Social Security, and Medicare taxes.

When you hire an independent contractor, you should have a written and signed contract that clearly outlines the scope of work, price, and payment, severability, deliverables, and clearly identifies the person as an independent contractor. Also, you can minimize and avoid legal liability by placing the right provisions in an independent contractor agreement.

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Updating Employment Policies & Additional Policies Needed

If you already have some (or even all) of the above-listed employment policies in place, when were they last updated? Think about the many ways your organization has changed and grown since they were written, including new employees you hired and existing employees whose roles evolved. Changes to state and federal laws may have rendered some elements of your employment policies incomplete or out of compliance. It may be time to renew your commitment to a productive and happy workplace by revising employment policies.

What Other Policies Do You Need

Be aware this blog discusses only employment policies. To work toward optimal IRS compliance, you should adopt the nine major policies and procedures which appear on IRS Form 990. Also, you should have documents in place covering ethics; grantors and grantees; endowment management; and legal training for your board of directors.

Let’s Talk!

To discuss further, please don’t hesitate to contact me via email (gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com) or on my cell phone (515-371-6077). I’d be happy to discuss this blog post, and employment policies, with you any time. I provide a one-hour free consultation, without any obligation whatsoever.

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Submitting Form 1023 for “Application for Recognition of Exemption Under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code” to the IRS is cause for celebration for any organization seeking that coveted tax-exempt status. While waiting for the determination letter from the IRS regarding the application, there can be many uncertainties regarding what to tell donors about donations, and what to do about other submissions, like Form 990.

For oversight and evaluation purposes, most nonprofits need to annually file Form 990 (Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax) instead. Beyond aspects of the organization’s finances, Form 990 collects information related to practical and operational aspects like conflicts of interestSarbanes-Oxley compliance, and charitable gift acceptance. Submitting an annual filing is also essential to retaining the tax-exempt status.

When is Form 990 Due?

So, when is Form 990 due exactly? It depends on the end of your organization’s taxable year; the form is due the 15th day of the fifth month after the organization’s taxable year.  For most tax-exempt organizations that follow the typical calendar year (January 1 through December 31), this means Form 990 is due on May 15th every year.

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What Do New Nonprofits Need to Do?

What does this mean for new nonprofits and organizations waiting on the tax-exemption determination letter? Expect to submit a variation of Form 990 in the year following the close of the first tax year. This is the case even if the organization is still waiting on the determination letter from the IRS in regard to tax-exempt status.

So, for example, let’s say a nonprofit filed articles of incorporation with the Secretary of State and adopted bylaws in March 2019. The organization subsequently submitted Form 1023 to apply for tax-exempt 501(c)(3) status. In the governing documents, the organization’s tax year is established as the typical January to December. For this organization, they should expect to file Form 990 by May 15, 2020, with information related to the receipts for the 2019 operating year.

Plan Ahead to be Prepared to Submit

The full Form 990 is over 10 pages (not including additional schedules and written attachments), so no doubt your organization should have a jump start on the process. The best way to be prepared, year after year to avoid a failure to file, is to have updated and applicable policies asked about on the form readily available to be referenced. I’m offering a great deal that features 10 policies related to Form 990 for $990. The rate includes a comprehensive consultation to discuss your organization’s need and a round of reviews so we can make certain the documents fit your organization’s needs.

No matter what stage of the nonprofit process you’re at—from just getting started to hiring employees to board management—don’t hesitate to contact me with questions or challenges. I’m available via email (gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com) and by phone (515-371-6077).

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Applying for tax-exempt status from the IRS is both exciting and an anticipatory waiting game. Even if you answer every question on Form 1023 and pay the correct filing fee it can take about 180 days to get a determination letter—the official notification that the organization meets the federal tax exemption as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
One of the key reasons entities choose to apply for that coveted tax-exempt 501(c)(3) status in the first place is so that they can offer donors the option to claim a tax deduction on donations. So, what are you supposed to say to donors in that bureaucratic purgatory between incorporation and submitting Form 1023 and waiting for the actual green light go-ahead to say you’re a tax-exempt organization?
The good news is that while your application is pending, the entity can treat itself as exempt from federal income tax back to the date of organization. This would be when the articles of incorporation were filed with the Secretary of State’s office.
That said, there is a big however when it comes to donors. Contributions do not have assured deductibility during this in-between period.
If the applicant entity is eventually granted tax-exempt status, then any donations made during this time period would be tax-deductible for the respective donors. But, if the entity is ultimately not granted federal tax-exemption, then any contributions made during the in-between period will not be tax deductible for the donor.
In the spirit of transparency, the uncertain status of donations (whether they are tax-exempt or not) should be something leaders of organizations should share with donors during this period. If appropriate, organization leaders can indicate that they have every reason to believe the donations in the interim period will be tax-deductible after 501(c)(3) status is achieved, but cannot be guaranteed in the present. Nonprofit pros will also want to indicate they will notify current donors about any status change following the determination letter. It’s also a good idea to implement a gift acceptance policy from the start.
I’m happy to help guide interested nonprofit leaders through the application process and then assist with all of those legal uncertainties and compliance requirements on the way to successful change-making. Don’t hesitate to contact me via email (gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com) or phone (515-371-6077), no matter what step along the way you are.