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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.

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!

Dollar bill against white background

The Basics

A charitable gift annuity (CGA) is a contract in which a charity, in return for a transfer of assets, such as say, stocks or farmland, agrees to pay a fixed amount of money to one or two individuals, for their lifetime. A person who receives payments is called an “annuitant” or “beneficiary.”

For the entire term of the contract, the payments are fixed. A portion of the payments are considered to be a partial tax-free return of the donor’s gift, which are spread in equal payments over the life expectancy of the annuitant(s).

CGA cycle

Benefits of a CGA

There are at least six key benefits to a CGA:

  1. A CGA provides an immediate income tax charitable deduction to a donor for the gift portion.
  1. A CGA pays a lifetime income to one or two individuals, part of which is (most often) a return of principal and free from income tax.
  1. The income payout from the gift annuity can begin immediately or can be deferred.
  1. The charity’s obligation to pay the annuity is backed by the general assets of charity.
  1. When appreciated property is provided, and the donor is an annuitant, some of the capital gain is spread over donor’s life expectancy, and the rest is never recognized because it is attributed to the gift portion.
  1. A CGA is (relatively) simple to execute.

3 versions of CGA agreements

There are three versions of different CGA agreements depending on to whom the annuity is to be paid to:

  1. A “single life” agreement (annuity paid to only one person for his/her lifetime)
  1. A “two lives in succession” agreement (annuity paid to A, and then if B survives A, paid to B)
  1. A “joint and survivor” agreement (pay annuity paid to two persons simultaneously, and at death of first annuitant, the survivor is paid full annuity amount). This is most commonly used for married couples who file joint tax returns and/or who live in community property states.

Types of CGA agreements

In addition to the three versions there are three main types of CGA agreements that determine when the payments are issued to the annuitants: immediate, deferred, and flexible.

  1. Immediate Gift Annuity

Under an Immediate Gift Annuity, the annuitant(s) start(s) receiving payments at the start/end of the payment period immediately following the contribution. Payments can be made monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, or annually.

  1. Deferred Gift Annuity

Under a Deferred Payment Gift Annuity, the annuitant(s) start(s) receiving payments at a future time, the date chosen by the donor, which must be more than one year after the date of the contribution. As with immediate gift annuities, payments can be made monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, or annually.

  1. Flexible Annuity

Under a Flexible Gift Annuity (also known as a Deferred Payment Gift Annuity), Donor need not choose the payment starting date at the time of her contribution. The annuitant (who may or may not be the donor) can choose the payment starting date based on her retirement date or other considerations.

Charities That Issue CGAs: The Rules

NOTE: Gift annuities are an exception to the general rule that charities cannot issue commercial insurance contracts. As such, charities which issue gift annuities must comply with several rules, which may be simplified as follows:

  1. The present value of the annuity must be less than 90% of the total value of the property transferred in exchange for the annuity. In other words, the charitable interest must be at least 10%.
  1. The annuity cannot be payable over more than two lives, and the individual(s) must be alive at the time the gift annuity is set up.
  1. The gift annuity agreement cannot specify a guaranteed minimum, nor a maximum, number of annuity payments.
  1. The actual income produced by the property transferred in exchange for the gift annuity cannot affect the amount of the annuity payments.

Rose in hand

CGAs and Tax Considerations

Federal income tax charitable deduction

A charitable gift annuity is considered part gift and part sale, as the donor contributes the property in exchange for annuity payments from the charity. The donor who itemizes may take an income tax charitable deduction for the gift portion (i.e., the value of the transferred property less the present value of the annuity).

This income tax charitable deduction is subject to the same limits as an outright gift of cash or property. For example, if cash is transferred for the CGA, the limitation of the deduction is 50% of the donor’s AGI; if long-term capital gain property is transferred, the limitation is generally 30% of AGI.

Any deduction in excess of the applicable percentage limitation may be carried forward for five years.

watch on wrist

Taxation of payouts

The annuity payments by the charity under a gift annuity are treated for income tax purposes as follows:

  1. Tax-free return of principal
  2. Long-term capital gain
  3. Ordinary income

Let’s break each of these categories down.

Tax-free return of principal

A portion of each payment received by Donor, or another annuitant, is a tax-free return of principal until the cost of the annuity is fully recovered when the annuitant reaches life expectancy.

The assumed cost of the annuity does not include the gift portion of the transaction. The donor’s cost basis must be allocated between the gift and sale portions in accordance with the respective proportions of the value of the property transferred.

Long-term capital gain

If property held for more than one year is transferred for a gift annuity, a portion of each payment will be taxed as LTCG. This will reduce the income tax-free return of principal portion of the annuity payments.

Capital gain is recognized only on the sale portion of the transaction and with the basis allocation previously described. Under general tax rules, long-term capital gain is recognized in the year the property is sold. However, with a charitable gift annuity, the donor may spread the gain over life expectancy provided the donor is the sole annuitant, or the donor and another individual named as a survivor annuitant.

Ordinary income

After the capital gain and tax-free portions of the annuity payment have been determined, the balance of the payment will be taxed as ordinary income.

Gift and estate taxation

giving gift

If the donor is the sole annuitant, there are no gift or estate tax issues because both the annuity is her own and the annuity terminates at death.

If the donor names anyone other than herself as an annuitant, gift and estate tax issues may arise.

Regarding gift tax, if the donor names another person as an annuitant, the gift is the value of the annuity. An exception exists for a spouse under the gift tax marital deduction.

Another alternative to avoid gift tax: the donor could retain the right to revoke when the named annuitant has a survivor interest.

Regarding estate tax, if the donor names another person as an annuitant, the remaining value in the annuity is considered part of the donor’s estate. An exception exists for a joint annuity using only the donor’s life as the measuring life. Of course, there is also an estate tax marital deduction available if the surviving annuitant is a spouse.

Low-interest rates = higher tax-free income

The applicable federal rate (AFR) selection decision is more nuanced for gift annuities than for other split-interest gift tools.

A donor who wants to maximize their deduction will select the highest rate available, but this reduces the overall value of the annuity and increases the amount of the charitable gift.

Conversely, a donor who wants to maximize the income tax-free portion of the annuity payments will select the lowest available rate.

Choosing start date of deferred CGA

Under an immediate charitable gift annuity, annuity payments begin no later than one year after the initial contribution.

calendar on desk

A deferred gift annuity allows the donor to delay the start date of annuity payments. This delay will both increase the annuity amount when payments begin and result in a larger income tax charitable deduction which is available in the year of the contribution (subject, as always, to AGI limits).

A deferred gift annuity can, therefore, produce current tax savings during high-earning years while creating a supplemental retirement income. Generally, Donor sets a date for the deferred gift annuity to begin. However, the IRS approved a deferred gift annuity which did not specify a fixed starting date for the annuity payments [Ltr. Rul. 9743054].

Testamentary Gift Annuity

If carefully planned, it is possible to arrange a charitable gift annuity through a will. It is, of course, crucial that both the bequest amount and annuity payout are made clear by the terms of the will.

coffee mug and computer

A donor considering a testamentary gift annuity should directly address three important questions:

  1. What if the designated annuitant(s) predecease the testator? Donor may want to specify a contingent annuitant or provide for an outright bequest to Charity.
  2. What if the charity no longer exists at death? Or, what if the charity is either unable or unwilling to accept the gift? The donor may want to name a contingent charitable beneficiary.
  3. What about the payout rate? The donor should leave the charity some degree of flexibility in the payout rate, to assure the 10% minimum charitable interest requirement can be met in the future.

You may have many more questions regarding charitable gift annuities and your personal situation. Feel free to contact me any time to discuss how to maximize your gift. I offer a one-hour free consultation, without any obligation. I can be reached any time at my email, gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com, or on my cell, 515-371-6077.

man stretching at desk

For decades, employers enjoyed very wide latitude in disciplining and firing employees for attendance problems, even if the absenteeism was the result of illness or injury. That latitude has been significantly altered since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990. Let’s explore how some of the policy implications of the civil rights law play out in the workplace. Don’t forget the ADA applies to nonprofit employers too, and non-compliance is not an option!

ADA Coverage

The ADA protects only “qualified individuals with a disability.” Disabilities as defined under the ADA can mean either physical or mental impairment that substantially limit one or more major life activities. It can also mean an individual who has a record of such an impairment or is regarded as having such an impairment.

 

group of people in line

A qualified individual must be able to perform essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodation. What’s a reasonable accommodation? It may include the following (but is certainly not limited to):

  • Making existing employee facilities readily accessible for use by persons with disabilities
  • Modifications to work schedule
  • Job restructuring
  • Appropriate reassignment to a vacant position
  • Acquiring/modifying equipment or devices
  • Adjusting/modifying examinations, training materials, or policies
  • Providing qualified readers or interpreters

Tension Between ADA and Absenteeism

It can be difficult when an employee is absent for a health reason, and co-workers must pick up the slack, or the work simply goes unfinished. But, the employer risks violating the ADA if the company terminates or disciplines such an employee without first considering whether the employee is a “qualified individual with a disability.” If the answer is yes, the employee does fall under the ADA umbrella, then the employer must consider whether they can reasonably accommodate the employee. An employer is required to make a reasonable accommodation to the known disability of a qualified employee, if it would not impose an “undue hardship” on the employer’s operation. Yet another term that sounds ambiguous at its face, undue hardship is defined as an action requiring significant expense or difficulty with regard to things like the structure of its operation, employer’s size, financial resources, and nature of the industry.

Employers are NOT required to make an accommodation if it would mean lowering quality or production standards. (They’re also not required to provide personal items for use, like hearing aids.)

Of course, not all persons with a disability will need the same kinds of accommodation. Some examples relating to absenteeism include:

  • Abe was diagnosed with cancer and will be absent as he undergoes chemotherapy.
  • Betty has a chronic medical impairment in the form of diabetes and will need to attend related medical appointments in regular intervals.
  • Charlie deals with major depressive disorder, and a recent exacerbation of symptoms means he’ll need time to recuperate.
  • Diana will also need time to recover from surgery for her chronic back condition.

Practice Pointers

To control attendance problems without violating the ADA, you should:

  • Evaluate each situation (that is, whether the employee is qualified, disabled, or whether you can provide a reasonable accommodation) on a case-by-case basis while acting as consistently as possible with past practice and in accordance with your attendance policy;
  • Have a written attendance policy that emphasizes the necessity of good attendance, but also provides you with flexibility that you might need to accommodate a qualified individual with a disability;
  • Maintain accurate records of all absences, including a separate and confidential file for any medical certifications or medical information relating to an employee’s absences;
  • Be aware of the interplay between business/nonprofit policies and state and federal laws; and
  • Call your attorney when you have questions about your duties under the ADA. The saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” is smart to keep in mind!

Smart Employers Seek Advice

Again, nonprofit employers, remember the ADA applies to you too! The ADA can be a complex law, and it can get even trickier when trying to accommodate appropriately for absenteeism, while balancing business/nonprofit operations. Know you don’t have to navigate it alone. Questions? In need of counsel? Don’t hesitate to contact me.

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).

flowers in hand

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

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Happy #SpringEquinox! #QuoteOfTheDay

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Nonprofit Lesson: Seasons Change

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

Nonprofit Lesson: Flower Power

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

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

Nonprofit Lesson: Time for Spring Cleaning?

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

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

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

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

There are several provisions that just about all employee handbooks should include. Let’s simply cover the top five. There are certainly numerous other important provisions to include in an employee handbook, but these five are critical and provide important protections for employers (both nonprofit and for-profit).

The employee handbook should make it clear it is NOT a contract. The employee handbook needs a “disclaimer.”

Under Iowa law it’s critically important to point out that the employee handbook is just that–a handbook–and not an employment contract. And, the employee handbook should not make any promises about continued employment. Consider using language similar to this:

I understand and agree that nothing in the Employee Handbook creates, or is intended to create, a promise or representation of continued employment and that employment at [Nonprofit/Company] is employment at will, which may be terminated at the will of either [Nonprofit/Company] or myself. Furthermore, I acknowledge that this handbook is neither a contract of employment nor a legal document.

The employee handbook should make clear it trumps other, older policies and provisions. The employee handbook needs a “superseding” provision.

The employee handbook should make clear that it includes the most up-to-date guidance on company policies. Wording like this may be helpful:

This handbook and the policies and procedures contained herein supersede any and all prior practices, oral, or written representations, or statements regarding the terms and conditions of my employment with [Nonprofit/Company]. By distributing this handbook, [Nonprofit/Company] expressly revokes any and all previous policies and procedures that are inconsistent with those contained herein.

The employee handbook should make clear it is subject to change. It needs “wiggle room” language.

Paperwork on table

The policies in the handbook may well be subject to change. Of course, new issues arise, and you may need to make revisions. Consider using something like the following:

I understand that, except for employment-at-will status, any and all policies and practices may be changed at any time by [Nonprofit/Company], and [Nonprofit/Company] reserves the right to change my hours, wages, and working conditions at any time. All such changes will be communicated through official notices, and I understand that revised information may supersede, modify, or eliminate existing policies.

The employee handbook should make clear that employees are “at will.”

The employee handbook must be unambiguous about employees’ at will status:

Your employment is not for any specific time and may be terminated at will with or without cause and without prior notice by [Nonprofit/Company].

The employee handbook should contain an acknowledgment page.

Paper and computer

It is important the employee handbook includes an acknowledgment page that the employee signs and returns. The acknowledgment page should state that the employee understands it is his or her responsibility to read and follow the policies. The acknowledgment page should also be able to be separated from the handbook so that it can be signed by the employee and saved in the employee’s personnel file. Wording like this might be helpful:

I have received the handbook, and I understand that it is my responsibility to read and comply with the policies contained in this handbook and any revisions made to it.

________________________________________
Employee’s Signature

________________________________________
Employee’s Name (Print)

____________________
Date

TO BE PLACED IN EMPLOYEE’S PERSONNEL FILE


Does your employee handbook contain these five provisions? Why or why not? I’d love to hear from you. Give me a call at 515-371-6077 or email me at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com.