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Nonprofit Compliance Reporting Checklist

In representing small, mid-size, and even larger nonprofits, we often find the array of periodic compliance reporting can get lost. Sometimes this occurs because an individual is named the contact person for notifications, and that staff person or volunteer is no longer working. While most delinquent filing issues are fairly easy to fix, a pattern of noncompliance can cause issues over time, especially if you find yourself faced with other legal issues. Here’s a handy, though not absolutely comprehensive, checklist to help keep you on track, designed with 501(c)(3) public charities in mind.

  • IRS Form 990. Every 501(c)(3) organization must file a 990 in some form or another, even if you have no activity at all during a tax year. Larger organizations will file the full 990, and this rarely slips through the cracks. This is a big, complicated form, and we strongly recommend using a tax professional to complete or at least review prior to filing. Smaller organizations can file the 990EZ, which is much easier to complete and can be done by competent staff. Organizations with less than $50,000 in receipts during any year can file the 990-N, sometimes referred to as the 990 postcard. It is a very simple form, with just a few questions, and is filed on line. IMPORTANT NOTE: Even if you have $0 in revenues, you must file the 990-N every year. No exceptions. Failure to do so will result in loss of your 501(c)(3) tax exempt status. Our friends at the IRS are completely on top of this, so don’t think they’re not watching!
  • State Attorney General Filings. Nonprofit organizations are governed in most states by the state attorney general’s office, with powers arising out of their general authority over consumer protection. The reasoning here is that nonprofits are custodians of charitable funds for the benefit of the public, so the attorneys general oversee the nonprofits on this basis. In Ohio as in several other states, there is an annual filing regarding fundraising, which is required regardless of whether or not you do any fundraising. The attorney general’s office will also get involved if you seek to remove or change donor restrictions or designations on gifts.
  • Secretaries of State. You should also be aware of the need periodically to file a statement of continued existence or similar filing with your secretary of state’s office, confirming you are still in business at some level. Changes in your structure, including mergers or dissolutions, are also dependent on approval by the secretary of state.
  • Other State Compliance. Depending on the type of fundraising you do, you may have filings with your state department of insurance for charitable gift annuities, or with your state tax authority for certain types of charitable trusts.
  • Sales Tax. Yes, you may need to collect, remit and and report sales tax on items sold in your gift shop or cafeteria if you sell to the public on a regular basis.

State attorneys general are taking a greater interest in the management of nonprofits, with Ohio being among the most proactive in compliance and enforcement. Particular areas of interest include adherence with board fiduciary duties, conflicts of interest, self dealing and related party transactions, investment management, and accurate/adequate disclosure of the use of charitable funds.

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A Note from BauerGriffith

We are living in difficult times – the coronavirus pandemic, wildfires, global warming, racism, and a lot of rancor, political and otherwise. This year, 2020, can’t be over soon enough. Please know that what is important to you is important to us. We are here for you.

Stacy and Nancy

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Business Basics 105 – Starting a Small Business

The Small Business Administration advises that one of the major causes of failure of small businesses is poor management. This could mean poor planning, cash flow management, recordkeeping, inventory control, promotion or employee relations, among others. It likely also includes poor capitalization. There are several key steps for starting and managing a small business, as follows:

You may come up with an idea and begin discussing it with your friends, family, professors, and other business people. At this stage you need a business plan, which is a detailed written statement describing the nature of the business, the target market, the advantages the business will have over its competition, and your (the owner’s) resources and qualifications. The business plan forces you to be quite specific about the products or services you intend to offer. It requires that you analyze the competition, calculate how much money you will need to start, and cover other details of the operation. It is also a must document for talking with banks and other investors.

A good business plan takes time to write, but you’ve got just five minutes, in the executive summary, to convince your readers not to throw it away. Next comes an outline of the comprehensive business plan. Remember, there’s no such thing as a perfect business plan, it will and should change as the business changes and grows. Getting the business plan into the right hands, finding funding sources, requires research. The time and effort you invest before starting your business will pay off many times later. Remember, the big pay off is survival.

The next step is financing your business. After your personal savings, friends and family are often the next source. Additional sources of funding can include banks and other financial institutions, angels, crowdfunding and venture capitalists, the Small Business Administration (SBA), the Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) Program, and a Small Business Development Center (SBDC). Once you have planned and financed your business, it’s time to get it up and running.

Step three is knowing your customers/market, which consists of people with unsatisfied wants and needs who have both the resources and willingness to buy. After identifying the market and its needs, fill those needs. Offer top quality at fair prices with great service. Not only do you want to get customers, but to keep them as well. Small businesses have the ability to know their customers better and adapt quickly to their ever changing needs. To best know your customers, LISTEN. Don’t let yourself get in the way of changing to meet the wants and needs of the customers.

As your business grows it becomes more difficult to oversee every detail, thus you must hire, train and motivate employees. Yet it is difficult to find good employees when you offer less money, skimpier benefits and less room for advancement than larger companies do. This is one of the reasons that good employee relations are a key to small business management. Employees of small companies tend to be more satisfied with their jobs than their counterparts in big companies because they find their jobs more challenging, their ideas more accepted, and their bosses more respectful. Employees who feel they are part of the team work to make that team, and thus the company, successful. Don’t fall into the trap of promoting employees simply because they have been with you the longest, or are family members, but aren’t qualified to serve as managers. You need to delegate to the most qualified individual(s). You may be best served to fire those who don’t meet your requirements, regardless of their tenure and regardless of family relations, so that you can recruit and groom employees for management positions who you can rely on as you delegate more of your responsibilities.

Small business owners often say the most important step in starting and managing their business was in accounting. Setting up an effective accounting system early will save you a lot of headaches later. Accurate record-keeping allows you to follow daily sales, expenses and profits, and also helps with inventory control, customer records and payroll.

Many businesses fail as a result of poor accounting practices leading to costly mistakes. A good accountant can help you with tax planning, financial forecasting, choosing sources of financing, and writing requests for funds. The key is to find an accountant experienced with small businesses. This critical advisor can help you to not only survive, but also to thrive.

Small business owners have learned, often the hard way, that they need outside advisors, especially early in the process. This includes legal, tax and accounting advice, and also marketing, finance and other areas. A necessary and invaluable advisor is a competent, experienced attorney who knows and understands small businesses. We can help with leases, contracts, operating agreements and protection against liabilities. A marketing advisor is also key and should help you make your marketing decisions long before you introduce your product or open your store. Market research can help you determine where to locate, who to select as your target market, and an effective strategy to reach it. Experience with small business marketing can be enhanced if this advisor also has experience with building websites and using social media. Two more critical advisors are a finance expert and an insurance agent. The finance guru can help you design a business plan and provide valuable financial advice, and an insurance agent will explain the risks associated with a small business, and in your industry, and how to cover them most efficiently with insurance and other means. And finally, don’t forget to seek out other small business owners and discuss and exchange ideas.

Both BauerGriffith attorneys and BG Consulting Group consultants serve as trusted advisors. Let us help you get your business off the ground.

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A Guide to Standing Committees for Nonprofits — Other Committees

Over the last several installments in this series, we’ve examined the typical array of standing committees of a nonprofit board. Standing committees are generally those that align with a director’s specific fiduciary duties relating to governance, conflicts of interest, high level strategy determinations, and various aspects of fiscal management. But boards, through a well organized committee structure, can be very helpful in other areas as well.

A well written code of regulations will give your board the authority to create other committees to support the work of your organization. I generally recommend these other committees not be designated as standing committees, but that should not create a perception of decreased importance for their work. Program, policy, external relations, and other committees that give more direct support to the work of your organization’s staff can increase your organization’s effectiveness by helping staff prioritize activity and by using loyal board members in a more hands on role. More than other committees, the focus and roles of these types of committee will change, sometimes frequently, based on the needs of the organization, hence my reluctance to designate them as standing committees.

Some basic tips to ensure other committees operate effectively include:

  • Review their charters annually to ensure their tasks align with the current work plan or strategic plan
  • Ensure open lines of communication with board leadership
  • Recruit experts to serve on subject matter committees (which can be a great tool for cultivating new board members)
  • Allow staff members in various levels of leadership to interact with the committee

In addition to standing and regular committees, subcommittees with a very particular focus on an issue or program element can also be an effective way to utilize talent and expertise on your board, recruit non-board volunteers to assist, or to create advisory groups to help your staff resolve sticky issues. Often work groups or task forces, established on a temporary basis, can provide excellent support for time limited projects, like crises, events or advocacy issues.

Don’t forget, your committee structure should be determined after a thorough examination of your staff structure and needs for board support. Don’t create committees just to give your board something to do. Create committees to help your staff get their work done effectively.

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Business Basics 104

Part 4 – Corporate Expansion

A merger is when two companies combine into one, whereas an acquisition is one company purchasing the assets, or assets and liabilities, of another company.

A merger might be of two companies operating in different parts of related businesses, putting their businesses together for an increased percentage of the supply chain. Or it might be two companies in the same industry combining in order to achieve economies of scale, or dominance in the market. Or it might be two companies in unrelated industries combining to diversify their business operations and investments.

Sometimes, with or without the owners’ approval, employees, management or a group of private investors will attempt to buy out the stockholders of a company, typically by borrowing the funds needed for such purchase. This is known as a leveraged buyout and, if successful, the employees, managers or investors, as applicable, become the new owners of the company.

The franchise is a specialized type of business operation. Some people are uncomfortable starting a business from scratch, preferring to join a business with a proven track record. A franchise agreement is an arrangement whereby someone with a good idea for a business, the franchisor, sells the rights to use the business’s name and sell its products or services to another, the franchisee, in a given territory. The franchisee can structure her business in any of the ways discussed previously, a sole proprietorship, a partnership or a corporation.

Advantages of a franchise include management and marketing assistance, personal ownership, nationally recognized name, financial advice and assistance, and lower failure rate. A franchisee usually has a greater chance of succeeding than a non-franchise start-up because she has an established product or service to sell, help choosing her phsyical location, and assistance in all phases of promotion and operation. Franchisors typically provide extensive training to their franchisees, so it is like having your own store but with consultants whenever you need them. Some franchisors also help with local marketing efforts rather than having its franchisees rely solely on national advertising. In addition, franchisees have a built in network of other franchisees with whom they can share their experiences and discuss similar problems they may be facing.

A franchise business is still your business , you are still your own boss, but you must follow more rules, regulations and procedures as required by the franchisor. With an established franchise, you get instant recognition and support from a product group with established customers nationally, or even internationally. Franchisees often get valuable assistance and advice from their franchisor, including in two of the most problematic areas for small business owners – arranging financing and learning to keep good records.

There are also disadvantages to the franchise model, including large start-up costs, shared profit, management regulation, coattail effects, restrictions on selling, and fraudulent franchisors.

Most franchisors require a fee for rights to the franchise, which might be as low as a few thousand dollars up to over a million dollars. In addition to purchasing the franchise rights, the franchisee typically pays a royalty either as a large share of the profits, or a percentage commission based on sales, not profit. Management assistance often has a way of becoming managerial orders, directives and limitations. Franchisees feeling burdened by the franchisor’s rules and regulations may lose the drive to run their own businesses. However, franchisees will often band together to resolve their grievances with the franchisor rather than wage their battles alone.

Unlike independent businesses, the actions of other franchisees impact each franchisee’s future growth and profitability. If fellow franchisees fail, this coattail effect could force the franchisee out of business even if her franchise has been profitable. In addition, unlike the owner of an independent businesses, who can sell her company to whomever she chooses and on whatever terms, many franchisees face restrictions on the resale of their franchises. Franchisors often insist on approving a new owner to ensure he meets its standards and as a measure of quality control. Many franchisors are small, even obscure companies that prospective franchisees know little about. Although most are honest, beware of franchisors that deliver little to nothing of what they promise.

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A Guide to Standing Committees for Nonprofits — The Development Committee

I may be biased, since I’ve been both a professional and volunteer fundraiser at various points in my career, but I think the Development or Fundraising Committee is, next to the Governance Committee, the most important standing committee of a nonprofit board. After all, if nobody is raising money, none of the other committees have anything to do! But while this committee is vitally important to the financial sustainability of your organization, it can also be the most challenging committee to manage and implement.

In developing a strategy to mobilize an effective Development Committee, I suggest we start with two premises or principals. The first premise is that fundraising is the responsibility of the whole board; every member, without exception, should play some role in raising funds for your organization. The second premise is that the primary responsibility of the Development Committee is to create and foster a culture within your organization that allows your full board to feel empowered, confident, and (dare I say) comfortable with their role in the fundraising process.

To me, this means the Development Committee is not created to be the small group of board members who do all of the asking during your various campaigns and initiatives. At the end of the day, they may be those people, but that shouldn’t be the primary reason people are asked to sit on the Development Committee. A structure like this will likely give the impression that the rest of the board isn’t needed in the fundraising process. Rather, consider these primary areas for your Development Committee to assist staff:

  • Create a development plan that is reflective of the goals and needs of your the organization
  • Communicate and cultivate buy in for the organization’s case for support among the full board
  • Create tools and resources for the board to use in their own individual fundraising efforts
  • Allow each board member to identify the specific tasks and roles they will play in the fundraising process
  • Create a sense of accountability for achieving those tasks and roles

Consider this sample description of the Development Committee:

Development Committee

The Development Committee shall: (a) review, approve, and support goals and strategies for, and oversee the progress of, the Corporation’s fundraising initiatives, including the Annual Fund, major and planned gifts, capital, endowment, and comprehensive campaigns, and events, in consultation with the Finance Committee; (b) support and assist the Development Office in its efforts to engage members, donors and supporters in the activities of the Corporation, and to cultivate, solicit, and steward donors; and (c) work with the Governance Committee to ensure that new Directors understand and accept their responsibilities in fundraising and development.

Some things to note:

  • I encourage you to state specifically the relationship between the Development Committee and the Governance Committee, to ensure fundraising is part of the recruitment, training, and board evaluation process.
  • I also encourage you to state specifically the relationship between the Development Committee and the Finance Committee, so that the contributed revenue goals in your budget are well thought out, well supported numbers informed by the needs of the organization and the donor resources available.
  • Remember that solicitation is only one relatively small part of the donor cycle. Encouraging and empowering board members to cultivate and steward donors can increase board involvement in fundraising and open the door to more good opportunities for staff to solicit.

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Competitions and Contests — Legal and Practical Considerations

Competitions, contests, drawing, raffles, auctions — all are frequently used tools in a nonprofit organization’s fundraising arsenal. What we may forget, though, is that both the IRS and state governments have laws and regulations applicable to these types of activities, which must be considered before launch. In addition, like campaigns or other fundraising initiatives, there are practical considerations to be addressed to ensure your efforts achieve the desired results.

The benefits of competitions, contests, drawings, raffles and the like include:

  • ability to reach new markets, raise visibility, create excitement
  • tapping into a revenue source other than philanthropy
  • for competitions, the opportunity to seek new ideas or creative input to address issues related to the organization’s mission

Challenges to watch out for include:

  • need for comprehensive, explicit rules, which you cannot change midstream
  • ability to publicize to the right audience to ensure your pool of entries will achieve your desired goal
  • no ability to cancel
  • requirement that all prizes be awarded, regardless of ultimate quantity or quality of entries
  • requirement of a public benefit (i.e., fundraising for your charitable mission or the development of a response to an issue of broad consequence)
  • conflicts of interest between competition applicants and judges
  • limitations on employee and related party participation

Rules relating to contests and competitions, where winners are selected based on merit or skills based criteria, and raffles or drawings, where winners are selected based on chance, will be subject to different rules and regulations by state and local governments. Those rules and regulations can include required disclosures, as well as registration and reporting requirements.

If your organization wants to consider a contest, competition, drawing or other event of this type, be sure to allow three to four months for planning. Also be sure to include a marketing and communication strategy, as well as clear goals and objectives for your event.

McKinsey and Company authored an excellent article on competitions and philanthropic prizes, which we commend to your reading. You can find it by clicking here.

For a good analysis of the considerations behind charitable auctions, check out this article from Blue Avocado, a magazine of the Nonprofits Insurance Alliance.

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Business Basics 104

Part 2 – How to Form a Business, Corporations

You don’t have to be a big business to form a corporation. A corporation, sometimes known as a C corp., is chartered with the secretary of state, and is a unique “person” with separate liability from its owners, known as stockholders. The biggest advantage of forming a corporation is that it limits the stockholders’ liability to the amount they’ve invested; they do not have personal liability for the debts or other problems of the company. A corporation also allows multiple people to share in the ownership, and hopefully the profits, of a business without the necessity of working there or other commitments to the company. Corporations choose whether to offer ownership to outside investors or to remain proviately held.

As previously stated, a corporation offers limited liability for its owners. Additional advantages include the ability to sell stock to raise money from investors; to borrow money from banks or investors; perpetual life, i.e. the company does not terminate with the death of its owner(s); ease of ownership change; ability to offer stock options to attract valuable employees; and to raise money separate from getting investors involved in management of the business.

The corporate heirarchy, from the top down, begins with the owners/stockholders who elect the board of directors, the board hires officers, the officers set the corporate objectives and hire management, the managers supervise the employees, and the employees perform the functions of the business. Thus the owners help dictate who runs the company, but not its day to day operations.

There are also disadvantages to corporate entities, including the initial set up costs; paperwork, both initially and ongoing; double taxation – first the corporation pays tax on its income before any is distributed to stockholders as dividends, then the stockholders pay income taxes on the dividends they receive; two tax returns, a corporate return and individual return; once started a corporation is hard to end; and finally the potential for conflict between directors and management.

While we are all aware of many large corporations, IBM, AT&T, Apple, many corporations are small business owners who typically do not issue stock to outsiders, focusing more on limited liability and possible tax benefits.

An S corp. is a regular corporation that elects to be taxed like a partnership, thus avoiding double taxation. Profits of an S corp. are taxed only as the personal income of the shareholders. In order to qualify to make this election, the company cannot have more than 100 shareholders, must have shareholders that are individuals or estates, and who are citizens or permanent residents of the United States, must have only one class of stock, and must derive no more than 25% of its income from passive sources. If an S corp. loses its status as such, it must wait five years to make another S election.

Finally, there’s an interesting hybrid known as a limited liability company. This entity does not have the formal requirements of a C corp. and has the tax advantages of an S corp. It offers limited liability to its members; is taxed as a partnership, though it can choose to be taxed as a corporation; does not have the same ownership restrictions as an S corp.; has flexible distribution of profits and losses, which do not have to be distributed in proportion to the money each person invests, but is by agreement of the members; anddoes not have to comply with the ongoing operating requirements of a corporation, such as annual meetings, minutes and written resolutions, though an operating agreement is a good document to put in place.

LLCs have disadvantages as well, including limitations on transferabiity of membership interests; a limited life span, which could be triggered by the death of a member; inability to deduct fringe benefits, thus few incentives available for employees; although less paperwork than a corporation, more than a sole proprietorship; and members must pay self employment taxes on their profits.

Determining the appropriate form for your business typically involves input from both a lawyer and an accountant to ensure you create the best opportunity for you and your company.

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Business Basics 104

Part 1 – How to Form a Business, Sole Proprietorship and Partnership

The form of your business can have a tremendous impact on its long-term success. The three major forms of business ownership are sole proprietorships, partnerships and corporations. Each has pros and cons.

A sole proprietorship is a business owned and usually managed by one person. When two or more people legally agree to become co-owners of a business, it’s called a partnership. While these two forms of organization are relatively easy to form, there are advantages to creating an entity that is distinct from its owners. A corporation is a separate legal entity with authority to act and have liability apart from its owners. There are several options for a corporate entity, the most popular being the limited liability company, or LLC.

Sole Proprietorship

This is the easiest to start and end, all you need to do is just start or stop, as the case may be. You may need a license from your local government, but this is typically a simple task. All of the sole proprietorship’s profits are taxed as personal income of the owner, and the owner pays normal income tax on that money. However, the owners do have to pay the self-employment tax (social security and medicare), and have to estimate their taxes and make quarterly payments to the government to avoid penalties.

On the down side, a sole proprietorship offers no protection to its owner in terms of liability. In fact, the sole proprietor has unlimited liability, including the risk of personal losses. The sole proprietor and business are treated as one, so any debts or damages incurred by the business are those of the owner. This is a serious risk to be discussed with a lawyer, accountant, insurance agent and others.

Partnership

A partnership is a legal form of business with two or more owners. It can be a general partnership, a limited partnership or a limited liability partnership, and while not always required, it is wise to put the relationship in writing. In a general partnership, all owners share in operating the business and assuming liability for the business’s debts. A limited partnership has one or more general partners and one or more limited partners. The general partner is an owner with unlimited liabiity and is active in managing the company. Every general partnership has to have at least one general partner. A limited partner is an owner who invests money in the business but does not have any management responsibility or liability for losses beyond her investment. Limited liability means that her liability for the company’s debts is limited to the amount she put into the company, and her personal assets are not at risk. The limited liability partnership (LLP) was created to limit the disadvantage of unlimited liability. It limits the partners’ risk of losing their personal assets to the outcomes of their own acts and omissions as well as those they supervise. A limited partner in an LLP can operate without fear that one of his partners might commit an act of malpractice resulting in a judgment that relieves him of his personal assets. Many states, however, do not extend this personal protection to contractual liabilities such as bank loans, leases or business debt of the LLP.

It may be easier to own and mange a business with one or more partner. While you might excel at marketing, your partner might be skilled at accounting. When two or more people pool their money and credit, paying the rent, utilities and other bills becomes easier. It is also easier to manage the day-to-day affairs of the business when you have partners. Having one or more partner can free up time for you away from the business, as well as provide different skills and perspectives. Partnerships tend to survive longer than sole proprietorships, and like a sole prop, the profits of parnerships are taxed as personal income of the owners.

On the flip side, conflict and tension are always possible when two or more people are involved. In addition, sharing risk also means sharing profits. Plus, each general partner is liable for the debts of the business, regardless of who caused the problem. A general partner is liable for her partner’s mistakes as well as her own so, like a sole prop, her personal assets are at risk. A partnership is also more difficult to terminate than the sole prop. Although you can quit, questions remain about who gets what and what happens next.