Wednesday, February 18, 2015
One of the best resources out there for keeping track of state adoption of hybrid entities is socentlaw.com and specifically, the fantastic multi-colored map that keeps track of who has what where.
EWW (dating herself....)
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
In You Hired Who? Top 10 Nonprofit Employment Mistakes, a brief article appearing a few weeks ago in The NonProfit Times, Siobhan Kelley discusses several mistakes to avoid in the process of hiring and managing personnel. Because nonprofits must practice good governance, the article is worth a look. The article identifies and discusses the following mistakes:
- Rushing To Fill An Empty Seat With A Warm Body: Mistakes In Hiring
- Failing to Maintain Performance/Disciplinary Records
- Not Requiring Managers To Document Performance Problems
- Misclassifying Employees as Independent Contractors
- Making All Employees “Salaried”
- Letting Employees Work “Off The Clock” Or Volunteer
- Drafting “Overly Optimistic” Personnel Policies
- Not Appropriately Addressing Disability Issues
- Treating Employees As Clients
- Forgetting About The Employee On A Leave Of Absence
Monday, November 3, 2014
The Chronicle of Philanthropy is reporting that a recent "Living with Intent" survey conducted by the nonprofit watchdog group BoardSource found that nonprofit leaders gave their boards an average grade of B minus, and judged trustees to be better at technical tasks like financial oversight than at setting strategy or reaching out to the community.
As in years past, the CEOs cited fundraising as a significant concern: 60 percent of them said it was the area their boards most needed to improve.
BoardSource works to improve nonprofit governance.
According to the Chronicle:
In 1994, chief executives said that 60 percent of their board members gave money to the organization, a figure that grew to 85 percent in this year’s survey. But giving by 100 percent of all board members—the gold standard espoused by BoardSource and other nonprofit experts—was reported by only 60 percent of the respondents in this year’s survey.
Many nonprofit organizations set minimum donations expected by trustees and encourage them to contribute at least that amount and ask others to follow their example. But trustees remain challenged when it comes to asking family members, friends, and colleagues for donations; 43 percent of board members in this year’s survey, about the same as in previous years, said they are uncomfortable asking for money.
The survey also found some signs of improvement in boards’ racial and ethnic diversity, which was rated as more important for boards than including equal numbers of male and female trustees or making sure that organizations recruit trustees of different ages. Respondents reported that 20 percent of their board members, on average, are people of color, up from 16 percent in 2010, but a quarter of the respondents said their boards are all white and nearly 70 percent of respondents indicated they are dissatisfied with the racial and ethnic composition of their boards.
Gender representation among the executive ranks of nonprofit organizations in the survey has improved over the years, but women remain underrepresented as chief executives in large organizations. Women accounted for 65 percent of chief executives in groups with budgets under $1-million; 75 percent among nonprofits with budgets of $1-million to $9.9-million. But among groups with budgets of $10-million or more, only 37 percent of chief executives were women.
Nonprofits appear to be recruiting more board members under 40 years old, with 17 percent of respondents in this year’s survey reporting trustees in that age group, up from 14 percent in 2010.
Nonprofits also are recruiting smaller boards, the survey found. In 1994, the first year of the survey, respondents reported 19 trustees, on average. In this year’s survey, that number dropped to 15.
According to the Chronicle, 850 chief executives and 246 board chairs responded to questions posed by the survey. A free coipy of the findings are available online. BoardSource says it will publish a more complete report on its website in December.
Vaughn E. James
Friday, September 26, 2014
The Philanthropy News Digest is reporting that the American Association of School Librarians, a division of the American Library Association, is accepting applications from school librarians for its AASL Innovative Reading Grant program.
One grant in the amount of $2,500 will be awarded in support of the planning and implementation of a unique and innovative program for children that motivates and encourages reading, especially among struggling readers.
Projects should promote the importance of reading and facilitate literacy development by supporting current reading research, practice, and policy. In addition, projects must be specifically designed for children (grades K-9) in the school library setting, encourage innovative ways to motivate and involve children in reading, and should demonstrate potential to improve student learning.
To be eligible, applicants must be a member of AASL. Grant recipients may be invited to write an article that delineates their reading incentive project and demonstrates their successes, trials, and recommendations so others may replicate the project.
Monday, September 22, 2014
Puzzler: Respecting and Valuing an Interest in a Disregarded SMLLC for Charitable Deduction Purposes?
I thank Professor Cassady Brewer of Georgia State University College of Law for bringing this interesting case to our attention. Please read on...
In RERI Holdings I, LLC v. Comm’r, 143 T.C. No. 3 (2014), the Tax Court determined that a disregarded, single-member LLC interest should not be ignored for purposes of determining whether a taxpayer is entitled to a charitable contribution deduction. This decision has not received much attention, but it potentially has significant implications for charities and donors.
The taxpayer in RERI Holdings I, LLC contributed an interest in a disregarded SMLLC holding real property to the University of Michigan. The taxpayer claimed a charitable deduction of approximately $33 million in connection with the donation of the SMLLC interest. As required for tax purposes, the taxpayer obtained an appraisal substantiating the amount of its claimed deduction; however, the taxpayer’s appraisal was of the underlying real property held by the disregarded SMLLC, not the membership interest in the SMLLC itself. Because the interest in the SMLLC, not the underlying real property, was donated to the University of Michigan, the IRS argued in a motion for summary judgment that the taxpayer’s charitable deduction should be disallowed. In particular, the IRS argued that the deduction must be disallowed because the appraisal was of the wrong property and therefore failed the “qualified appraisal” requirements for charitable contributions of property.
Without much fanfare, Judge Halpern accepted the argument of the IRS that a charitable contribution of an interest in a disregarded SMLLC should be viewed differently than a charitable contribution of the underlying asset. Judge Halpern so held notwithstanding the fact that the SMLLC is otherwise ignored for federal income tax purposes. Judge Halpern’s opinion relies heavily on the Tax Court’s earlier decision in Pierre v. Comm’r, 133 T.C. 24 (2009), supplemented by 99 T.C.M. (CCH) 1436 (2010), that, for gift tax valuation purposes, a taxpayer’s gifts of membership interests in the taxpayer’s SMLLC are distinct from gifts of partial interests in the underlying property. Pierre arguably is distinguishable, though, from RERI Holdings I, LLC, because (i) Pierre is a gift (not income) tax case and (ii) the gifts in Pierre transformed the SMLLC into a multi-member LLC held by four trusts. This latter point of distinction, though, may not be significant as it appears the trusts were grantor trusts such that the taxpayer in Pierre remained the income tax owner of the SMLLC.
Despite the fact, however, that Judge Halpern agreed with the IRS’s view that an interest in a disregarded SMLLC should be respected for charitable contribution deduction purposes, all was not lost for the taxpayer in RERI Holdings I, LLC. Rather, perhaps to avoid so-easily granting summary judgment against the taxpayer and in favor of the IRS, Judge Halpern reasoned that there was an unresolved issue of material fact whether a valuation of the property held by the SMLLC rather than a valuation of the SMLLC interest itself nevertheless could “stand proxy” for the otherwise required qualified appraisal. The ultimate outcome of the case, therefore, remains to be seen.
The lesson for charities and donors: RERI Holdings I, LLC creates uncertainty with regard to the proper treatment of disregarded SMLLC interests for both charitable deduction and substantiation requirements. Given that uncertainty, donors to charitable organizations should transfer the underlying property itself to charity rather than transferring an interest in an SMLLC holding the property. If the property must be wrapped inside a disregarded LLC for liability protection or other reasons, then the donee charity should form the disregarded SMLLC to receive the contribution rather than receiving an interest in the property-holding SMLLC formed by the donor. Otherwise, due to the quirky way in which SMLLC membership interests apparently are valued for federal tax purposes, the donor inadvertently may be reducing the amount of his or her expected charitable contribution deduction. On the other hand, for estate and gift tax purposes, a donor presumably would rather transfer a membership interest in a disregarded SMLLC to a non-charitable donee in order to minimize the value of the transfer and thereby reducing potential estate and gift taxes.
My thanks again to Professor Brewer.
Thursday, July 31, 2014
With my background in nonprofit law, I get to know our public interest students pretty well - I'm sure many of you have the same experience. Here in West Virginia, we also have a very strong need for attorneys who are willing to work in rural communities and to solve access to justice issues for low- and moderate- income clients. Projects like the Justice Entrepreneurs Project, sponsored by the Chicago Bar Foundation, can help bridge that gap.
The Chicago Bar Foundation's Justice Entrepreneurs Project (JEP) is accepting applications for its next class of lawyers who will begin the program in November 2014. The JEP is looking for entrepreneurial and public interest-minded recent law graduates who are interested in creating their own law practices serving low and moderate income clients. Participants in the 18-month program will receive training, mentoring and other support on business and legal issues as well as space and other infrastructure as they get started with their practices. The application deadline is September 2 and information sessions to learn more about the program will be held at the JEP offices at 208 S. Jefferson, Suite 204, on August 15 at 12:15 p.m. and August 21 at 5:30 p.m.. More information about the JEP is available ... at www.chicagobarfoundation.org/jep.
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Writing in yesterday's Chronicle of Philanthropy, Pablo Eisenberg, a senior fellow at the Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, calls on nonprofits to start a campaign to ask Congress and the IRS to curtail excessive trustee fees paid by nonprofit foundations.
According to Eisenberg, "[t]he tens of millions of dollars that foundations pay to trustees every year is a total waste of money that could be used to finance needy nonprofit organizations. He contends that:
Fresh concerns about those fees were raised when the news become public that the Otto Bremer Foundation, which last year gave $38-million in grants, had paid its three board trustees more than $1.2-million in 2013. So egregious was the payment that Aaron Dorfman, executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, requested an immediate investigation by the Minnesota attorney general.
The Bremer trustees had fired the foundation’s executive director, leaving them totally in charge without any accountability mechanisms in place.
Data about the total amount trustees are paid are hard to come by, but a Chronicle of Philanthropy survey in 2011 found that 38 of the nation’s 50 largest foundations paid a fee to their trustees amounting to a total of $11-million.
He also reports that
[a] 2006 Urban Institute report about the compensation practices of 10,000 of the largest foundations based on 2001 tax returns found that 3,400 of the foundations had paid a total of almost $200-million in trustee fees.
Finally, he reveals that an earlier study of 238 foundations he conducted with two of his graduate students at Georgetown University in 2003 revealed that the foundations "had paid more than $44-million in trustee fees. About two-thirds of the 176 largest foundations compensated their board members, while 79 percent of the 62 smaller foundations surveyed paid their board members."
On the basis of this sample, Eisenberg and his students estimated that foundations throughout the country had paid more than $300-million in trustee fees.
That is a lot of money. Moreover, says Eisenberg, it is infuriating:
What has infuriated foundation critics and many nonprofits is that foundation trustees are among the wealthiest and highest-paid individuals in the country. As Aaron Dorfman has noted, most foundation trustees would take on their duties even if they weren’t paid. Most other nonprofits don’t pay their trustees, after all.
But habits die hard. Many foundations maintain that it is important to offer fees as an incentive to busy corporate and wealthy individuals who might otherwise not give their time. And, they add, it is difficult enough to recruit topnotch board members; fees just make the process easier. The corporate culture that believes "time is money" is a tradition that lingers on.
Eisenberg admits, though, that annoyance at the practice of trustee fees has not yet morphed into sufficient energy and public pressure that could produce some changes. Neither philanthropic trade associations, philanthropy roundtables, nor regulators and legislators appear ready to do something about the excessive fees. Hence, Eisenberg has a solution: nonprofits should stasrt a campaign to have Congress and the IRS curtail these excessive trustee fees. Eisenberg concludes:
Nonprofits should start a campaign to ask Congress and the IRS to curtail excessive fees. Almost all nonprofit groups hungry for new dollars should be willing to support the idea, and how could politicians be opposed to the idea that more money goes to communities than affluent trustees? Now we just need some leadership to get the movement going.
Will the nonprofits respond? Time will tell.
The Nonprofit Times is reporting that the search for someone to fill the shoes of retiring founding dean Eugene R. Tempel at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy has been narrowed down to two candidates.
The Times reports that while the university will only confirm that the search is ongoing and the intention is to have a new dean by January 1, 2015, the Times has information that only two candidates -- neither of whom is from Indiana University -- remain.
The Times continues:
Multiple sources have told The NonProfit Times that the process has not been as smooth as was expected. In fact, there has been some consideration as to under what terms Tempel might stay on for up to one more year if the new dean is not selected soon, according to multiple sources within the university and search process.
The search committee presented candidates to Charles R. Bantz, Ph.D., chancellor of the Indianapolis campus, known as IPUI since it is shared with Purdue University. There were three finalists but one of them, from a university in California, has withdrawn his application, according to sources.
Andrew R. Klein, J.D., chair of the IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy selection committee and dean of the IU Robert H. McKinney School of Law, disputed the idea that the search has not gone as smoothly as hoped. He said the plan was to present a pool of candidates to the administration by mid-summer and that has happened. He said eight candidates were reduced to “those who came back to campus.”
He declined to confirm the number of candidates who made campus visits and the number of candidates still in the running for the coveted position in nonprofit academia. He cited a confidentiality pledge to the candidates who are still employed. “Chancellor Bantz is in consultation with President (Michael A.) McRobbie about the search,” he said. “The appointment of any dean is ultimately made by the Board of Trustees of Indiana University,” Klein said. “I am not involved in the conversations at this point, but I am certain that Chancellor Bantz is consulting with President McRobbie to make sure the administration presents a candidate to the board in which they both have confidence.”
The Lilly Family School evolved from the internationally known Center on Philanthropy of the IU-Purdue University campus in Indianapolis, Indiana. The school encompasses and expands all of the previous academic degree, research and training programs at Indiana University, including The Fund Raising School, the Lake Institute on Faith & Giving, the Women’s Philanthropy Institute and International Programs.
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Today's Philanthropy News Digest is reporting that three Foundations have over the last three days issued new Requests for Proposals (RFPs):
The National Art Education Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the National Art Education Association (NAEA), is seeking applications for its 2014 Art Educator grants. Through the grant program, the Foundation will award grants of up to $10,000 to NAEA members for programs that support classroom-based art education. Only NAEA members are eligible to receive the awards. The deadline for submitting an application is October 1, 2014.
Meanwhile, the Chicago-based Harpo Foundation is inviting applications for its 2014 Emerging Artist Fellowship. Under this program, one emerging artist will receive a one-month residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The application deadline is July 5, 2014.
Finally, the Vilcek Foundation is inviting applications for the 2015 Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Fashion. This program will actually award three prizes of $50,000 each to young, foreign born fashion professionals living and working in the United States who demonstrate outstanding early achievement. The foundation encourages designers, stylists, make-up/hair artists, image makers (including fashion photography, film, animation, and illustration), curators, and writers to apply. The application deadline is June 10, 2014.
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
The California Historical Society is accepting nominations for the 2014 California Historical Society Book Award.
According to today's Philanthropy News Digest, the Society will award a cash prize of $5,000
to a book-length manuscript that makes an important contribution to California historical scholarship and adheres to high scholarly standards while being lively and engaging to general readers. In addition to conventional works of historical scholarship, other works eligible for consideration include biographies, collections of letters or essays, photographic or artistic studies, creative nonfiction, and other ways of informing the mind and engaging the imagination in an understanding of California’s past.
The winning manuscript will be published in both print and e-book format, and the society will pay for an awards ceremony, promotion, and an author’s tour.
Eligibility and application guidelines are available at the California Historical Society Website.
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
With a hat tip to the TaxProf Blog, I simply must post regarding the most recent compelling and ground-breaking work done by the readers of Freakonomics. (Should H&R Block Hire Models to Increase Charitable Giving?) Freakonomics updated its readers on its fundraising campaign for Freakonomics Radio, as follows.
Your comments and e-mails were also a great window into a better understanding of what makes someone want to donate to a given cause or not. You pointed out incentives we overlooked, or overvalued, or undervalued. ... Here, for instance, is one my favorite comments, from a reader named Eric Kennedy:
[Y]ou forgot a primary reason why people donate to charity: to impress their attractive tax preparers. I’m not kidding. I’m very attractive and worked as a tax preparer for two years. I’ve seen this first-hand. I now find myself considering the impression I will make on my attractive tax preparer. The most effective way to boost nation-wide charitable giving, would be to staff H&R Block with models and encourage them to make comments about the size of people’s annual donation amounts.
I must agree with Mr. Kennedy's assessment, although I will neither confirm nor deny whether I have participated in the preparation of tax returns that contain significant charitable deductions...and that fact would, of course, have no bearing on my scholarly assessment of Mr. Kennedy’s observations in this regard.
Friday, October 18, 2013
On Wednesday, October 23, 2013, ALI CLE is offering a webcast entitled “Advising Nonprofit Organizations: Complying with Limits on Compensation, Benefits, and Other Payments.” The promotional material describes the program as follows:
[T]oday’s nonprofit organizations are under heightened scrutiny by regulators to ensure compliance with federal and state laws. Excessive compensation and other benefits given to board members, trustees, officers, or key employees can trigger the private inurement prohibition, putting the nonprofit at risk for intermediate sanctions or even losing its tax-exempt status. As a lawyer for a charity or member of its board of directors, what are your responsibilities to ensure that its income and assets don’t unreasonably benefit an “insider”?
In Advising Nonprofit Organizations: Complying with Limits on Compensation, Benefits, and Other Payments, our faculty will explain what legal advisors to, and members of, a charity’s board of directors need to know to comply with IRS and state guidelines on excess benefit transactions, including reporting and governance issues.
The attorneys teaching the CLE are Willard L. Boyd, III of Nyemaster Goode, P.C. (Des Moines, Iowa) and Lisa A. Runquist (Northridge, California).
Sunday, September 29, 2013
Last Wednesday I blogged about Georgetown Law's finiancial boot camp. Today I write to report that Georgetown is not the only law school seeking to give its students a sense of the business world. The National Law Journal is reporting that "a growing number of law schools are borrowing a page from the MBA playbook and adding courses intended to give students a foundation in business, in addition to the law." The other schools profiled in the Journal report are Elon University School of Law, University of Pennsylvania Law School, Harvard Law School, University of Michigan Law School and University of Colorado Law School.
According to the Journal, the business courses now taught at these law schools are an outgrowth of the rising demand for law graduates to have some real-world legal experience. In the past, legal educators believed that law students could obtain this experience through clinics and externships. Not any more. Legal educators
...are now starting to take a broader view of what, exactly, prepares a student to practice law. They're realizing that basic business and management skills would prove useful whether the student ends up counseling corporate clients, goes solo or works in a small nonprofit.
I applaud the new trend. May it last well into the future.
I have enjoyed blogging this past week. Tomorrow, one of my colleagues will take over the blogging duties. I thank my recently-graduated former student, Ibukun Adepoju, for helping me spot stories for blogging. May she have peace of mind as she awaits the results of the July bar exam.
Saturday, September 28, 2013
Grantseekers need the assurance that grantmaking foundations are good fits for their organizations. How can they ensure this good fit?
According to a tip from The NonProfit Times,
The information summarized in a funding database provides a glimpse of a private foundation's priorities and giving habits. But savvy grantseekers know they need the full picture before making contact or submitting a grant proposal.
Foundation websites can fill in the missing pieces, but many foundations don't have websites. What's the grantseeker to do?
Barbara Floresch, director of The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles, CA, has a proposal for grantseekers: "first, use a database to identify foundations that seem like a good fit for your organization. Then, if they don't have in-depth websites, go to Guidestar.org, set up a free account, and take a look at the foundation's recent tax returns (990-PFs)."
According to Floresch:
Foundation tax returns are public information and they’re invaluable to grantseekers. They provide not only information about assets and officers but also a complete list of grants awarded during the fiscal year – including the amount of each grant and the recipient’s name and location.
Examine each foundation’s 990-PFs to determine whether that foundation is truly a good fit with your organization’s work. For starters, look at several fiscal years to determine:
- The average amount of funding granted to organizations similar to yours;
- The average amount granted for the area in which you'll seek support (i.e., youth services, education, the arts, the environment);
- Geographic preferences in grantmaking; and
- Whether the foundation provides multi-year funding.
And what is the grantseeker to do with this information? Use it to construct a well-informed plan of action and a well-targeted request for support. While the 990-PF is not the place to start one's research, it can refine the grantseeker's understanding of a grantmaker. Says Floresch: "When it comes to winning grants, thorough information is essential. The 990-PF can help you fill in the blanks."
Thursday, September 26, 2013
The Washington Post is reporting that two private universities in the District of Columbia have announced landmark donations. Trinity Washington University will receive $10 million for a new academic building, and Georgetown University will receive $100 million for a new school of public policy. The gifts set records for each school.
Speaking about records, the Post is also reporting that among private institutions, the largest gift on the Washington Post’s list is $350 million to Johns Hopkins University. In the public sector, the largest is $100 million to the University of Virginia. The largest gift to a single U.S. college or university was $600 million pledged in 2001 to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).
The Post's article leads me to wonder about donations to colleges and universities. Why do people -- ordinary citizens -- donate to education? Why are some institutions consistently able to raise more funds than others? The Post addreses these questions as regards Georgetown and Trinity Washington:
Georgetown, the nation’s oldest Catholic university, is highly selective and draws students from across the country. Its alumni can tap significant pools of wealth. Trinity Washington, a Catholic women’s school, is less selective and serves a large number of students from low-income neighborhoods in the District. But Trinity has some powerful alumnae, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
Of course, some institutions are able to raise significant amounts because their alumni are pleased with the education they received.
Friday, July 19, 2013
James Piereson (Manhattan Institute) has published an Opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal highlighting the increasing dependence of many charities on government funding, particularly federal government funding. While this trend will not be news to anyone familiar with the funding sources for the charitable sector, his particular criticism is the alleged connectino between the lobbying activities of charities and this funding. For example, he criticizes Independent Sector for purportedly "suppport[ing] a tax increase in exchange for President Obama's agreement to maintain the charitable deduction."
Whether there really is much of a "charitable-industrial complex" that seeks to use government for its own advancement and enrichment can be debated. What cannot be debated is that the growth of government at all levels means that few charitable organizations can responsibly fulfill their missions without at least considering whether to take advantage of available government funding; even religious organizations, such as Catholic Charities, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Biships, and World Vision, receive funding for some activities according to the piece. The difficult choice for charities is, of course, whether the cost of accepting such funding in terms of strings and conditions is worth it, and for government what strings and conditions should and can it attach. The Supreme Court recently reaffirmed in Agency for Int'l Development v. Alliance for Open Society Int'l that there are significant constitutional limits on those strings, at least when speech by the recipient charities is implicated. What prudential limits should apply, however, to ensure both accomplishment of government goals and sufficient independence for charities is far from settled.
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Our friends at the Committee on Nonprofit Organizations of the Business Law Section of the ABA have issued a call for nominations for the 2013 Outstanding Nonprofit Lawyer Awards. Each year, the Committee recognizes outstanding legal professionals in each of the following categories:
- Attorney (principally for outside counsel to nonprofit organizations);
- Nonprofit In-House Counsel;
- Young Attorney (under 35 or in practice for less than 10 years);
- Vanguard Award (lifetime commitment/achievement).
A link to the Committee's website with additional information can be found here. At that website, you can find the nomination form and a list of past recipients. The deadline for nominations is March 15, 2013, and the award winners will be announced at the Business Law Section's Spring Meeting in Washington, D.C. in April. Please direct all nominations and questions to William M. Klimon, Caplin & Drysdale, One Thomas Circle, NW, Suite 1100, Washington, D.C. 20005, by phone (202) 862-5022, by fax (202) 429-3301, or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday, June 28, 2012
The Chronicle of Philanthropy is reporting that its featuers editor, Holly Hall, will tomorrow moderate a panel discussion about this year's "Giving USA" report. The event will be held at the Hudson Institute's Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal in Washington, D.C. It begins at noon Eastern Time, and will be available via Webcast.
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
The Community Development Law Clinic that I supervise recently agreed to become a partner in UNC-Chapel Hill's Social Innovation Incubator. The Incubator will be a space on campus where student groups engaged in social enterprise and social innovation can get advice, capacity-building training, and back office support for their ventures. If the ventures grow to the point that they can be sustainable charitable organizations, the Incubator will assist them with the process of forming and launching a c3 organization. My law students and I will do some of the training and much of the legal work.
The concept is appealing for several reasons. One is the simple fact that the Incubator may bring some order and reason to what heretofore have been unruly (but often effective) groups of students who have charged off the campus to do work in communities of need. Too often they launch into their community projects blithely unaware of legal problems. They conduct potentially high risk programs without insurance or waivers, they run finances through their personal bank accounts, and, as often as not, they make no plans for sustaining the organizations after they graduate. The Incubator will provide support and guidance to help them avoid some of these problems.
There is, I believe, a potential downside to launching a campus based incubator. Far too often, bright young men and women on college campuses -- thetypes who come to campus with prestigious fellowships that are supposed to groom them as future leaders -- are told that one mark of leadership is forming a nonprofit organization. It's something they all seem to want on their resumes these days. Predictably, many of the c3 organizations these "young leaders" form wither and die as soon as the young leaders graduate and move on to law school or business school. Although the Social Innovation Incubator may prepare these impressive young folks for the legal (not to mention moral) responsibilities of operating nonprofit organizations, I fear that it may also legitimize the notion that all young people of promise and ambition ought to start one.
Thursday, December 22, 2011
The Nonprofit Quarterly reports on a dispute among members of a Hmong community center in Wisconsin. Individuals paid an initial $1,000 to become members of the organization. Included in membership privileges was the right to hold funerals at the facility. When the organization later fell into financial difficulty, it went back to the members and said they would have to contribute further to retain their memberships and the attendant rights. Some of the members sued, claiming breach of an enforceable contract.
What I find interesting about this case is the likely blending of law and equity. I tell my nonprofit law students that in the U.S. the strong trend has been toward resolving nonprofit difficulties and disputes through the application of corporate law, but that equity pops up at unpredictable times and in unpredictable ways. This is certainly true when it comes to disputes among members or between memberships and boards. The corporate law answer would be to look in the organization's governing documents to see what they say about members' rights and perhaps to assess whether any enforceable contract exists. Equity, however, would demand that the organization treat its members fairly.
In this case, the judge made the wise decision to send the parties to mediation. If all goes well, s/he will not have to decide whether to apply law or equity or, as often is the case, some jumbled combination of the two.