Nonprofits are often built on passion, but there are rules and regulations to be followed, just as there are in the for-profit sector. To protect your legal status as a nonprofit organization and your reputation as a trustworthy service to your community, you must keep up-to-date on the rules and regulations governing nonprofit organizations in your state and at the federal level.
Here are five of the most common compliance issues you should follow:
Private Inurement / Private Benefit
Nonprofit organizations are formed for charitable purposes and may not be organized or operated for the benefit of private interests or benefit. For example, an individual may not benefit by receiving excessive salary, generous loans or other special perks. Additionally, no part of the net earnings may benefit private parties or private inurement.
Lobbying and Political Activity
There is a lot of confusion in the nonprofit sector about the difference between lobbying and advocacy. According to the National Council of Nonprofits, to lobby means talking to decision makers, such as elected officials or staff; about existing or potential legislation and urging them to vote for or against.
Advocacy includes all other communications about your organization, your mission, and your cause. Federal and state regulations allow advocacy, but not lobbying.
The websites for the IRS (https://www.irs.gov/charities-and-nonprofits) and Texas Secretary of State (https://www.sos.state.tx.us/corp/nonprofit_org.shtml) provide a wide range of information and forms that are helpful to nonprofit leaders. If possible, work with an attorney who is familiar with nonprofit law.
Misclassifying workers is one of the most common mistakes made by nonprofits that result in IRS penalties. Violations of federal and state wage and hour laws can result in back wages being paid and additional penalties. Independent contractors vs. employees and exempt vs. non-exempt are areas to pay particular attention to.
As a nonprofit organization, you must follow your donor’s instructions for restricted gifts. If a donor wants their funding to support a particular program, then it is the ethical and legal responsibility of the leadership to make sure those dollars support only that particular program.
Does your state require fundraisers to register with a particular state department? The requirements of the State of Texas are minimal. If you raise funds outside your home state, then check with the other state’s secretary of state or other department that may handle charity registrations.
There are best business practices for nonprofit organizations just as there are in the for-profit sector. However, some of the major differences are nonprofits do not pay dividends to investors; nonprofits abide by a different set of tax codes; and nonprofits follow GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Practices).
Safeguarding your nonprofit status and maintaining your positive reputation are the benefits of complying with your state and federal rules and regulations.
Michelle Crim, CFRE
Dynamic Development Strategies can help. We offer coaching and fundraising services for our nonprofit clients. We specialize in startup and smaller nonprofits because we understand your challenges. Please contact us for more information.