More snow! Program cancelled!

Since we are under a Winter Storm Watch for tomorrow evening into Wednesday, and the snow is expected to start some time between 4:00 and 8:00 pm, our program for tomorrow evening (3/25), “Is it a Charity?” is cancelled.

Plan to join us for one of our upcoming programs:

April 8 – Getting Tax-exempt, 6:00 pm here; all about the Form 1023. ($5 pp)

April 10–Nonprofit Board Roles & Responsibilities, with the Community Foundation of Southeastern MA;  go here for details.

April 16–Nonprofit Start-up Group, 6:00 pm here; our free drop-in networking & info-sharing group. ($5 pp)

April 17–Nonprofit Annual Filings: What to File & When; 8:30 am. ($5 pp)

 

Getting the Right People for the First Board of Directors

When you begin to think about forming a nonprofit organization, one of the first things to consider is the people you will need to help you, and most importantly, the people who will work with you from the beginning, who most likely will evolve into your board of directors.

Nonprofit organizations are required by law to have boards of directors, who are charged with fiduciary duties of care and loyalty to the organization, and who have oversight over the entire operation of the nonprofit.

For most small start-ups, the first board of directors may not meet the textbook ideal.  Your first board may consist of you and a couple of friends and maybe a work colleague or two, if you’re lucky enough to have that many people at the outset.  Many boards start off with a husband and wife and a friend or another couple.  And while this initial group may be passionate and committed to the work of the organization, board development must not stop here.  More minds and hands will be needed, analytical thinkers, able—and willing—to ask the hard questions as the nonprofit grows and develops.

As you think about your nonprofit, you might begin by thinking, “Who do I know with deep pockets?”  But that isn’t the best place to start. Instead, think about the skills and abilities the nonprofit’s formation and operation will demand.  For example (and this is certainly not an exhaustive list):

  • Persistence, detail-orientation, zeal
  • “People skills”, entrepreneurship
  • Math skills, financial, bookkeeping, Excel
  • Time management, project management, organizational, planning
  • Persuasion, fundraising, sales
  • Supervisory, personnel/human resource management
  • Verbal, writing, communication
  • Technical, computers, email, word processing, spreadsheets, social media
  • Subject matter expertise

Do you have all these skills, personally?  Probably not; none of us have all of them.  But the Board of Directors—as a whole— needs to have all of them.

The question I am asked most often (after “Do you do grant-writing?”) is “How do I get board members?”  How do you find people with the skills you need?

Talk to people.  Board recruitment, at its most basic, starts with talking to everyone you know.  Notice those for whom your idea seems to click.  Don’t invite these people onto your board immediately.  Instead, start a list, noting the skills you believe they would bring to your organization.  Then follow up with them, invite them to coffee “for an update” or “to tell you more about what I’m thinking”.

Of course, much more must be done to recruit—and keep on recruiting—good board members, and indeed, entire books have been written on the topic.

One way to find both board members and volunteers is through posting your organization’s needs online.  For example, here in SouthCoast, through the region’s United Way agencies, you can post both your organizations volunteer needs and your activities.  Check out Volunteer SouthCoast here.

Once you’ve connected with people who might be good board members, you—or your present board, if it exists yet—should develop a process, rather like a job recruitment process, to get to know prospective board members better; this is especially important if neither you nor your current board members know the person well.  This might include a formal meeting, asking for a resume, maybe a questionnaire; it also might include having the prospective board member join a committee or help with a project, both good ways to assess a person’s fit with your organization. Only when you’re satisfied that the person will be a good addition to your board should you (or your board) invite him or her to join you.

While the need for board members may be critical, it’s important to move slowly, to ensure good fit and commitment—after all, this is someone you hope to be working with for a long time!

If you would like to learn more about boards of directors, I will be talking about nonprofit board governance at following upcoming programs :

  • Tuesday, March 18, at the Fall River Boys & Girls Club, 6:00 pm
  • Thursday, April 10, at the Waypoint Event Center, New Bedford, with Craig Dutra of the Community Foundation of Southeastern Massachusetts, 5:30 pm. Click here for more info.
  • Tuesday, April 22, at the Legal Center for Nonprofits, New Bedford, part of the Nonprofit Start-up Series, 6:00 pm. Click here for more info.

Amazing Energy at “Weaving Community” Networking Event

On the last Tuesday evening in January, I braved the bitter cold and threatened snow to wander over to what proved to be the most amazing event I’ve been to in a long time.  Informed the day before that it would be “speed networking”, and being a little old for the “speed dating” scene, I had no idea what it would be like, and indeed, I went with some trepidation.

The event, called “Weaving Community: A Sharing, Connecting and Networking Event”, was sponsored by the United Way of Greater New Bedford’s Community Building Mini-Grants Program as an opportunity for current and past Mini Grant recipients to come together and learn about each other’s programs, with a hope of sparking a few collaborations as well.  I was invited, though not a Mini Grants recipient, because of the Legal Center for Nonprofits’ work helping birth new nonprofits.  Claudia Kirk, the Mini Grants program director, told me that many of her grant recipients were on the cusp, considering whether to formalize their organizations.

I wasn’t the only one braving the cold that night!  Claudia welcomed a roomful of us to the Parish Hall of Grace Episcopal Church.  (Grace Church’s Sunday Breakfast for the Homeless is a Mini Grants recipient.)  After a few words of welcome and some announcements, Claudia turned us over to Brian Pastori, a staffmember with a Mini Grants program founding partner, the Community Economic Development Center of Southeastern Massachusetts. He quickly laid out the ground rules—those of us seated on the outside of the U-shaped table arrangement would stay seated, while those on the inside would move to the next chair every 5 minutes; each facing pair would take turns—2 minutes each to explain to each other what our organizations do, with a minute to talk together about possible collaboration.

Quite a clamor erupted with these instructions, but Brian didn’t give us time to fuss and worry.  We just got right down to it.  Nonprofit people are passionate about their missions and organizations, and I can’t remember ever meeting one who was speechless when asked, “What do you do?”  This night was no exception.

At Brian’s signal, the room quickly erupted once we got past that awkward first second or two—“Who talks first?”  Our nonprofit energy simply took over.  A strange kind of Zen sensation emerged, perhaps because we were so deeply in the moment, focused on what the other person was saying, shutting out the noise around us. It felt as though time expanded, allowing us plenty of time to give our little spiels.  But when the timer sounded the signal to move, time abruptly collapsed, and I thought, “Already?”

I met 7 new people I’d never met before, and learned about some fascinating grassroots efforts happening right now in New Bedford—for example, Bus Riders United is working on improving bus transportation in the Greater New Bedford region; the Coalition for Clean Air is working on helping the town of Somerset cope with the closure of its power plants; and Voices for a Healthy SouthCoast is working on making SouthCoast more amenable to bicycling.

All of the programs represented at the Weaving Community event are involved in the Mini Grants program, as either past or current recipients. Mini Grants recipients are all-volunteer organizations  with budgets less than $25,000, and their projects are small-scale, with a goal to improve the local community.  Projects can be continuing year-long, or they can be one-time special events. Claudia explained that proposals for 2014 grants will be due later this spring.

“The Community Building Mini-Grants Program strives to build a vibrant and stronger community by working together one project at a time,” Claudia says. “We continue to be the only local comprehensive program to administer, promote and support the capacity of the grassroots all-volunteer community.”  Her statistics tell the story:   Since 1995, 587 mini-grants have been awarded to 343 all-volunteer groups for projects that raise the quality of life, increase civic engagement and develop people who are making a difference in our community. In 2013, 37 groups received a total of $33,000.

And to be sure, they brought their vibrancy to that room on Tuesday night.

By the way, visit here to see how other nonprofits are creatively using speed networking.

For more about United Way of Greater New Bedford’s Mini Grants program, visit here.

 

New Drop-in Program for Nonprofit Start-ups

Starting a nonprofit organization can be daunting, with so many legal requirements and forms and filings, in addition to just getting the organization’s activities up and running.  It can leave a founder feeling isolated and uncertain which way to jump next.

But founders don’t have to go it alone any longer.  Join the Nonprofit Start-up Group, a new free monthly program from the Legal Center for Nonprofits, starting Wednesday, February 12, at 6:00 pm.  Get started networking with other nonprofit founders, share information and experience, and support each other.  Whether you’ve already formed a nonprofit, joined the board of a newly formed nonprofit, or simply want to find out more about what’s involved, the Nonprofit Start-up Group is the place to meet others who have been through the experience of starting a nonprofit organization.

At this first meeting, attendees will plan the schedule for future meetings.  This is an information and networking event; no legal advice specific to attendees’ situations will be given.

The group’s facilitator is Elizabeth Pollin, Esq., an attorney, BCC instructor, and small business woman who is also a founding board member of the Youth Investment Foundation, Inc.

The Nonprofit Start-up Group will meet at the Legal Center for Nonprofits office inside the Inter-Church Council house at 412 County Street, New Bedford.  Preregistration is recommended.  Contact Linnea Michel, Esq., at (508) 264-5996 or by email to Linnea@LegalCenterforNonprofits.org, for information or to preregister.

Why Support the Legal Center for Nonprofits?

Nonprofit organizations operate in a distinct legal environment, often without professional staff.  When mistakes happen or problems arise, the consequences can have devastating and far-reaching effects.  Legal assistance that can avoid such consequences may be a significant and unplanned expense.

Since 2010, 159 nonprofit organizations in New Bedford alone have had their tax-exempt status revoked by IRS for failing to file annual reports for three consecutive years.  In 2012, over 26,000 Massachusetts nonprofit corporations had their corporate status revoked for failing to file annual reports to the Secretary of State for two consecutive years.  While many of these organizations were likely defunct, many were not.  Many of these organizations are small, all-volunteer operations, with barely enough cash in hand to run their programs—they have survived due to the commitment and dedication of their volunteers.  But often, their boards are untrained in the intricacies of tax-exempt status requirements, or those who did have that knowledge have moved on, moved away, or passed away.

Of the 18,000 organizations known to be active in Massachusetts in the last two years, 32 percent have annual incomes less than $50,000.  These organizations that contribute so much to our society—in the form of social services, recreation, arts, education, health, community development, and so on—where do they turn when they need legal help?

The majority of nonprofit organizations rely heavily on grants and donated funds, operating on lean budgets focused on sending resources to their missions.  With the limited availability of grants for operating funds, setting aside funds for legal services is not a budget priority.

Providing pro bono services to nonprofits is a satisfying part of the practice of law for most lawyers, and many contribute many hours to nonprofit organizations, either as nonprofit board members or through their law practices.  But sometimes, specialized knowledge of tax-exempt entities is necessary, and  lawyers may lack the time to become sufficiently knowledgeable to assist a tax-exempt organization with its specific problem.

The Legal Center for Nonprofits, Inc., was formed to address this specific need—to provide affordable direct legal services to established nonprofits and people wishing to start nonprofits.  Through our services, new nonprofits start off on the right foot, and once started, our educational programming on nonprofit legal topics helps their boards, staffs, and volunteers keep them moving progressively forward, to better serve their communities.

When you support the Legal Center for Nonprofits, you are supporting the entire nonprofit community, enabling us to provide legal services to nonprofits that need it and educational programs to help nonprofits build capacity to achieve the fullest expression of their missions.  Their success strengthens the whole community.

Like our clients, the Legal Center for Nonprofits is itself nonprofit.  We charge minimal fees to keep our work affordable to our clients, and, like them, we depend on fundraising and grant-writing to cover our costs.  Our board of directors consists of attorneys, small business people, and nonprofit professionals who believe in the value of a strong nonprofit sector and its ability to make our region a better place to live, grow and work.

Your gift to the Legal Center for Nonprofits:

  • Ensures excellent, affordable legal services focused on the specific requirements of tax-exempt nonprofits organizations;
  • Brings nonprofit legal and management education and training to SouthCoast’s board members, volunteers, nonprofit staffs, and the public, without the need for a trip to Boston.
  • Builds the capacity and enhances the viability of all SouthCoast nonprofits.

Please give generously today.

 

The Legal Center for Nonprofits, Inc., is a Massachusetts nonprofit corporation.  Our application for 501(c)(3) charity status is pending before the IRS.

We have a new mailing address!

Now that our new office is open, we have closed our post office box. Our new mailing address is:

Legal Center for Nonprofits, Inc.
412 County Street
New Bedford, Massachusetts 02740

First Office is Open!

We are delighted to announce that our first office is open!  The Legal Center for Nonprofits is now located inside the Inter-Church Council of Greater New Bedford building at 412 County Street in New Bedford, MA.

Our Board chair, Kristen Sarkarati said, for our press release, “We are delighted that the Legal Center for Nonprofits will now be able to serve the nonprofit community from its own office space.  This marks an important milestone for us as we work to build our capacity to serve Southeastern Massachusetts’ nonprofit community, and we’re very grateful to Rev. David Lima and the Inter-Church Council for making this possible.”  Furnishings for the office were donated by Fall River businesswoman Patricia J. Tod, the managing partner of the Fall River Partnership.  We are so grateful to Patricia!  Her gift of furniture made our office a reality!

These are exciting days for the Legal Center for Nonprofits.  We have also just embarked on our fall programming (the list is under the Program Schedule tab).  Last night, we had 9 people attend our first program, Nonprofit Start-up Part 1, which discussed things that must be considered before starting the nonprofit.  Part 2, on September 10, will go into detail about incorporation, charity registration, and tax-exempt status.

Stay tuned! It’s going to be a great year!

 

 

Programs Start August 27!

 Nonprofit Start-up – Part 1 kicks off Fall programming by the Legal Center for Nonprofits, Inc., on Tuesday, August 27 at 6:00 pm, at the Inter-Church Council of Greater New Bedford, 412 County Street, New Bedford.  This free program, first of two parts, will discuss some important preliminary matters that must be considered before starting the nonprofit, fiscal sponsorship, pros and cons of incorporation, and alternatives to forming the nonprofit corporation.  “Nonprofit Start-up – Part 2” will be presented in September.

            Space is limited and preregistration is encouraged.  To preregister for this program, contact Attorney Linnea Michel at (508) 264-5996 or by email to Linnea@LegalCenterforNonprofits.org.  

Watch for our Fall Program schedule, due out next week!  We have a full slate of programs for those who are new to nonprofits as well as selected topics for those who have been part of the nonprofit sector for awhile.

 

 

May 15 Filing Deadline!

May 15 is the filing deadline for tax-exempt organizations on calendar fiscal years to file IRS Forms 990 (990, 990-EZ, 990-N).  For all others, the deadline is 5.5 months after the close of the fiscal year; thus an organization with a September 30 fiscal year end would have a deadline of February 15.

All tax-exempt organizations must file with IRS annually or risk loss of tax-exempt status.  This includes SMALL organizations–even those who were not required to apply to IRS for recognition of tax-exempt status.  In the past, small organizations (those with gross receipts of less than $5,000 annually) were not required to apply to IRS to be recognized as tax-exempt under 501(c) of the Interal Revenue Code, and they were not required to file annual reports (Forms 990) with IRS.  However, as a result of the Pension Protection Act of 2006, that has changed.  Now, ALL tax-exempt organizations must file annually with IRS.

Small organizations–those with gross receipts up to $50,000 annually–may file the IRS Form 990-N (electronic postcard).  This is an ultra-simple filing that is completed entirely online and will require only a few minutes to complete.  There is no filing fee.  Go here for more information.

Tax-exempt organizations with gross receipts greater than $50,000, or those who must provide more detail or need a paper form, can file either the 990-EZ or the full 990.

 If your organization’s application for recognition of exemption (IRS Form 1023 or 1024) has been pending with the IRS for some time, and/or you are a new organization nearing three years since incorporation, your organization should file a Form 990-EZ.  Regardless of the size of the organization, a 990-EZ (that is, a “hard copy” paper form)  is required because the 990-N will not work for you–you are not yet “in the system” and cannot file electronically.  Making this filing should prevent your application from being added to IRS’s automatic revocation “stack” with the resultant increased timeline that would cause.

Failure to file these annual returns to IRS for three consecutive years results in automatic revocation of tax-exempt status–even for organizations that have no requirement to apply for recognition as exempt.  So even if your organization is TINY, you must file!

And don’t forget to discuss your filing with your Board of Directors.  And that’s the subject of another post!

 

The Mission and Vision of the Legal Center for Nonprofits, and Other Updates

I’m excited to report that the Legal Center for Nonprofit’s Board of Directors, at its last meeting, adopted Vision and Mission statements to guide our work.  We found the exercise to be energizing as we talked together about the future of the Legal Center for Nonprofits.  I am amazed at how far we have come since I first envisioned this organization, and now, with others sharing that vision, I am even more amazed at how far we might go! 

Our Vision

To create a vibrant, regional center for the nonprofit community of Southeastern Massachusetts.  It will be the epicenter of nonprofit education and legal services.  The Center will be staffed by attorneys and other nonprofit professionals and will provide legal counsel, seminars, conferences, and consulting services to grow the expertise of nonprofit leaders.

Our Mission

To be the primary legal and educational resource for nonprofits in Southeastern Massachusetts, providing:

  • Affordable, excellent legal services for the nonprofit community;
  • Educational programming that helps nonprofit organizations build capacity to achieve the fullest expression of their missions.

Fee Schedule Updated

I’m also happy to report that we are actively serving clients from throughout Southeastern Massachusetts.  Several have contacted me about applying for reinstatement of tax-exempt status, and the Board, recognizing that this is a challenge for many organizations in Massachusetts, has added application for reinstatement to our flat fee schedule.  Find the updated Fee Schedule under the Fees tab.

501(c)(3) Status Still Pending

Our IRS Form 1023 Application for Recognition of Exemption under section 501(c)(3) is still pending before the IRS.  The word from the grapevine is that it may take awhile.  I’ve heard reports that determinations by IRS are taking six months or more.  As they say, “patience is a virtue”… Stay tuned.