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tennis court net

Serena-ity Now!

On the blog we’ve been going “back to school,” and our lessons wouldn’t be complete without a mandatory gym class. Which brings us to the question: is there gender bias in sports? Duh, yes. Mos def. It’s been especially newsworthy in tennis too.

There was nothing wrong with Serena Williams’ catsuit. Please, if a guy wore that, it would be noticed for sure, but certainly not banned.

Even worse: France’s Alizé Cornet received a code violation at the U.S. Open on Tuesday for removing her shirt on the court sidelines (she had a sports bra underneath). This is something men do all the time, and even while on the court.

The conversation continues in the aftermath of the US Open Finals last night between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka. Were the umpire’s penalties in U.S. Open Final match the result of sexism? I certainly think so. I mean, I’ve seen male players such as, say, Rafael Nadal or John McEnroe, go absolutely bananas on the court and not receive a penalty to the tune of $17k.

Three Truth Bombs

Here are three truths that aren’t changed by any contretemps at Arthur Ashe Stadium:

First, Serena Williams is the greatest tennis player in history.

Second, at least on this day, Naomi Osaka outplayed Williams thoroughly for an amazing upset win.

Third, America, I love you like crazy, the crazy way that only an immigrants’ kid could love America. But, you have serious problems with sexism and misogyny.

Pink tennis ball stuck in fence

From the Tennis Court to Law Court

Here’s yet another truth bomb: nonprofits, already under terrific scrutiny by board members, donors, stakeholders, and government agencies, can’t afford even a whiff of a controversy like the tennis examples above. Even allegations of scandal can destroy previously successful nonprofits. And, just like the game of tennis, both need to consistently be working toward implementing rules and standards that ensure equity.

Such situations can split Boards, cause stakeholders to resign or pull back, snap shut donors’ wallets, and even result in expensive litigation. Fortunately, there are policies and procedures that can prevent your hardworking organization from ever having to deal with controversy (particularly those relating to discrimination, gender bias, and the like), by deterring such actions from every occurring. Let’s first discuss the IRS Form 990 and then the policies that relate to this annual information return.

IRS Form 990

IRS Form 990. This is the form that (most) nonprofits have to annually file some version of. Say what you will about the IRS – but in Form 990, the IRS provides nonprofits a path to prosperity. On Form 990, the IRS asks about several major policies and procedures that actually help nonprofits govern smarter. Any and every nonprofit should have all of these policies and procedures in place, with regular updates as appropriate. But, in our context, three policies are particularly relevant here.

At this point in the blog post, I feel as though I can actually hear you: “I don’t think we could ever afford that in our budget…we don’t know where to start!”

Before I delve into specific policies that will help your fave nonprofit combat discrimination and bias, let me repeat a special offer. I offer all nonprofits 10 major policies and procedures on IRS Form 990, drafted specifically and individually to each organization. for a flat fee of $990. No jokes, tricks, or hidden fees. Interested in learning more? Give this post a read, and don’t hesitate to contact me to take advantage of this solid, straight-up deal.

Compensation Policy

Data related to compensation is reported in three different sections on Form 990: “Officers, Directors, Trustees, Key Employees, and Highest Compensated Employees;” “Statement of Functional Expenses,” lines 5, 7, 8, and 9; and Schedule J;” and “Compensation Information for Certain Officers, Directors, Trustees, Key Employees, and Highest Compensated Employees.”

Having a set policy in place that objectively establishes salary ranges for positions, updated job descriptions, relevant salary administration, and performance management, is used to establish equality and equity in compensation practices. A statement of compensation philosophy and strategy, which explains to current and potential employees and board members how compensation supports the organization’s mission, can be included in the compensation policy.

Generally, this policy provides the benefits of:

  • Enhanced confidence of donors and supporters
  • Consistent framework for decision making on compensation
  • Increased compliance with federal and state employment laws
  • Reduced risk to the organization and its management and governing board

This policy can state clearly an organization’s intention to abide by federal and state law under which it is illegal to have pay differentiate based on gender.

Document Retention and Destruction Policy

This policy should clarify what types of documents should be retained, how they should be filed, and for what duration. It should also outline proper deletion and or destruction techniques.

The document retention and destruction (DRD) policy is useful for a number of reasons. The principle rational as to why any organization would want to adopt such a policy is that it ensures important documents—financial information, employment records, contracts, information relating to asset ownership, etc.—are stored for a period of time for tax, business, and other regulatory purposes. No doubt document retention could be important for proof in litigation or a governmental investigation.

When I was a litigator, I represented employers who could not find a key document–a personnel file; written warning; performance review, and the like. Needless to say, in all these situations, the missing documents were a huge disadvantage to the employer in defending itself. Make sure that doesn’t happen to you by setting down rules as to what documents to keep and how long to keep them.

You know, there’s even a question of federal code. You may have heard of the federal law, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. It reaffirms the importance of a DRD policy. Sarbanes-Oxley reads:

“Whoever knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsifies, or makes a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation or proper administration of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States or any case filed under title 11, or in relation to or contemplation of any such matter or case, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.”

While the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation generally does not pertain to tax-exempt organizations, it does impose criminal liability on tax-exempt organizations for the destruction of records with the intent to obstruct a federal investigation.

Yet another reason a DRD policy is an excellent idea, is it forces an organization to save space and money associated with both hard copy and digital file storage, by determining what is no longer needed and when…it’s like sanctioned spring cleaning!

Whistleblower Policy

Nonprofits, along with all corporations, are prohibited from retaliating against employees who call out, draw attention to, or “blow the whistle” against employer practices. A whistleblower policy should set a process for complaints, including gender bias or harassment, to be addressed and include protection for whistleblowers.

Ultimately this policy can help insulate your organization from the risk of state and federal law violation and encourage sound, swift responses of investigation and solutions to complaints.

A whistleblower policy encourages staff and volunteers to come forward with credible information on illegal practices or violations of adopted policies of the organization, specifies that the organization will protect the individual from retaliation, and identifies those staff or board members or outside parties to whom such information can be reported. (Instructions to Form 990)

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act (referenced under the document retention and destruction policy above) also applies here. If found in violation of Sarbanes-Oxley, both an organization and any individuals responsible for the retaliatory action could face civil and criminal sanctions and repercussions including prison time.

Employee Handbook

On top of the super important policies he first line of defense for nonprofits is a well drafted, individualized employee handbook. Really, how can you NOT have an employee handbook? An employee handbook even if you have but a single employee makes clear the rights and responsibilities of both the employer and employee. So many disputes can be avoided by a clear, easy-to-read, and direct employee handbook.

In terms of gender discrimination, there are several provisions that should help insulate your favorite nonprofit. Your employee handbook would have an equal opportunity statement; anti-harassment policy; complaint procedure; and rules about compensation, document retention, and whistleblowing.

I offer a free “starter” employee handbook that can get you thinking about the types of provisions you should/could include in your employee handbook.

Update As Needed

If you already have some (or all) of the above policies or employee handbook in place, seriously consider the last time they were updated. How has the organization changed since they were written? Have changes to state and federal laws impacted these policies at all? It may be high time for a new set of policies that fits your organization.

Playing tennis Without a Net?

tennis shoes on red court

Robert Frost famously opined that writing free verse is like playing tennis without a net. Well, I don’t know about that, but any nonprofit without the 10 major polices asked about on IRS Form 990, or without an employee handbook, is definitely like playing tennis without a net, ball, lines, umpires, or rules! And, the best way to play the “game” while assuring equity and fairness for all the players involves preventing bias and discrimination from ever holding a place on the court.

Schedule your free one-hour consultation and let’s talk about your organization’s needs!

Have you read GFLF’s latest contribution to the Iowa Bar‘s monthly publication, The Iowa Lawyer? The piece, “IRS Form 990: 10 Policies and Procedures Most Iowa Nonprofits Need” covers:

  • how important the annual information filing (Form 990) is for tax-exempt organizations;
  • top policies and procedures highlighted on the form
  • why investing in sound policies and procedures means investing in success
  • deadlines and failure to file for Form 990

While targeted toward the attorneys who subscribe to the magazine, this article provides excellent information for all nonprofit board members, officers, staff, donors, volunteers, and other stake holders. Give the article a read and then get a jump start on top notch compliance well in advance of next year’s due date for the Form 990!

If your nonprofit hasn’t yet adopted all of policies outlined in the article (or they are in dire need of an update), what are you waiting for? Contact Gordon about the 10 for 990 deal (10 essential policies asked about of Form 990) for just $990. The rate includes a consultation, documents drafted to fit the unique needs of your organization, and one full review round. The benefits are numerous and the compliance risk is frankly too great to NOT have these important policies and procedures in place.

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 by with a little help from my Facebook friends the following query:

March 20 is the very first day of Spring. What’s your most very favorite thing about Spring?

There were many excellent responses and it made me all that more excited to say hello to baseball season (go White Sox!) and goodbye to any “Nor’Easter” storms. Because the GoFisch blog has a knack for tying U.S./world news and events in with the mission to promote and maximize charitable giving in Iowa, I thought this start to the season fits in swimmingly with takeaways for Iowa nonprofits.

Winter Is Not Coming

As might be expected, some folks were simply glad winter was (seemingly, mostly) over. Carol Phillips, Polk County Bar Association executive director, bluntly stated her fave thing about spring was “[t]hat it isn’t winter!”

Ken Fuson, Simpson College’s media strategist, hoped for the “possibility that we may not have any more freezing rain for, say, three months.” Retired Iowa Judge Robb Thorson provided his opinion that he’s glad to travel and visit friends and “not have to worry about the weather.”

bulbs in basket

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.

Flora . . .

Teacher Amy Faralli Grider can’t wait for “the smell of a spring rain . . . . “

And Amy’s rain brings flowers. Attorney Patricia Shoff loves “flowering trees!” and she’s not alone in her affinity.

bee with pink flower

Riki Saltzman and Orchard Place’s Nancy Bobo are partial to lilacs, while Iowa Public Radio’s  Kate Payne likes blooming of both lilacs and daffodils. Bleeding Heartland writer Laurie Belin exclaimed: “Wildflowers!” Tamra Saltzman of Creative Visions Human Development Institute loves tulips.

Peggy Huppert, executive director of NAMI Iowa, includes “green grass, tulips, and flowering crabs,” in her list of fave spring things.

Lynn Meadows, of the College of Human Services at Iowa State University, took it several steps forward: “Everything! Longer days, the bright green grass, the pink and purple and white flowers on the trees…ahhhh…signs of hope and renewal.”

Nonprofit Lesson: Flower Power

The most beautiful flowers require lots of proper ingredients and care. And, are you taking care of your nonprofit’s staff, board members, volunteers, donors, and stakeholders, so they can flower and bloom into the beauty of your mission and vision.

. . . And Fauna

Peggy Rosky loves to hear “birds singing in the morning,” and Mary Brunkhorst likes when robins return. DMACC Dean MD Isley is a big fan of morels and new foals. Phil Specht notes spring is when “fish start biting.”

But perhaps spring-iest comment came from teacher Heather Anderson-Morrow, who can’t wait for her students to help her hatch baby chicks in her classroom!

chick bunny flower outline

Nonprofit Lesson: Take Care of Yourself

Nonprofits are typically understaffed and undercapitalized. Whether it’s a nature walk to hear birds trilling, hunting morels, fishing, or spending time with kiddos, it’s important to engage in your hobbies and peaceful activities to recharge, refresh, and start anew.

 

Everything!

Ann Dickinson Nida wrote about spring: “The anticipation of what was planted last year coming up. Playing in the dirt. Warm sunny days. Hope. Budding trees. Sun. Forsythia. Seed catalogs. Can you tell spring is my favorite?”

Former college basketball standout and current awesome teacher, Ann Cavey Jameson, was similarly effusive: “Flowers! Butterflies! Birds! Hiking, thunder storms, budding trees…so much!”

flowers in hand

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 2018 is moving quickly! The second quarter of the year is upon us. What are your favorite 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 are due May 15, which is why 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. Click here to learn more or contact me at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or 515-371-6077.

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 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 the 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 trainings, 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.

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 most 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 on 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).

#SelectionSunday

As we basketball fans get ready for #SelectionSunday, is your team on the bubble? Lots of reporting (like here and here and here) features teams that are oh-so-close to being in the NCAA Tournament, but perhaps not quite so.

Which reminds me to ask, how is your nonprofit team doing? In terms of compliance, is your favorite nonprofit safely “in” the compliance zone and ready to play to win, or are you hoping that the team can be just compliant enough to slide in?

Who do YOU cheer for?

person shooting on basketball court

When I say favorite nonprofit, think of it like the team you have slated to go all the way and win the final round! Perhaps your fave nonprofit is arts-oriented, like Revival Theatre Company in Cedar Rapids. Maybe your top pick is a local human services organization, like The Crisis Center in Johnson County. You could cheer the most for an animal welfare organization, like Friends of the Animal Center Foundation in Iowa City. You may be a tried and true support for a nonprofit that works for the benefit of developing countries, like Self-Help International based in Waverly, Iowa.

In any case, the nonprofit topping your list will likely need to submit an annual filing with the IRS to be “in” the compliance zone. The majority of nonprofit organizations must file some version of IRS Form 990, which asks about a number of policies and procedures.

Go for the win!

Just like the game of basketball is played within an established set of rules, tax-exempt organizations must also “play” within specific guidelines. Doing so means having specific policies and procedures in place to be compliant and in order to meet the IRS’ expectations. When a nonprofit invests in comprehensive internal and external policies and procedures it’s like investing in the right training and resources to maximize the sport team’s strengths.

To continue the analogy, consider me the coach for these policies and procedures and I want to help all Iowa nonprofits teams play their best. This is why I’m offering the 10 for 990 nonprofit policy special now through March 15. Leave the legal drafting to someone else while you continue to maximize your mission. Note that the $990 rate for the 10 important policies asked about on Form 990 also includes a comprehensive consultation and one full review round.

Help your team!

If you’re a nonprofit founder, executive, board member, or even an active volunteer, this is an excellent way to ensure the organization you’re deeply invested in is meeting (and exceeding!) the standard for tax-exempt organizations.

The 10 policies a part of this promotion will save your tax-exempt organization time, resources, and you can feel good about having a set of high quality policies to guide internal operations, present to the public (if appropriate), and fulfill Form 990 requirements.

Don’t wait for a last second shot!

As the game changes your team needs to adapt. If you already have some (or all) of the policies your team needs in place, seriously consider the last time they were updated. How has the organization changed since they were written? Have changes to state and federal laws impacted these policies at all? It may be high time for a new set of policies that fits your organization.

After you’re done filling out your March Madness bracket, commit to helping your own nonprofit team be a champion. Contact GFLF before the policy promotion is up (March 15) via email (Gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com) or by phone (515-371-6077) to get started.

I’ll never forget that night. Several months ago, a simple notification popped up on my Twitter account. Very rarely have five words caused me such joy: “Soledad O’Brien is following you.”

I was social media starstruck!

Sure, I know that this was likely the doing of a digital tool that auto-follows accounts that tweet about certain subjects. Or, maybe it was one of the social media interns who saw my retweets of @soledadobrien and decided to throw me a follow as a fan. Since she follows 447k accounts I have no doubt that the impressive individual herself didn’t actually follow me…but hey, we all like to feel liked and heard even if it’s a digital facade.

To understand why this was such a Big Hairy Audacious Deal (if you got the reference to Jim Collins’ concept, applause!), let me put this into context of my small, “local” Twitter account and Ms. O’Brien’s worldwide acclaim.

A Lonely 440+

My Twitter account has merely around 440 followers (at the time of publication). I put out great content, and it’s growing slowly and surely, but would love for more people to join the party. (In fact, if you’re reading this and haven’t followed @FischerGordon yet, check out all the great info I share on estate planning, nonprofit formation and compliance, and charitable giving on top of Iowa-centric news and all around interesting factoids.) But, let’s be honest I have a long way to go to catch up to the likes of the Big Ben clock that simply tweets “bong” in various quantities and the San Francisco fog, apparently named Karl.

Soledad is Superb

In contrast to my lowly follower count, @soledadobrien has a well-deserved follower count at 809k and counting. For those few of you who are unaware, Soledad O’Brien is a world-famous broadcast journalist renowned for her roles as anchor and correspondent for MSNBC, CNN, HBO, and Al Jazeera America. She has been a tremendously well respected presence in broadcast news since 1991. She has covered so many huge stories I can’t possibly list them all. Countless times she’s been on “best of” lists and she’s won a Peabody Award and four Emmy Awards.

Presently, Ms. O’Brien is the host of Matter of Fact with Soledad O’Brien, a show focusing on politics and socioeconomic concerns produced by her very own multi-platform Starfish Media Group.

Newsworthy Nonpxrofit Policy Special Worthy of O’Brien’s Reporting

I would regularly check to see if Soledad O’Brien ever unfollowed me. Maybe the social media software algorithm wised up or the social media intern was tasked with clearing out the followings of accounts with sub-500 followers. But, my coolest follower (sorry everyone else!) is still there! This fact has, of course, let me to the inevitable conclusion: O’Brien must want me on her show! Why else would she follow an attorney who’s on a mission to maximize charitable giving in Iowa?

Why would she want me on her show at all? I’m biased, but I think the 10 for 990 nonprofit policy special (available through March 15) is certainly newsworthy! While not a political scoop, the 10 for 990 deal could benefit (Iowa) nonprofits working toward the betterment of socioeconomic issues and/or advocating for increased engagement in American democracy.

A journalist of O’Brien’s caliber would need some more details before she ever agreed to have me on as a guest. As such, the 10 for 990 offer provides nonprofits the ten policies discussed on the IRS’ Form 990 for the flat fee of only $990. (IRS Form 990 is the tax form nonprofits must complete once they’ve reached a certain monetary threshold. Just like individuals have to fill out a personal income tax form). The 10 policies asked about on the Form 990 include conflict of interest, document retention and destruction, whistleblower, compensation, fundraising, gift acceptance, financial policies and procedures, and investment.

If Ms. O’Brien were to ever interview me on this truly fantastic deal, I would share the benefits of having a qualified attorney craft these important policies and explain the collective responsibilities of nonprofit boards.

Even if you’re not an award-winning journalist turned CEO, I would love to talk to you about this policy special. Because Form 990 is typically due in May, now is the perfect time to get ahead on compliance. Nonprofit executives, board members, and even engaged volunteers should contact me via email or phone (515-371-6077) to learn how this could fit in with your organization’s goals.

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.

lights on roof

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

pens and papers

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

watch on wrist

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 in 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

signature on paper

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.

woman holding sparkler for stocks

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

A less-than-obvious, but 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. Click to this other blog post I wrote to see a case study example comparing a donation of straight cash versus a donation of appreciated 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. Interested? Explore the details of Endow Iowa here.

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 type 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. This requirement can be quite complicated, so you’re welcome to read more on it here. (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.

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.

25 days of Christmas - Holiday giving

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.

Lights and small house - for charity

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).