2012 Nonprofit Organizations Institute: What I Learned

Now that I’ve settled down from the weekend I wanted to briefly recount some things I learned at a conference  last week.

Hosted by The Conference of Southwest Foundations at UT,  the 2-day conference boasted a veritable who’s who of the non-profit world. And took place in a beautiful hotel (*clicking heels* I will be able to stay in the same hotel as the conference one day, I will….)

Friday morning started off with Lois Lerner,  the head hancho of the Exempt Organizations division of the IRS. Amongst many things, the director gave the audience a heads up on the Exempt Organizations Select Check tool the department recently announced. For those not familiar, in one click potential donors can check to see if an organization is eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions and whether their status has been automatically revoked. All with an org’s EIN.

Later that morning David Rosenberg of Thompson Knight moderated a panel on governance and operations issues nonprofits should key in to. Let me say, this session alone made the trip well worth it. With a panel comprised of a practitioner, GC’s from Kristi Health and Austin Community Fund and rounded out with a professor attendees were given a list of important policies, considerations to keep in mind and samples.

Other sessions I attended, and enjoyed, were by Michael Bourland of Bourland, Wall & Wenzel on Unusual Gifts, Using Social Media to Engage Volunteers by Karen Bantuveris of Volunteerspot and a survey of nonprofit tax and legislative developments by the non-profit law demi-god Bruce R. Hopkins.

The last program I was able to attend was moderated by Joyce Hellums of Ernest and Young with GC’s from the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, KLE Foundation and an associate from DLA Piper. There, considerations organizations should be aware of when starting  international operations were discussed.


A Few Things I Learned….

  • Non-profit managers and practioners should  pay attention to the instructions the IRS provides with its various forms. Not only because it helps with the particular form being filled out, but because it gives a tremendous amount of insight into what the IRS thinks, and how they think, about a myriad of issues.
  • Never dismiss an IRS ruling or determination simply because it doesn’t deal specifically with your industry. Oftentimes, the IRS will take the opportunity to thoroughly discuss a concept, such as excessive benefits, in determinations that involve a large sector. They might even provide compliance tips and quasi-checklists. But it may be lost upon you because its hidden in a determination dealing with a church or university and yours is a social welfare organization. Personally, I’m definitely going to be more diligent about perusing rulings before I dismiss them.
  • When devising policies keep the entity structure in mind. For example, the  policies, and language in those policies, will arguably be more restrictive for a charitable trust then a corporation.
  • Themes for nonprofits in 2012 will be governance and advocacy. With a steady slew of nonprofit scandals exposed everyday, organizations will win the hearts of donors through transparency and competency. Both of which naturally result from a well drafted and executed policy program. And the very existence of many nonprofits will hinge on their awareness of the issues and ability to get the message out. Robert Boisture of Boisture Law gave an interesting presentation to this effect, pointing out why exempt organizations should be establishing their seat at the Federal Budget discussion table. And just yesterday I read a few articles from the National Council on Nonprofits about how states are beginning to except nonprofits and foundations from exemptions and tax them as a round about way of raising funds.
  • We often think about creating entities separate from nonprofits for tax reasons. But another reason why you might want to do so is to isolate risky gifts. With the creative gifts I’ve heard organizations are starting to receive I imagine this resonates with many nonprofits today.
  • Along this same line, the IRS is beginning to pay serious attention to related entities (subsidiaries and such). With a number of new entity structures being introduced around the country, I can only imagine this trend will increase.  So organizations will need to pay greater attention to how related entities are formed, and more importantly, how they are operated.
  • One law that came up in every presentation was the Affordable Care Act. Though its impact on nonprofits is arguably small, it would definitely benefit one to give it a look-over.

All in all, I spent a couple of years thinking “I should probably go to that conference” and am glad I made the trip. One big thing I realized sitting there was that too little time is spent discussing implementation. Personally, I’ve spent alot of time figuring out how I can provide readers more resources. But even then, these can be fairly useless if someone doesn’t understand how to utilize them. So I will definitely spend a little more time addressing this often ignored aspect of operations.

For more information on the conference check it out here.