Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Key governance issues for nonprofits

I'm too busy to blog today because I am preparing a training presentation on governance duties for nonprofits. The audience will consist of high level staff, not board members. I have served on many nonprofits and have advised others but I would be interested in your thoughts. Do you teach nonprofit law? Do you sit on nonprofits? What issues do you think nonprofit board members and staffer should know? Among other things, I plan to focus on fiduciary duties, maintaining 501(c)(3) exemption status, agency issues, the implications of Sarbanes-Oxley, conflicts of interest, document retention, code of ethics/whistleblower (to comport with 990),why nonprofits get sued, compensation issues, lobbying, insurance and indemnification, the role of different committees (particularly the audit committee), how to take good minutes, etc. I plan to use hypotheticals to help make the points stick. If you can think of other matters for my 3 hour module or some good case studies, please comment below or inbox me at mnarine@stu.edu. 

March 15, 2017 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Nonprofits | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Georgetown University Law Center – Graduate Teaching Fellowship, Social Enterprise & Nonprofit Law Clinic

Today, I received the position announcement below from my friend Alicia Plerhoples (Georgetown), who is doing exciting things in the social enterprise and nonprofit areas. This is an excellent opportunity, and I think anyone would be fortunate to work with her and her clinic. 

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Georgetown University Law Center –
Graduate Teaching Fellowship, Social Enterprise & Nonprofit Law Clinic

Description of the Clinic

The Social Enterprise & Nonprofit Law Clinic at Georgetown University Law Center offers pro bono corporate and transactional legal services to social enterprises, nonprofit organizations, and select small businesses headquartered in Washington, D.C. and working locally or internationally. Through the Clinic, law students learn to translate theory into practice by engaging in the supervised practice of law for educational credit. The Clinic’s goals are consistent with Georgetown University's long tradition of public service. The Clinic’s goals are to:

  • Teach law students the materials, expectations, strategies, and methods of transactional lawyering, as well as an appreciation for how transactional law can be used in the public interest.

  • Represent social enterprises and nonprofit organizations in corporate and transactional legal matters.

  • Facilitate the growth of social enterprise in the D.C. area.

    The clinic’s local focus not only allows the Clinic to give back to the community it calls home, but also gives students an opportunity to explore and understand the challenges and strengths of the D.C. community beyond the Georgetown Law campus. As D.C. experiences increasing income inequality, it becomes increasingly important for the Clinic to provide legal assistance to organizations that serve and empower vulnerable D.C. communities. Students are taught how to become partners in enterprise for their clients with the understanding that innovative transactional lawyers understand both the legal and non-legal incentive structures that drive business organizations.

    Description of Fellowship

    The two-year fellowship is an ideal position for a transactional lawyer interested in developing teaching and supervisory abilities in a setting that emphasizes a dual commitment—clinical education of law students and transactional law employed in the public interest. The fellow will have several areas of responsibility, with an increasing role as the fellowship progresses. Over the course of the fellowship, the fellow will: (i) supervise students in representing nonprofit organizations and social enterprises on transactional, operational, and corporate governance matters, (ii) share responsibility for teaching seminar sessions, and (iii) share in the administrative and case handling responsibilities of the Clinic. Fellows also participate in a clinical pedagogy seminar and other activities designed to support an interest in clinical teaching and legal education. Successful completion of the fellowship results in the award of an L.L.M. in Advocacy from Georgetown University. The fellowship start date is August 1, 2017 and the fellowship is for two years, ending July 31, 2019.

    Qualifications

Applicants must have at least 3 years of post J.D. legal experience. Preference will be given to applicants with experience in a transactional area of practice such as nonprofit law and tax, community economic development law, corporate law, intellectual property, real estate, and finance. Applicants with a strong commitment to economic justice are encouraged to apply. Applicants must be admitted or willing to be admitted to the District of Columbia Bar.

Application Process

To apply, send a resume, an official or unofficial law school transcript, and a detailed letter of interest by December 15, 2016. The letter should be no longer than two pages and address a) why you are interested in this fellowship; b) what you can contribute to the Clinic; c) your experience with transactional matters and/or corporate law; and d) anything else that you consider pertinent. Please address your application to Professor Alicia Plerhoples, Georgetown Law, 600 New Jersey Ave., NW, Suite 434, Washington, D.C. 20001, and email it to socialenterprise@law.georgetown.edu. Emailed applications are preferred. More information about the clinic can be found at www.socialenterprise-gulaw.org.

Teaching fellows receive an annual stipend of approximately $53,500 (estimated 2016 taxable salary), health and dental benefits, and all tuition and fees in the LL.M. program. As full-time students, teaching fellows qualify for deferment of their student loans. In addition, teaching fellows may be eligible for loan repayment assistance from their law schools.

October 6, 2016 in Clinical Education, Haskell Murray, Jobs, Law School, Nonprofits, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 20, 2016

CNM Conference Reflection

As previously mentioned, last week I presented at the Center for Nonprofit Management's Bridge to Excellence Conference. 

Below I share a few thoughts. Some of these thoughts I have shared before about other conferences, but I think they bear repeating.

  1. Value of Practitioner Conferences. As an academic, it is easy for me to stay mostly in the academic world. I do think, however, going to practitioner conferences can be quite useful. Maybe most important, these conferences can help you meet people who are in practice, especially in your local area. People I have met at practitioner conferences have served as guest speakers in my classes, provided individual advice to students, helped students find jobs, and provided ideas for blog posts and scholarship. Practitioner conferences can also be useful as they tend to address very practical problems and remind me that I want my scholarship to speak to not only academics, but also the bar, bench, and business people. Attending one practitioner conference can lead to more opportunities---other speaking engagements, board member openings, and consulting opportunities, and the like. 
  2. Check Technology Before Speaking. I learned this early in my academic career, and I found the IT person well before my talk and made sure the technology worked well. We had no issues. In other sessions, however, there were a number of technology delays and hiccups. Especially, if you plan to use a video file, make sure that the file loads and that the sounds works beforehand. One of the speakers made the mistake of mocking PowerPoint before launching her Storify presentation, which would not load at all because of Internet issues. Thankfully, you did not let that slow her down and provided an engaging presentation. Checking technology beforehand is not always possible, and IT support is not always available, but it is a rare conference that doesn't have a technology issue at some point, so I think more planning is usually appropriate. 
  3. Think-Pair-Share and Q&A. Think-Pair-Share is a well-known teaching technique that I often use in my classes. You pose a question. Allow some time for thought. Break the room into small groups to discuss. Then ask for volunteers to share thoughts. I tried this technique at the conference yesterday and thought it worked well. We did not have an incredible amount of time, so I did not allow much time for individual thought beforehand, but the audience seemed to enjoy the discussion and the thoughts shared were mostly quite useful. One benefit of this technique is that it gets the audience involved. Another benefit is that it allows the audience members to meet and talk with people they may not have had a chance to otherwise. I was able to leave a few minutes at the end of my presentation for Q&A, but not nearly as much as I would have liked. Personally, I often find the Q&A among the most valuable time, depending on the audience and the questions. I generally wish more speakers left more time for Q&A.
  4. Time Between Sessions. CNM provided significant time between sessions - always at least 20 minutes, I think. But, as always seems to happen at conferences, sessions run long, and that time gets squeezed. The networking time between sessions can be incredibly useful, and so I think  it is important to get speakers to honor the time limitations and leave a good bit of time between sessions, knowing that there will be delays. Part of the responsibility of staying on track falls on the speaker. The conference organizers can help by starting on time and providing notice when time is short. CNM did quite a good job keeping things on track, but even so, I wished for a bit more time between sessions.
  5. Vendor "Passports" and Drawings. CNM included a vendor "passport" in our materials. You got an orange sticker for each vendor you spoke to and if you filled out the passport (which had blank boxes next to vendor names) you could be entered into a drawing for excellent prizes at the end of the day. This seemed to be a good way to get attendees to engage with the vendors (who are also usually conference sponsors), and it seemed to be a good way to keep the attendees at the conference until the end of the day.  
  6. Speed Consulting. CNM had a speed consulting session where you could speak briefly with experts in finance, law, management, grant-writing, etc. I could see a session like this being used at academic conferences, where more senior faculty members would offer bits of advice to prospective professors or more junior professors. I imagine, however, that more in-depth questions would have to be scheduled for another time. It did seem to be a good time to get some very preliminary thoughts and meet experts. 
  7. Mementos. Thoughts may vary on this, but I like conferences that provide attendees and/or speakers with unique takeaway items. Some may think too much money is wasted on these trinkets, and that can be the case if the item is quite generic, but I think mementos can be a nice touch. I keep a few such items from conferences on my office shelves and they are nice reminders of the conferences. At CNM's conference, they provided little elephants, because the theme was "elephants in the room." I especially liked this gift because both of my young children are crazy about elephants and it was nice to bring them something home from work. One of my table-mates gave me her elephant so I had one for each child. 

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May 20, 2016 in Conferences, Haskell Murray, Management, Nonprofits | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Roles of Nonprofit Board Members

Yesterday, I presented on negotiation theory and stakeholder engagement at the Center for Nonprofit Management's Bridge to Excellence Conference.

At a session after mine, I was directed to a PowerPoint entitled What Every Board Member Should Know: A Guide for Tennessee Nonprofits. The PowerPoint was authored by the Tennessee Attorney General, the Tennessee Secretary of State, and the President of the Center for Nonprofit Management. The document is rather simple, but might be useful as a primer for nonprofit board members in Tennessee.  

The conference attendees appeared to be a few hundred nonprofit practitioners and only about three or four professors, two of whom were among the presenters. After my morning presentation, I stuck around and listened to some of the other speakers and enjoyed an excellent lunch. I am a sucker for free food. 

At the conference, I was struck by how nonprofit board members were discussed by some of the speakers and attendees. One question that was posed was - "how do you deal with a board member who is not pulling his or her weight as a fundraiser?" I guess I knew that nonprofit board members were chosen, at least in part, for their ability to give or raise money, but I never really saw fundraising as a major or primary role. The blunt phrase used was "give, get, or get off." Most of my thinking has been on for-profit board members and their role in governance, so this significant focus on another role was a bit unexpected.

Another question asked was - "how do you deal with a board member that is over-involved and thinks he or she is the executive director of the nonprofit?" Again, because of my focus on for-profit boards, this question hasn't been one that surfaced for me; I am usually thinking about how to get board members more involved. In fairness, I do recognize that officers are responsible for the day-to-day running of the organization, and I could see how a board member might overstep. Thankfully, the flip-side, the problem of the under-involved board member, was also discussed.

I left the conference wondering how effective nonprofit board members will be in governing when so much emphasis is put on their fundraising role, and when they are warned to not become over-involved in the operational side of the organization. 

Board diversity was also a major topic - race and gender, and also age (there is evidently a push to get the next generation involved on nonprofit boards instead of just the "same old suspects") and skills and even personality type and political views. I didn't hear any discussion, outside of my session, on socio-economic diversity on boards, which is interesting given the communities that are often served by nonprofits, but maybe not surprising giving the role of fundraising. In my session, I did discuss the role of stakeholder boards, which I am writing on in the for-profit context, as a way to give voice to all major constituents, not just donors.      

I may reflect further on this conference in future posts as it was certainly an interesting and useful day.   

May 13, 2016 in Conferences, Corporate Governance, Haskell Murray, Nonprofits | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

AALS Call for Papers: LLCs, New Charitable Forms, and the Rise of Philanthrocapitalism

At the 2017 AALS annual meeting, January 3-7 in San Francisco, the AALS Sections on Agency, Partnerships LLCs, and Unincorporated Associations & Nonprofit and Philanthropy Law will hold a joint session on LLCs, New Charitable Forms, and the Rise of Philanthrocapitalism.

In December 2015, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, pledged their personal fortune—then valued at $45 billion—to the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), a philanthropic effort aimed at “advancing human potential and promoting equality.” But instead of organizing CZI using a traditional charitable structure, the couple organized CZI as a for-profit Delaware LLC. CZI is perhaps the most notable example, but not the only example, of Silicon Valley billionaires exploiting the LLC form to advance philanthropic efforts. But are LLCs and other for-profit business structures compatible with philanthropy? What are the tax, governance, and other policy implications of this new tool of philanthrocapitalism? What happens when LLCs, rather than traditional charitable forms, are used for “philanthropic” purposes?


From the heart of Silicon Valley, the AALS Section on Agency, Partnerships LLCs, and Unincorporated Associations and Section on Nonprofit and Philanthropy Law will host a joint program tackling these timely issues. In addition to featuring invited speakers, we seek speakers (and papers) selected from this call.
Any full-time faculty of an AALS member or fee-paid school who has written an unpublished paper, is working on a paper, or who is interested in writing a paper in this area is invited to submit a 1- or 2-page proposal by June 1, 2016. The Executive Committees of the Sections will review all submissions and select two papers by July 1, 2016. If selected, a very polished draft must be submitted by November 30, 2016. All submissions and inquiries should be directed to the Chairs of the Sections at the email addresses below:

Mohsen Manesh
Associate Professor
University of Oregon School of Law
mohsen@uoregon.edu

Garry W. Jenkins
Associate Dean for Academic Affairs
John C. Elam/Vorys Sater Professor of Law
Moritz College of Law,State University
jenkins.434@osu.edu 

May 10, 2016 in Anne Tucker, Call for Papers, Nonprofits, Partnership, Private Equity, Social Enterprise, Unincorporated Entities, Venture Capital | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 26, 2016

Bruckner on Bankrupting Higher Education

Matthew Bruckner (Howard) recently posted an interesting article on bankruptcy reorganization and universities. Given the challenges facing many schools, his article should be one that attracts attention. The article can be downloaded here and the abstract is below.

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Many colleges and universities are in financial distress but lack an essential tool for responding to financial distress used by for-profit businesses: bankruptcy reorganization. This Article makes two primary contributions to the nascent literature on college bankruptcies by, first, unpacking the differences among the three primary governance structures of institutions of higher education, and, second, by considering the implications of those differences for determining whether and under what circumstances institutions of higher education should be allowed to reorganize in bankruptcy. This Article concludes that bankruptcy reorganization is the most necessary for for-profit colleges and least necessary for public colleges, but ultimately concludes that all colleges be allowed to reorganize in chapter 11.

February 26, 2016 in Bankruptcy/Reorganizations, Business Associations, Business School, Haskell Murray, Law School, Nonprofits, Research/Scholarhip | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 22, 2016

CSR and Small Business-Part 2

Two weeks ago I posted about whether small businesses, start ups, and entrepreneurs should consider corporate social responsibility as part of their business (outside of the benefit corporation context). Definitions of CSR vary but for the purpose of this post, I will adopt the US government’s description as:

entail[ing] conduct consistent with applicable laws and internationally recognised standards. Based on the idea that you can do well while doing no harm … a broad concept that focuses on two aspects of the business-society relationship: 1) the positive contribution businesses can make to economic, environmental, and social progress with a view to achieving sustainable development, and 2) avoiding adverse impacts and addressing them when they do occur.

During my presentation at USASBE, I admitted my cynical thoughts about some aspects of CSR, discussed the halo effect, and pointed out some statistics from various sources about consumer attitudes. For example:

  • Over 66% of people say they will pay more for products from a company with “good values”
  • 66% of survey respondents indicated that their perception of company’s CEO affected their perception of the company
  • 90% of US consumers would switch brands to one associated with a cause, assuming comparable price and quality
  • 26% want more eco-friendly products
  • 10% purchased eco-friendly products
  • 45% are influenced by commitment to the environment
  • 43% are influenced by commitment to social values and community
  • Those with incomes of 20k or less are 5% more willing to pay more than those with incomes of $50k or more
  • Consumers in developed markets are less willing to pay more for sustainable products than those in Latin America, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. The study’s author opined that those underdeveloped markets see the effects of poor labor and environmental practices first hand
  • 75% of millennial respondents, 72% of generation Z (age 20 and younger) and 51% of Baby Boomers are willing to pay more for sustainable products
  • More than one out of every six dollars under professional management in the United States—$6.57 trillion or more—is invested according to socially-responsible investment strategies.
  • 64% of large companies increased corporate giving from between 2010 and 2013.
  • Among large companies giving at least 10% more since 2010, median revenues increased by 11% while revenues fell 3% for all other companies

From marketing and recruiting perspectives, these are compelling statistics. But from a bottom line perspective, does a company with lean margins have the luxury to implement sustainable business practices? Next week I will post about CSR in larger companies and the role that small suppliers play in global value chains. This leaves some small businesses without a choice but to consider changing their practices. In addition, in some ways, using some CSR concepts factors into enterprise risk management, which companies of all size need to consider.

January 22, 2016 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Entrepreneurship, Ethics, Management, Marcia Narine Weldon, Nonprofits, Research/Scholarhip, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Business of Politics: Is Politics Commercial Activity or Just Plain Politics?

Section 2 of the Sherman Act provides: 

Every person who shall monopolize, or attempt to monopolize, or combine or conspire with any other person or persons, to monopolize any part of the trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, shall be deemed guilty of a felony, and, on conviction thereof, shall be punished by fine not exceeding $100,000,000 if a corporation, or, if any other person, $1,000,000, or by imprisonment not exceeding 10 years, or by both said punishments, in the discretion of the court.

The Washington Examiner, among other outlets, reports that President Obama and former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney are fighting a section 2 lawsuit together.  The lawsuit, filed by a group of  third-party political groups including the 2012 nominees for the Libertarian Party and the liberal Green Party, claims the Commission on Presidential Debates committed antitrust violations:

This action challenges a per se continuing illegal conspiracy or agreement between the RNC, the DNC, and the Commission, with the direction, assistance, and collusion, over the course of many years, of several co-conspirators and affiliated persons, including Fahrenkopf, McCurry, Obama, Romney, and other presidential candidates of the Republican and Democratic Parties. The conspiracy commenced prior to the formation of the Commission, and no Defendant has withdrawn or abandoned it. The overall objective was and continues to be the entrenchment market power in the presidential debates market, the presidential campaign market, and the electoral politics market of the two major political parties by exercising duopoly control over presidential and vice presidential debates in general election campaigns for the presidency. That objective was achieved in 2012 when the individual Plaintiffs were arbitrarily excluded substantially because of hostility towards their political viewpoints from presidential and vice presidential debates between the nominees of the two major parties organized and conducted by Defendants on October 3, 2012, October 11, 2012, October 16, 2012, and October 22, 2012, respectively.

Romney's brief responds:

Presidential debates are a quintessential political, non-commercial activity... .

The antitrust laws were not intended to regulate non-commercial markets like the 'marketplace of ideas' (even assuming such 'markets' exist as anything more that metaphors). Plaintiffs' claims therefore fail. . . . .

Soliciting votes is fundamentally different from selling widgets. The former implicates core constitutional values that are absent from the commercial arena. The First Amendment forbids Congress from telling political candidates where to go, what to do, what to say, or— crucially here—who they have to debate. Just as President Obama has an absolute right to refuse to debate every person who attacks his Administration, Governor Romney had an absolute right during the 2012 presidential campaign to refuse to debate Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, or any other candidate waging a long-shot bid for the presidency. The only possible sanction for that refusal is a political one.

I'm not an antitrust expert, but this case seems like a loser even if the concept of the claim is viable.  The Examiner piece quotes an expert, Geoffrey Manne, executive director of the nonpartisan think tank International Center for Law and Economics, who said the case was out of the ordinary, but not inconceivable: 

"The short answer is that it is not crazy... The commission is a private entity, not a government one, so it doesn't get immunity," he said, adding, "The question is whether the activity amounts to a restraint of trade." It was hard to tell how a court might come down on that, he said.

Manne knows his stuff, and I trust his point that the claim could have legs. I also agree a court might buy it.  Still, I think it ultimately fails in most courts. It seems to me that it is reasonable to have some limits on who participates in debates (do we all get stage time?), and because of that, plaintiffs would likely have to show that the current structure is an unreasonable restraint on trade. Then you start getting into where to draw those lines, and I think you have a problem with the marketplace. That is, not all speech is being shut out, and two people don't have to agree to share a platform with others.  

Furthermore, if people cared, CNN or FoxNews or TruTV or HBO, could have debates with the other candidates and invite all of them.  I'd argue they should.  But the fact that people don't vote with their eyeballs suggests the restraint isn't really as simple as the debate commission.  It's a lack of interest.  I'd like to see a broader discussion of ideas -- maybe a real platform of people who think government should be inclined to stay out of bedrooms and boardrooms, for example.  But I don't think the Commission on Presidential Debates is really responsible for the nation's inability to demand more information, more interaction, and more accountability.  

Maybe in 1976 or even 1986, but not in 2016. There's just too many options for the other candidates to get their word out if the people care.  People should care, but I don't think antitrust law was designed to make that happen, nor do I think it can. 

January 19, 2016 in Current Affairs, Joshua P. Fershee, Nonprofits | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Back Off the Chan Zuckerbergs and Their Limited Liability Company (NOT Corporation)

Facebook (not surprisingly) and other social media blew up when Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, released an open letter to their new baby daughter, Max. (Congratulations to all, by the way.) The Chan Zuckerberg family announced that they would be giving a ton of money to support important causes, which caused people to get excited, get skeptical, and get mad.

One big complaint has been that the family chose a limited liability company (LLC), which is not a corporation (more on that later), rather than a not-for-profit entity to do the work.  Some say this makes it a scam.  I say hooey.  Even if it were a scam, it’s not because they chose an LLC. 

  1. First, without knowing the LLCs members or structure, there’s no reason to say the LLC cannot be a 501(c)(3). But, more important, the Letter to Max never says they will give money to charity.  Never. 

The letter says: 

As you begin the next generation of the Chan Zuckerberg family, we also begin the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to join people across the world to advance human potential and promote equality for all children in the next generation. Our initial areas of focus will be personalized learning, curing disease, connecting people and building strong communities.

We will give 99% of our Facebook shares -- currently about $45 billion -- during our lives to advance this mission.  

How the Chan Zuckerberg’s choose to advance that mission can easily be through an LLC, whether it is tax-exempt or not.  They may have chosen the for-profit (or benefit) LLC as the entity so that they could seek profit in certain ways, with the thought that the profit seeking supports the mission.  Or maybe they want to be able to give to for-profit entities to build and grow business in areas that further their mission, but lacks status that would satisfy IRS nonprofit requirements.

Regardless, the choice of LLC may be a good one.  I am thinking these folks have good counsel and financial advisors, so the entity choice probably serves their purposes, or at least their best estimate of those future purposes.  And I am all for them putting that kind of money behind what seems to me like an excellent mission.  So, like them or hate, but back off their choice of entity. (Leave the LLC alone!)

And, since this would not be a post of mine without noting the utter media failure in referring to the LLC, again, it’s a limited liability company, not corporation, as several news outlets have reported.  PBS tends to be my favorite news source, which makes it all the more painful that they may be the source of this limited liability corporation nonsense. 

The apparent source of the limited liability “corporation” nonsense is the PBS Newshour, link here.  I know the U.S. Supreme Court has gotten this wrong, too,  but I had hope for better from PBS.  Oh well.  I'll still be listening to PBS for quality news, and I'll still be happy to hear when someone commits to putting billions of dollars behind good causes.  If either one doesn't follow through, I'll be disappointed, but I am not ready to give up hope on either one, just yet.  

December 3, 2015 in Current Affairs, Human Rights, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs, Nonprofits, Social Enterprise, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (6)

Friday, November 20, 2015

A Few Thoughts on “Poverty, Inc.”

Index

This past Sunday afternoon, I attended a screening of the film Poverty, Inc.

The trailer is available here.

I share a few, somewhat disconnected, thoughts on Poverty, Inc. under the page break.

Continue reading

November 20, 2015 in CSR, Current Affairs, Entrepreneurship, Ethics, Film, Haskell Murray, Human Rights, International Law, Nonprofits, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Crowdfunding Chattanooga Style

As I earlier noted, I participated in a continuing legal education program at The University of Tennessee College of Law last Friday on the basics of crowdfunding.  My partners in crime for the last hour of the event were two folks from Chattanooga, Tennessee (yes, home of the famous choo choo) who have been involved in crowdfunding efforts for local businesses.  One used crowdfunding to finance a change in the location of a business; the other used crowdfunding to gauge interest in his business concept and raise seed capital.  They described their businesses and financing efforts in the second segment of the program (after a foundational hour on crowdfunding from me). 

The business location change was for The Camp House, a coffeehouse owned and operated as part of The Mission Chattanooga, a local church.  Private events, including music performances, also take place at the venue.  The Camp House raised over $32,000 through a crowdfunding campaign on Causeway.  Matt Busby, Director of The Camp House, educated us on donation crowdfunding through a non-profit platform.

The new business concept and capital raise was for Treetop Hideaways (a/k/a, The Treehouse Project), a business that designed, built, and rents time in a luxury treehouse.  The principals raised over $34,000 on Kickstarter.  One of the two men behind this project, Enoch Elwell, offered us practical information about reward crowdfunding.  Enoch also told attendees about his work with local entrepreneurs through CO.LAB and CO.STARTERS.

In the last hour of the program, the three of us reflected on crowdfunding successes and failures and speculated about the future of crowdfunding (using their experiences and my research as touchstones).  It was a wide-ranging discussion, filled with disparate tidbits of information on business formation, finance, and governance, as well as professional responsibility and the provision of practical, cost-sensitive legal advice.  Both Matt and Enoch turned out to be great folks to talk to about business finance, choice of entity, and the role of lawyers in small business formation and operation.  Their observations were thoughtful and sensible.  I learned a lot from them, and participants (practitioners and students) also indicated that they learned a lot.  Everyone had fun.  It was pure business lawyer/law student joy on a Friday afternoon!  :>)

For those who were not at the program on Friday and would have liked to have been there, all is not lost.  We plan to post a recorded version of all three program segments here in a few weeks.  Continuing legal education credit will be available in Tennessee for viewing the online recording, upon completion of the test provided and payment of the applicable fee.

September 23, 2015 in Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Entrepreneurship, Joan Heminway, LLCs, Nonprofits, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (4)

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Conflict over Conflict Minerals and Other Social Governance Disclosures

Today’s post will discuss the DC Circuit’s recent ruling striking down portions of Dodd-Frank conflict minerals rule on First Amendment grounds for the second time. Judge Randolph, writing for the majority, clearly enjoyed penning this opinion. He quoted Charles Dickens, Arthur Kostler, and George Orwell while finding that the SEC rule requiring companies to declare whether their products are “DRC Conflict Free” fails strict scrutiny analysis. But I won’t engage in any constitutional analysis here. I leave that to the fine blogs and articles that have delved into that area of the law. See here, here here, here, here, and more.  The NGOs that have vigorously fought for the right of consumers to learn how companies are sourcing their tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold have had understandably strong reactions. One considers the ruling a dangerous precedent on corporate personhood. Global Witness, a well respected NGO, calls it a dangerous and damaging ruling.

Regular readers of this blog know that I filed an amicus brief arguing that the law meant to defund the rebels raping and pillaging in the Democratic Republic of Congo was more likely to harm than help the intended recipients—the Congolese people.  I have written probably a dozen blog posts on Dodd-Frank 1502 and won’t list them all but for more information see some of my most recent posts here, here, and here. The goal of this name and shame law is to ensure that consumers and investors know which companies are sourcing minerals from mines that are controlled by rebels. The theory is that consumers, armed with disclosures, will pressure companies to make sure that they use only “conflict-free” minerals in their cameras, cell phones, toothpaste, diapers, jewelry and component parts. I assume that the SEC will seek a full re-hearing or some other relief even though Chair May Jo White has said, “seeking to improve safety in mines for workers or to end horrible human rights atrocities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are compelling objectives, which, as a citizen, I wholeheartedly share … [b]ut, as the Chair of the SEC, I must question, as a policy matter, using the federal securities laws and the SEC’s powers of mandatory disclosure to accomplish these goals.”

I agree with Chair White even though I applaud the efforts of companies like Apple and Intel to comply with this flawed law. Indeed, the Enough Project, which with others has led the fight for this and other laws, now reports that there are 140 “conflict-free” smelters. But the violence continues as just this week the press reports that the Congolese government announced that it is investigating its own peacekeeprs/soldiers for rape in the neighboring Central African Republic and the UN acknowledged that fighting between armed militias is still a problem and that they are still resisting state authority. News reports indicated two days ago that clinics are closing because of fear of attack by Ugandan rebels.  This hits particularly close to me because my connection with DRC and the conflict mineral fight stems from the work that an NGO that I work with has done training doctors and midwives in the heart of the conflict zone there.

I don’t know how effective Dodd-Frank will be if the issuers don’t have to disclose what the court has called the Scarlet letter of “non DRC-conflict free.” But more important, as I argue in my writings, I don’t think that consumers’ buying habits match what they say when surveyed about ethical sourcing. In my most recent article (which I will post once the editors are done), I point out the following:

A recent survey used to support the new UK Modern Slavery Act indicates that two-thirds of UK consumers would stop buying a product if they found out that slaves were involved in the manufacturing process and that they would be willing to pay up to 10% more for slave-free products…The numbers are similar but slightly lower for those surveyed in the United States. But note, “when asked if they would be willing to pay more for their favourite products if this ensured they were produced without the use of modern slavery: 52% of American consumers said they would pay more to ensure products were produced without modern slavery; 27% were not sure; 21% said they would not pay more.” This means that at least 20% and possibly almost half of informed consumers would not likely change their buying habits. (italics added).

I’m probably more informed than most about the situation in the DRC because I have been there and read almost every report, blog post, article, hearing committee transcript and tweet about conflict minerals. I have seen children digging gold out of the ground while armed rebels stood guard. I have met the village chiefs in the conflict zones. I have been detained by the UN peacekeepers who wanted to know what I was researching and then warned me not to visit the mines because of the five dead bodies (which I saw) lying in the road from a rebel attack the night before. I have stayed in monasteries guarded by men with machine guns and been warned that if I left after dark I was just as likely to be raped by a police officer as a rebel. I have met with many women who were gang raped by rebels and members of the Congolese army. I have had dinner with Nobel nominee Dr. Denis Mukwege, who back in 2011 wanted to know why the US wasn’t stopping the atrocities. I know the situation is terrible. But it won't change and hasn’t changed because of a corporate governance disclosure that most average consumers won’t read (even if the SEC had prevailed) and won’t necessarily act on if they did read it.

Next week I will post about my personal conflict with disclosures. Should I, who refuses to shop at a certain big box retailer, still shop at Amazon now that an expose has revealed a very harsh workplace? What about Costco and others? Stay tuned.

 

August 21, 2015 in Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Human Rights, International Business, International Law, Legislation, Marcia Narine Weldon, Nonprofits, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (1)