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America's First Choice for Nonprofit Startup and Compliance

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When Foundation Group launched in 1995, we were the first specialty firm in America dedicated exclusively to starting nonprofits and helping them to stay compliant with state and federal regulations.

20 years later, we're still going strong!  In fact, our client base continues to grow exponentially every year...and we've never been more committed to bringing our clients the expertise they need to see their vision come to pass.  Simply put, we love what we do and we're passionate about doing it with excellence!

We were the first...and we've never stopped leading!  Call us and see why we are America's first choice for nonprofit startup and compliance services.

A Tale of Two Nonprofit Websites

Once upon a time, there were two websites, each belonging to a different charity.  Our tale follows the adventures of these websites.

The first website…we’ll call it “the good site”…was considered a real asset to its owner.  While not fancy or flashy, it was nice to look at and was obviously well taken care of.  The content of the good site talked about the charity, the charity’s mission, its programs…it even had nice pictures of some of the volunteers helping the charity’s beneficiaries.  And, everything was correct and up to date.  The good site was very good indeed.

The other website…we’ll call it “the bad site”…was also considered a real asset to its owner.  It was fancy and flashy and quite beautiful to behold.  The content of the bad site talked a little about the charity, the charity’s mission, its programs…but, it talked a lot more about the charity’s president, John, and John’s for-profit business.  In fact, it was kind-of hard to tell who the website was supposed to be promoting, John or the charity.  There were some nice pictures of John, John’s family…even John’s dog…plus lots of conveniently placed “Buy Now” buttons for website visitors to snap up John’s new book.  The bad site was very bad indeed.

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IRS Stepping Up Nonprofit Oversight

The headline for this article is not really “new” news.  The Internal Revenue Service has been stepping up enforcement of its regulations governing nonprofits for several years now.  Those who have been keeping up with the changes to the Form 990 annual reporting requirement know this to be true.  What is new this time is that the IRS is focusing hard on two, key areas:  1) nonprofit pay practices and, 2) abusive activities by charities.  Let’s take a look at each of these.

1) Nonprofit pay practices. The topic of nonprofit pay practices has long been an area of concern for the IRS.  Federal regulations require that compensation paid to employees of tax-exempt organizations must be “reasonable”.  Unfortunately, “reasonable” is a subjective evaluation of the situation as a whole, not necessarily an objective check list.  Moreover, the IRS is the ultimate arbitor of what is considered reasonable.  So what is new?  The overall economic downturn, along with the focus on executive pay, has ramped up IRS scrutiny of the compensation nonprofits pay their executives.

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How To Get Funding For Your Nonprofit (Part II)

In last week’s blog post, we looked at a set of core principles that are critical for nonprofit organizations needing to raise financial support.  If you haven’t read it yet, check that one out before diving into this one.  It will make the ideas discussed below more effective.

So, what are some funding strategies that work?  Let’s explore four categories of fundraising:  direct appeal/pledging, professional programs, self-directed programs and grant funding.

Direct appeal/pledging. With this type of fundraising, you are literally asking people to give money to your organization, either through an individual gift or a pledge.  This is the simplest and most direct method of funding your nonprofit and it should be a component of most funding plans.  To be effective, however, you must be able to clearly articulate your program’s purpose and why someone should support it.  This requires your program to be a more attractive target for someone’s giving than some other cause.  I would again recommend you read last week’s blog article for a refresher on getting your pre-funding ducks in a row.  After convincing someone to donate, you must maintain a consistent stream of communication with your donors, keeping your program before them on a regular basis if you want them to continue supporting you.  That can be done through a variety of creative methods, one of the best being monthly newsletters.  Technology has made this so much easier and cheaper, too.  Instead of the hassle of dealing with printed material and postage costs, you may wish to consider a number of online communication tools that allow you to send newsletters, promos, etc. via email.  We like Constant Contact for this purpose.  You can also check out Aweber and some others.  All are similar in features and price.  They all come with pre-designed templates that make it simple to create good looking communications.  Another often-overlooked tactic is to send a receipt/thank you letter for every donation, not just at the end of the year.  Just remember that donor cultivation is a never-ending process.  As soon as you start letting that slide, you’ll see your support slide right with it.

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New Form 990 Problems Are Everywhere

If there is one constant in life, it’s change.  And most people don’t do “change” very well…even the IRS!  The new 2008 Form 990 is a complete, top-to-bottom overhaul of the form (as we’ve discussed in previous posts).  As we talk with more and more clients/prospects, we’re really starting to see some trends develop…most of them not good.

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An Obituary for National Heritage Foundation?

On January 24, 2009, National Heritage Foundation filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in federal court.  Is this the end for NHF?

Read the Forbes story here

National Heritage Foundation, NHF, was founded by J. T. “Dock” Houk as a 501(c)(3) fiscal agency for nonprofits using a donor-advised funds scheme.  NHF operated under the premise that people shouldn’t have to be burdened by the regulatory compliance headache of running their own 501(c)(3) in order to do good and charitable things.  One could just start an NHF “foundation” and have donors give directly to NHF, but designate the funds to their “foundation”.  “Foundation” is in quotes because that is NHF’s terminology.  NHF “foundations” are not considered true foundations. The idea was that by signing up with NHF, people could have what looks like a charity, but piggy-back on NHF’s tax-exemption.  In theory, the “foundations” were an extension of NHF’s charitable mission.  In return for its efforts, NHF took a small percentage of the donations for operating expenses.

Read New York Times article on NHF from 2000

Like so many theories, NHF’s didn’t work so well in practice.  Early on, NHF aggressively promoted the idea that “foundation” directors should pay themselves well, even if they were the primary donor.  In other words, you could start a “foundation” to do whatever, donate to your own “foundation” tax-deductibly through NFH, then pay yourself for your good deeds.  Needless to say, this generated enormous controversy within charitable circles and drew the ire of the IRS and Congress.  But technically, there was no law directly prohibiting such since these “foundations” were part of NHF and, in theory, NHF controlled the expenditure of funds.

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