Info You Can Use: Fundraising Must Benefit The Group, Not The Individual

The approach of the holidays provides me with a little more free time so I have been catching up on my “come back to and read” list. I got to reading a piece by Non-Profit Law blogger, Emily Chan addressing activities athletic booster clubs engage in that may endanger their non-profit status.

Since these clubs are organized under 501 (c) (3) just like arts organizations, I became a little concerned because I see similar things happening with some arts organizations.

The potential conflict Chan addresses is in making the amount of money a person raises directly correlate with the benefit to an individual like crediting against the payment of tuition/dues or travel expenses.

Furthermore, such a credit system still raises private benefit concerns regardless of whether a parent is considered an insider or even involved in the booster club. Lois Lerner, the Director of Exempt Organizations at the Internal Revenue Service, recently affirmed that crediting amounts raised by a participant against that participant’s costs (e.g., dues, travel expenses) is a private benefit violation that may jeopardize the organization’s exempt status.

What immediately came to mind is that a lot of dance schools have their students sell tickets, Entertainment coupon books, etc., keep track of what each person sells and rewards the kids. I don’t think there is any problem with one child only getting to choose glitter stickers because she sold less than the child who was able to claim a stuffed animal.

However, if those sales determined who got to perform or helped one person defray more of the cost of going to see a show in New York than another, there could be a problem. If it defrays the cost of everyone equally, or even a specific class within the group like sending the cast of a show to perform at a festival, then it isn’t problematic.

Really, it is mostly a matter of benefits specific to individuals. This also likely includes fund raising to benefit a specific individual, say the medical expenses of a musician who was in a car crash.

Individuals should not be soliciting contributions from donors with any suggestion or intention that the contribution will be directly used for that individual who solicited the gift. Additionally, the booster club should not accept any contributions that have been earmarked by the donor for a particular individual. Not only would such contributions not be tax-deductible for the donor, the booster club would likely be acting as a conduit in violation of the federal tax laws regulating private inurement and private benefit by allowing such money to pass through the organization to the individual without having exercised any control, oversight, or discretion over those funds

I wonder how this might apply to organizations that try to forge a deeper connection with donors by having them sponsor a student. Keeping in mind that I am not a lawyer, my guess is that if the organization is selecting the student being sponsored, there isn’t a problem. The money went into a general pot with no specific expectation of which student would benefit.

But what happens if the student drops out and the donor has taken a shine to another student and wants the sponsorship applied to her as a replacement? This is a tricky situation if you are hoping for the long term, continued support of the donor.

I also wonder if something changes with the student’s status that requires more funding than for any other student, say their place of residence changes so they must pay higher out of state tuition, can the donor be solicited or even direct additional money to benefit a specific student without endangering the non profit tax status?

Info You Can Use: Let Me Take Vacation, Or You’re Gonna Pay!

Hat tip to Non Profit Law blogger Emily Chan for providing a link to an article on a subject near and dear to my heart — vacation time.

There are some problems non-profits can run into regarding vacation and over time pay, but reading further is only necessary if people in your organization work a lot of overtime and don’t take all their vacation.

Hmm, nobody clicked away.

I wasn’t entirely joking when I said problems related to the accrual of vacation and over time were near and dear to my heart. Putting aside the number of vacation and comp time days I forfeited last year, I am regularly told about the guy who retired and wiped out most of the next season’s budget.

That is one of the hazards covered in the piece on Olive Grove Consulting’s blog. While most of the laws discussed are specific to California, there is a pretty good chance your state has similar labor laws.

For instance, in relation to accruing a lot of vacation time:

One law that often catches employers off guard is California’s requirement that employees be paid all vested vacation wages at the time of termination. As a result, an organization should ensure that it has sufficient reserves to pay out all accrued vacation. If an organization has a vacation policy that does not cap the amount of vacation an employee may accrue – and if employees do not regularly draw down their balances by taking vacation – then, the potential liability on the organization’s books can become significant.

California law prohibits employers from adopting “use-it-or-lose-it” vacation policies where vacation is forfeited if an employee does not take it. But, employers are permitted to place a reasonable cap on the amount of vacation that an employee may accrue. Thus, for example, if an organization allows employees to take 80 hours of vacation per year, the organization may cap the maximum vacation accrual amount at 140 hours. That way, even if some employees do not regularly take vacation, they will never accrue more than 140 hours, which will allow the organization to avoid having a significant amount of vacation liability on its books. To do this effectively, the organization must clearly articulate its vacation policy, including all applicable caps, in its handbook or in a stand-alone vacation policy.

Note: I edited answers for two question on this topic together. Also, my emphasis- Joe

The article also covers over time pay and discusses the California definition of employees who may be classified as exempt. This definition, which is very close to the federal definition, is based on spending more than 50% of your time performing certain types of duties or belonging to certain learned professions like lawyers, doctors, accountants (but not bookkeepers), clergy, registered nurses (but not LPNs).

Creative and artistic professions are considered exempt. The Olive Grove blog doesn’t expound, but the federal Fair Labor Standards Act says that:

Some employees may also perform “creative professional” job duties which are exempt. This classification applies to jobs such as actors, musicians, composers, writers, cartoonists, and some journalists. It is meant to cover employees in these kinds of jobs whose work requires invention, imagination, originality or talent; who contribute a unique interpretation or analysis.

So even if your imagination is working over time, you won’t get paid extra for it.

The Olive Grove blog also has some informative material about laws regarding comp time in lieu of pay, disciplining employees who do not record their over time and whether a non-profit can consider over time to be volunteer work.

Just in case you like the idea of voluntary over time but don’t read the article, let me just tell you–DON’T DO IT!

“However, the DOL (U.S. Dept of Labor) also takes the position that individuals may not “volunteer” to perform work for their employer that is the same as or similar to their normal work duties. Instead, this is compensable work time. The DOL is also likely to take this same position regarding time an employee spends performing dissimilar services, if those services occur at the employer’s request, under its direction or control, or during the employee’s normal working hours.”

Again, because the laws of your locality may vary from these, just take this information as a guide to the sort of questions you should be asking about labor laws in your state

Info You Can Use: Correct Organization Of Personnel Files

Hat tip to Emily Chan at Non Profit Law blog for sharing a link to a Blue Avocado piece on how personnel files should be maintained. More specifically, what information should not be stored in a personnel file, if retained at all, and what should be kept in separate files.

Some of the prohibitions made sense given the need to maintain privacy of medical records and the fact that some documents must be released to federal inspection and it is inappropriate to provide access to the details of an entire employment history. It makes sense that nothing should be placed in the file that employees aren’t aware of.

There are some other factors I don’t know I would have ever considered when setting up a system of personnel records.

Following are the most important items to exclude:

* Any writing regarding the employee’s performance that the employee has not seen should not be in the file. For example, while the performance evaluation that was presented to the employee should be in there, a complaint memo from a department manager about an error the employee made that was never shown to the employee should not.

* Working notes or logs that a supervisor has kept for her own benefit, usually to assist in the drafting of a performance evaluation. The notes should be destroyed after documenting anything of importance in the annual performance evaluation.

* Any medical information (including drug testing information) about the employee from any source should never be in the employee’s personnel file, but rather in a separate, more restricted confidential medical file. This separate medical file could also include any medical-related information such as documents related to Workers’ Compensation, FMLA and ADA.

* Complaints or investigation reports (harassment, discrimination, ethics, licensing etc.). Any complaint about an employee that is subject to an investigation should not be in the employee’s personnel file, but in a separate complaint file. For example, if an employee is accused of sexual harassment, the only thing that should be lodged in the personnel file is any disciplinary action taken against the employee or a substantiated report of wrongdoing — but not the original complaint or investigation notes.

* These items also should not be kept in a personnel file, but in separate, confidential files:
o Hiring Documents, such as letters of reference, background investigation reports, or I-9s
o EEO Statistical Information for the EEO-1 Report
o Payroll records

In short, to manage all of this personnel information we suggest four sets of files:

1. A personnel file for each employee
2. A separate medical file for each employee
3. One folder that has Forms I-9 for all employees
4. A file (or set of files) for all employee payroll records

Ellen Aldridge, who wrote the Blue Avocado piece, also provides a downloadable check list of items to include. She follows the material cited above with information about what things employees can add to their files, how long you need to keep information, how to store the files and suggested policies and protocol for accessing and reviewing files.

The one thing I questioned, (literally-I ask about it in the comments section of the article), is the suggestion that notes a supervisor has been keeping to base a performance evaluation on be destroyed. The supervisor might be documenting incidents of absence, mishandling of cash or even episodes when customers praised an employee to a supervisor or were witnessed using exceptional judgment and initiative. Wouldn’t you want to retain this evidence if the employee challenged a poor evaluation or to defend the employee against potential layoffs?

There hasn’t been a response to my comment as of publication time. Perhaps the the advice will be to formally include these records as part of the evaluation and the destruction advice refers to informal handwritten notes versus a spreadsheet the supervisor has been maintaining.

If anyone has insight or wants to share their own best practices, I would be interested to learn the answers. My guess is that a modified version of these practices should be applied to volunteer records as well.

Info You Can Use: Board Minutes

Emily Chan over at Non-Profit Law Blog has written a two part series on board minutes. Both entries comprise a fantastic resource for anyone who has questions about the format and content of board minutes and the laws surrounding them. I was fortunate enough to be working on my most recent board minutes when part 1 was published and made some changes in response to the suggestions she makes. I am also a big arts administration geek and excitedly awaited the second installation of the series so I could post about it.

Part One is mostly about the format and content of the minutes. In it, she enumerates some common mistakes that are made.

* Failing to document a quorum was present;
* Failing to document or provide a clear description about a board action taken;
* Drafting a transcript of everything said at the meeting, including information that might be harmful to the organization if read by someone with access to the minutes (e.g., employees or members) or by a court reviewing a board action;
* Drafting and distributing minutes to directors after a lengthy period of time has passed;
* Waiting to approve minutes from past meetings until a substantial period of time has passed, decreasing the likelihood that mistakes will be caught and corrected; and
* Failing to maintain a reasonable document management system, resulting in the loss of minutes from past meetings.

The format of the minutes can vary, but a person unfamiliar with the organization and the issues it faces should be able to easily understand what happened in a meeting and what decisions were reached. Chan outlines what specific information that should appear in the minutes. She also discusses what information should be kept confidential, how a board should proceed into executive session to keep that information confidential, how the minutes should reference the executive session and how the minutes of the executive session should be kept.

The format should be standard from meeting to meeting, including the detail in which decisions are recorded. Minutes should be issued before the next meeting or within 60 days of the last meeting and kept forever. I always wondered about that last part. Minutes are among the items the IRS advises a non-profit keep for ever.

Which provides a segue to Part 2 of the series which deals with the legal aspect of board minutes. Directors and members both have a right to access the board minutes. The rules relating to access vary from state to state, Chan deals with California’ laws.

The IRS also has an interest in seeing the minutes. The bulk of the entry is devoted to discussing what practices are important to stay in compliance with rules and regulations for non-profits related to governance, tax code and audits.

Different agencies of your local and state government may also want access to minutes, especially if the organization is involved with legal actions associated with decisions made by the board. In the course of the merger my presenters consortium is seeking to pursue with a sister organization, the secretary of state requires copies of board minutes where different decisions and resolutions were discussed and passed.

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