"The Girl Scouts and the Return of the Completed Donation"

It sounds like it could be the title of a 1960’s-era teen mystery novel, and it’s no wonder the story went viral. It had everything: schoolgirls excited about summer camp, an angel donor who turned into a Scrooge, Caitlyn Jenner, thin mint cookies, and a happy-ending, emergency crowdfunding campaign that quickly raised 3 times the amount of a lost contribution. You’ve probably heard about it, too. The Girls Scouts of Read More

Whistleblower Policy for Nonprofits

It’s not uncommon these days to read news reports about corporate whistleblowers. Since 2002, these brave people who report wrongdoing have had substantial protection under the federal Sarbanes-Oxley Act. That landmark legislation emerged in the aftermath of high-profile corporate corruption cases in the early 2000s; most notably, Enron. Whistleblowers were key to taking down these economic giants who were guilty Read More

Who Would Run Away From a Big Charitable Gift? You Should . . . Sometimes.

In “What Happens When A Huge Donation Begins to Smell?” we told you about “tainted donors.” Two of the most infamous scoundrels, Bernie Madoff and Allen Stanford, made huge gifts to charities before their misdeeds were discovered. The recipients had to make difficult decisions about whether to keep or divest themselves of the ill-gotten money. But what if the scary part of a prospective charitable contribution is not Read More

Written Governance Policies: Which Ones Should Nonprofits Have?

“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”           - Mario Puzo -The Godfather The Internal Revenue Service “encourages a charity’s board of directors to adopt” specific written policies on matters including executive compensation, fundraising, and investments. The agency also advises organizations to put together a little whistleblower policy, and to whip up some handy procedures about which documents Read More

Charity Poker Nights: What You Need to Know

Staff of a nonprofit are brainstorming possibilities for next year’s fundraising gala. Someone mentions that a group down the road just held a successful Monte Carlo Night. “Sounds good,” say staffers. They consider logistics: venue, food, entertainment, and overall costs. “Let’s go for it,” they agree. No so fast. If there’s even a whiff of “gambling,” then the government gets concerned and butts in. There are Read More

Good Financial Records: A Must for Every Nonprofit

Welcome a favorite local politician at your offices with a banner emblazoned: “Good luck on your reelection, Congressman. We love you!” That’s a sure-fire way to jeopardize your tax exemption. What’s another way? Have a shoddy accounting system and forget to file federal and state information returns for a few years. That will do it, too. "Why Keep Records?" The Internal Revenue Service has a helpful publication Read More

Navigating the Tax Maze: California Sales Tax Obligations for Nonprofits

Two friends enter a deli in downtown San Diego for some take-out. One orders a ham and cheese sandwich and is charged $5.95. The other orders the same, but her sandwich is toasted. She’s charged $6.43. Same food, same store - but the hot sandwich costs more than the cold one. That’s an example of the inscrutable sales tax laws encountered by every Californian who has ever ordered food to go. “What does any of this Read More

Nonprofit Fiscal Sponsorships: Sometimes the Better Route to Take

A client comes in with an idea - sometimes a rush of ideas - about needs unmet in the community and how to fill those needs. This person is "thinking about starting a nonprofit organization.” Of course, most of us in the philanthropic sector know that it’s not a simple matter to get a 501(c)(3) up and running with the all-important determination letter from the IRS approving tax-exempt status. It also takes time, Read More

Drama at the San Diego Opera: A Dynamic Different Than Sweet Briar

We posed a question in “Sweet Briar College: Saved - At Least for Now”:  Does the board of directors have the final say in closing down an organization? There, the focus was Virginia’s Sweet Briar College, whose board voted unanimously in early March to stop operations at the 101-year-old women’s college after the end of the spring 2015 semester. The announcement of “insurmountable financial obstacles” was a shock Read More

It’s Just a Little Raffle: What’s the Big Deal?

At a conference table somewhere in California, yet another group of charity trustees is stepping, blindly, into a pile of trouble. The topic: Fundraising.  The plan: A raffle. “A 50/50 raffle,” suggests one trustee, “like the one the Detroit Lions had last year when I was home visiting the relatives. It raised a ton of money for a local nonprofit, and the fans loved it.” “Sounds great,” replied another. “No problem; Read More