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board meeting with materials on table

While many nonprofit operations have shifted in some way or another during COVID-19, organizations do need to prep for a post-pandemic world. An ad hoc approach or reliance on what worked in the past may no longer be a strategic path forward.

I love the opportunity to speak with nonprofit boards of all sizes to help them govern the charitable organization in mission fulfillment in the utmost ethical and legal manner possible. While we can’t get together in the present due to public health concerns, leaders who are thinking ahead will want to schedule such trainings well in advance.

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

Tailored Presentations

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

10 Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Board Members

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

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

board training at wood table

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

Compliance

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

Transparency

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

Accountability

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

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

Training Beneficial for New and Continuing Members

The “ten basics: as set forth above, tends to be an important training I recommend for all nonprofit boards and both new and returning board members. However, if your board is in need of a different training related to a specific aspect of organizational governance, such as governing midst the consequences of COVID-19, I can tailor the training accordingly. Most importantly, the training needs to be applicable and appropriate for your individual board.

Let’s Discuss What Your Organization Needs

Interested in hosting a two-hour training containing content individualized to your organization? That’s great and we can look to a date when we expect to no longer be social distancing and quarantining.

Generally, I charge a flat fee and this fee means no surprises for you or your budget. I’m also very conscious of pervasive budget constraints and will work with you and your budget.

The fee includes as many conferences as needed in preparation, materials during and following the training, and an active Q&A session throughout the training.

To discuss further, please don’t hesitate to contact me via email (gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com) or on my cell (515-371-6077).

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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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, like 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 May 1, 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.

stop sign

Awarding grants is a primary way for private foundations to accomplish their charitable goals. It’s also an oft-used way to meet annual distribution requirements to avoid an IRS-imposed penalty of an excise tax. However, this area of nonprofit activity can be ripe for misstep and noncompliance because some grants are prohibited. Further, others require heightened diligence to steer clear of trouble.

Taxable expenditures

Taxable expenditures for non-charitable purposes are not considered qualifying distributions, including:

  • Lobbying
  • Political activity to influence legislation
  • Grants to organizations other than most public charities

Scholarships

  • Scholarships to individuals for travel or study are considered grants. However, grant-making plans need prior approval from the IRS and must include certain provisions, such as monitoring the performance of the grantee.

Adopt Smart Grant-Making Policies & Procedures

It is in the best interest of private foundations to exercise expenditure responsibility by setting in place a formal set of policies and procedures for grant-making. This document and its provisions, among other things, should:

  • Ensure that grant funds are spent solely for grant purposes
  • Obtain full and detailed reports from the grantee on how grant funds are spent
  • Make full and detailed reports to the IRS with respect to such grants

When it comes to high quality policies and procedures, you can and should avoid the time, energy, and monetary costs of DIY Internet templates. Set the foundation up for success when you enlist an attorney well-versed in nonprofit law to draft a document (or set of documents) and implement with an effective, engaging board/staff training. The benefits of investing in a qualified attorney to craft your important policies (like those related to grant-making) are numerous; the right attorney will put your organization’s best interests first, saving you resources in the long run.

two people talking at table

It’s important to note that the info in this post is, at best, a mere outline of just one of the complex regulations governing private foundations.  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 if you’re thinking about topics like this the pre-formation phase of the foundation’s life cycle.

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).

lights on roof

Thanks for reading the 25 Days of Giving series where w a’re “unwrapping” important info on various aspects of charitable giving each day through Christmas. Share with friends, family, & colleagues to inspire others to also make meaningful gifts this season.

If you’re making a non-cash charitable donation of over $5,000, first off, high five! That’s going to go a long way toward helping your favorite charity or advancing a cause you feel passionate about. Because you’re a smart donor, you’re also probably planning to claim the federal income tax charitable deduction as a way of reducing your taxes. In order to do this, gifts of that size come with specific requirements from the IRS that you’ll want to be sure to meet.

Requirements for “qualified appraisal” and “qualified appraiser”

Non-cash gifts of more than $5,000 in value, with exceptions, require a qualified appraisal completed by a qualified appraiser. The terms “qualified appraisal” and “qualified appraiser” are very specific and have detailed definitions according to the IRS.

Qualified appraisal

money on table

A qualified appraisal is a document which is:

  1. made, signed, and dated by a qualified appraiser in accordance with generally accepted appraisal standards;
  2. timely;
  3. does not involve prohibited appraisal fees; and
  4. includes certain and specific information.

Let’s further examine each of these four requirements.

“Qualified appraiser:” Appraiser education and experience requirements

An appraiser is treated as having met the minimum education and experience requirements if she is licensed or certified for the type of property being appraised in the state in which the property is located. For a gift of real estate in Iowa, this means certification by the Iowa Professional Licensing Bureau, Real Estate Appraisers.

Further requirements for a qualified appraiser include that s/he:

  1. regularly performs appraisals for compensation;
  2. demonstrates verifiable education and experience in valuing the type of property subject to the appraisal;
  3. understands she may be subject to penalties for aiding and abetting the understatement of tax; and
  4. not have been prohibited from practicing before the IRS at any time during three years preceding the appraisal.

Also, a qualified appraiser must be sufficiently independent. This means a qualified appraiser cannot be any of the following:

  1. the donor;
  2. the donee;
  3. the person from whom the donor acquired the property [with limited exceptions];
  4. any person employed by, or related to, any of the above; and/or
  5. an appraiser who is otherwise qualified, but who has some incentive to overstate the value of the property.

Timing of appraisal

clock against background s

The appraisal must be made not earlier than 60 days prior to the gift and not later than the date the return is due (with extensions).

Prohibited appraisal fees

The appraiser’s fee for a qualified appraisal cannot be based on a percentage of the value of the property, nor can the fee be based on the amount allowed as a charitable deduction.

Specific information is required in appraisal

Specific information must be included in an appraisal, including:

  1. a description of the property;
  2. the physical condition of any tangible property;
  3. the date (or expected date) of the gift;
  4. any restrictions relating to the charity’s use or disposition of the property;
  5. the name, address, and taxpayer identification number of the qualified appraiser;
  6. the appraiser’s qualifications, including background, experience, education, certification, and any membership in professional appraisal associations;
  7. a statement that the appraisal was prepared for income tax purposes;
  8. the date (or dates) on which the property was valued;
  9. the appraised fair market value on the date (or expected date) of contribution;
  10. the method of valuation used to determine fair market value;
  11. the specific basis for the valuation, such as any specific comparable sales transaction; and
  12. an admission if the appraiser is acting as a partner in a partnership, an employee of any person, or an independent contractor engaged by a person, other than the donor, with such a person’s name, address, and taxpayer identification number.

Appraiser’s dated signature and declaration

Again, a qualified appraisal must be signed and dated by the appraiser. Also, there must be a written declaration from the appraiser she is aware of the penalties for substantial or gross valuation.

Reasonable cause

Tax courts have held that a taxpayer’s reliance on the advice of a professional, such as an attorney or CPA constitutes reasonable cause and good faith if the taxpayer can prove by a preponderance of the evidence that: (1) the taxpayer reasonably believed the professional was a competent tax adviser with sufficient expertise to justify reliance; (2) the taxpayer provided necessary and accurate information to the advising professional; and (3) the taxpayer actually relied in good faith on the professional’s advice.

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

blue and tan present

Thanks for reading the 25 Days of Giving series! Plan on coming back to the blog every day from now through Christmas Day.

In December there is gift giving with wrapping paper abound, but when it comes to charitable giving the important assets (like your retirement assets) don’t need ribbons or bows. Let’s first focus on a major retirement asset giving tool, the IRA charitable rollover.

IRA Charitable Rollover

This federal law allows donors age 70½ and older to make direct distributions of up to $100,000 from his/her IRA each year to any qualified charity. The donation is not treated as taxable income and, moreover, counts toward the donor’s required minimum distribution for that year.

At the end of 2015, Congress made the IRA charitable rollover a permanent giving tool, unlike the year-to-year renewal basis they had operated on since the introduction of the IRA charitable rollover in 2006 (as part of the Pension Protection Act).  The result? Tax savvy IRA account holders can now plan charitable giving in a more reliable way.

Other Options

There are two other accessible ways to direct retirement benefit plan assets to your favorite charity:

  • Gifts at death via beneficiary designations.
  • Withdrawals over age 59½ followed by outright deductible gifts that can effectively result in tax-free retirement plan gifts.

Keep in mind, too, that the IRA charitable rollover applies only to IRAs. These two options — gifts at death via beneficiary designations and withdrawals by those older than 59½ — will work with virtually all qualified retirement plans, including 401(k)s and 403(b)s. baubles on a green tree

Naming your favorite charity as beneficiary

Donors considering charitable bequests may not realize that they can make a meaningful gift simply by naming their favorite charity as the beneficiary of an IRA, 401(k), 403(b), or other retirement plan. Giving retirement assets in this way is easy, and does not require drafting or amending a will or trust. A donor simply has to contact his/her financial institution holding the retirement benefit plan and request a change of beneficiary form.

Note, however, that if the account holder is married, the spouse should be informed and may have to consent to the gift. The plan assets may also be left to a charitable or marital trust[s]. In the latter case, professional advisors should be consulted. (Hint: call me!).

Give now!

Donors could also choose to make current gifts using funds withdrawn from their qualified retirement plans. Individuals over age 59½ may generally withdraw funds from retirement plans without penalty, make a gift with these funds, and then claim an offsetting charitable deduction. In most cases, a gift made in this manner will be a “wash” for tax purposes.

Let’s take a quick example. Rebecca (age 64) wants to make a very generous donation of $10,000 to her favorite charity. She can withdraw $10,000 from her IRA or 401(k) account, and make that donation. Assuming she itemizes her tax deductions, the $10,000 donation should leave her “even Steven” with regard to taxes – the $10,000 in income is offset by the $10,000 charitable deduction, resulting in zero net income taxes.

Advice is Priceless

The decision to want to give to you favorite causes this season is easy. Knowing exactly where to start with smart giving can be a little more complex. If you have questions about the IRA charitable rollover or any other giving strategy, don’t hesitate to reach out via email or by phone (515-371-6077). My firm’s mission is to maximize charitable giving in the state of Iowa and I want to help YOU maximize your personal charitable giving (in a way that is also tax efficient).

woman holding sparkler for stocks

Thanks for reading the 25 Days of Giving series. I’m “unwrapping” posts on various aspects of charitable giving each day through Christmas.

A less-than-obvious, but an ideal asset for charitable donations is appreciated long-term, publicly-traded stock. Before we list the benefits, let’s break down the terms.

Definitions

Appreciated simply means increased in value.

Long-term means stock held for more than one year; stock held for 366 days. A long-term capital asset is generally taxed at a lower rate.

Publicly traded stock just means a publicly held company whose ownership is dispersed among the general public in many shares of stock which are freely traded on a stock exchange or in over the counter markets.

Benefits

The benefits of charitable gifts of appreciated, long-term, publicly-traded stock are numerous.

Under federal tax law, charitable gifts of appreciated, long-term stock have a double benefit: (1) the long-term capital gain is excluded from taxable income, and (2) the charitable contribution deduction is the fair market value of the stock. 

Iowa law also provides a third benefit for making a charitable gift of stock; donors can receive a state tax credit of 25% of the gift under the Endow Iowa Tax Credit Program

As if that wasn’t enough to convince you there’s yet another benefit. The substantiation rules for gifts of donated securities are more relaxed than for gifts of other types of donated property. Gifts of publicly traded securities do not require an appraisal to document value. This is important, as non-cash gifts of more than $5,000 generally require a qualified appraisal by a qualified appraiser. (In case you were wondering, the value of gifts of publicly traded securities are based on a simple calculation: the arithmetic mean of the highest and lowest selling prices on the date of the gift.)


If you’re interested in gifting stock to a qualified charity as a part of your end of year giving, make sure you’re doing so in a way that maximizes all of your financial benefits. Or, if you’re a nonprofit leader wanting to accept gifts of stocks, don’t hesitate to reach out via email or phone (515-371-6077) if you would like to discuss further.

Young couple holding hands

Who – what age group – needs to be most concerned with estate planning? Ask Iowans this question, and I’ll bet most would conjure up the image of a retiree, who just spent 50+ years working hard to acquire significant assets.

But imagine, say, a young, married couple. They both have good jobs, live in a nice starter home, and have one or two toddlers.

This young couple tries to put away a little bit of money for savings, and in a college fund, and for retirement. Why should they worry about estate planning?

The truth is, this young couple should be just as concerned–arguably, even more concerned–with estate planning as the retiree. Here are four reasons why:

  1. Choosing guardians for minor children. In an estate plan, you can choose the guardians of children. If you should become incapacitated, or even die, without any estate plan, an Iowa court would have no choice but to appoint a guardian for your children – but it may not be who you wanted or who you would have chosen. Better to make this choice with plenty of time to consider and make a careful, well-reasoned choice.
  2. Save on fees, court costs, and taxes. A good estate plan can save you and your estate money on fees, court costs, and taxes – perhaps even achieve substantial savings. These savings can be even more critically important for a smaller estate – more likely when you’re younger – than for larger estate, more likely as you grow older. Often, young folks actually have the greatest need to save money to pass along the most they possibly can to family and loved ones.
  3. Help favorite charities. Young people often are passionate about one or more causes. Having an estate plan means that you can put into place much needed help for your favorite charities.
  4. Life is uncertain. It may be awkward to talk about, but life isn’t guaranteed for any of us, young or old. There’s an old saying in estate planning circles that goes, “people don’t always die when they are supposed to.” Wives usually outlive their husbands, parents usually outlive their children, and so on, but not always. It is best to be prepared for anything/everything.

Whatever your age, if you are interested in estate planning, a good place to start is my free Estate Planning Questionnaire, or you can contact me!

operating reserves

Just like it’s a smart idea to have a personal “rainy day” fund just in case of an emergency home repair, surgery, or other unexpected large costs, the same goes for a nonprofit organization. Even nonprofits with solid income streams can be hit with unanticipated events, income, and unbudgeted expenses. In these situations, it’s vital to have that financial cushion in the form of operating reserves so the organization doesn’t suffer long-term, negative consequences from temporary dilemmas. Concurrently, it’s essential to have the board adopt and adhere to a policy outlining the details of the reserve.

A common scenario where operating reserves may be prompted can be when a source of a reliable income is withdrawn or reduced without expectation.

Important Elements of an Operating Reserve Policy

Every organization’s policy is going to look different, but there are a few general areas that should be addressed.

  • Purpose– Why is it important for the organization to build and maintain reserves?
  • Definitions- How are the types of reserves, calculation of targeted amounts, and intended use defined?
  • How the reserve is funded– An operating reserve is only as valuable as its reliability. The policy should set out a practical plan for replenishment to the targeted amounts. Often, a worthy reserve goal is about three to six months of expenses. At the very least, on the low end, reserves should cover one full round of payroll.
  • When the reserve can be used– The plan should layout when the reserves can be tapped when unexpected shortfalls hit. The reserves should not be used to address foundational finance issues. In a “last straw” scenario, operating reserves can be used to close down the organization.
  • Classify the operating reserve as unrestricted– Unlike restricted funds that are marked for specific programs and projects, the operating reserve should be set as unrestricted so that the board and management can employ as they choose when the crisis calls for it.

That’s Not All

Because each nonprofit is unique, each nonprofit is going to need policies and procedures tailored to their specific operations. That said, generally, there are at least 10 policies most nonprofits need to be prepared to address on the annual information filing, Form 990. Check out my free guide to nonprofit policies and procedures.

Additionally, keep in mind that an operating reserves policy should be written to correspond with any other financial-specific policies, like an investment policy.

Want to discuss your nonprofit’s policy needs? Don’t hesitate to contact me at 515-371-6077 or gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com. I’m based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa but will travel to meet with nonprofit pros all across the state.

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.