10 Legal Tips in 30 Minutes to Get 2017 Ready

businesswoman on a road ready to start a new year


Watch a recording of our livestream on Grantspace (The Foundation Center) for a list of 10 tips and ideas to get yourself ready for 2017. Michele and I discussed year-end filing requirements, the importance of charitable registrations, required steps before awarding an executive director with a year-end bonus, elections and bylaws compliance, development of next year’s board calendar, and other items to consider before the year ends.


Annual Filing Requirements for Nonprofits (National Council of Nonprofits)

Exempt Organization Annual Filing Requirements Overview (IRS)

The Charleston Principles: Guidelines on Charitable Solicitations Using the Internet (NASCO)

The Unified Registration Statement

Charitable Trust Doctrine

Executive Compensation – The Legal Issues

Good Governance Policies for Nonprofits (National Council of Nonprofits)

Form 990 Policies – Is it better to check “yes” or “no”?

Form 990 Policy Series (Public Counsel)

Tools & Resources | Financial Management  (National Council of Nonprofits)

Financial Management (Grantspace)

Nonprofit Finance 101 (Nonprofit Finance Fund)

Nonprofit Board Meetings – Calendar of Agenda Items


Crowdfunding Rap


I’m moderating a panel on crowdfunding this morning at the 20th Annual Western Conference on Tax-Exempt Organizations. In honor of the session, and thinking back to my recent trip to New York where reasonably priced Hamilton tickets were impossible to find, I wrote the following (still unfinished) rap –

In the style of Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s Alexander Hamilton 

How does a program, project, dream of a board and a concept,
popped in the middle of a popular site on the Internet by management, unsupported, no hollers,
Grow a big force of supporters and dollars

A ten-dollar contribution for a solution
Goes a lot farther, not working a lot harder
By being a lot smarter
By using a fund starter
By ‘15, 34 billion on sites like Kickstarter

And every day while staff were fundraising their hearts out
Online across the masses, ideas started to breakout
Mil’le’nnials were longing for something to be part of
Their movements were ready to grow, build, advance, and spread love

When a hurricane came, and devastation reigned
People saw their futures drip, dripping down the drain
But a coder started coding, and published on her domain
The creation of a chain, with testaments to their pain

Well, the word got around, they said, “This site is insane, man”
Gave money to the fund just to send them to the pained land “
We are sympathetic, can’t forget from whence we came, and
The world’s gonna know the same: We’re not lame, man.”

Fundraising through crowdfunding
It’s online fundraising through crowdfunding
And there’s a million things that you can fund
But just you wait, just you wait …

When it started the skeptics said, full of dread, forbidden
Registration, conduit and quid pro quos are hidden
Private interests advanced each click, just a schtick
But the sites got better and grew bigger real quick

Built as platform, not a fundraiser they clarified
No handling money, not qualified, but unsatisfied
A voice saying
“You gotta market yourself.” – “FundMe, you gotta market yourself.”

They started exceedin’ and placin’ other platforms on the shelf

There could have been AGs hot to sue
Concerns were so acute
They coulda feared fraud and ill-repute
Without a chance for restitution
It’s concernin’, learnin’ ‘bout false substantiation
Lettin’ donors deduct gifts though no charity donation
Scammers for every cause they can get their minds on
Clamor for the money, see them now as they stand on
The claim of a cool platform for a new land
On the web, you can have a new plan

On the web, you can have a new plan


Nonprofit Tweets of the Week – 12/2/16

Give to Charity Banner

The past week was marked by Giving Tuesday and (for me) the Western Conference on Tax-Exempt Organizations. Have a listen to the Goo Goo Dolls’ version of Give a Little Bit while perusing our curated nonprofit tweets of the week:



When Should a 501(c)(3) Consider Creating an Affiliated 501(c)(4)?

Closeup of businessman making decision whether to accept or deny a suggestion or employee.

501(c)(3) organizations have numerous tools at their disposal for achieving their charitable purposes, and also have the distinct advantage of being able to receive contributions that are generally tax-deductible for donors.  However, in exchange for tax-exemption and the ability to receive deductible charitable contributions, the law places some limitations on the permissible advocacy-related activities of 501(c)(3) organizations.  These limitations have led some 501(c)(3) organizations to make use of affiliated 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations, which are generally subject to fewer limitations and restrictions, to best further their common primary mission.

The limitations associated with 501(c)(3) exempt status include a complete prohibition on engaging in any activities that constitute intervention in a political campaign and a requirement that no more than an insubstantial amount of a 501(c)(3)’s activities constitute lobbying.  While we unfortunately do not have a clear definition of “insubstantial” in this context, as we’ve previously written about on this blog, many 501(c)(3) organizations have the option of making the election under IRC Section 501(h) to have their lobbying activities measured based solely on expenditures.  Section 501(h) also offers fairly generous thresholds for permissible lobbying expenditures by an electing organization.

Nonetheless, some 501(c)(3)s find that they could more effectively pursue their missions through lobbying or election-related activities beyond those permissible for 501(c)(3)s.  In that case, forming an affiliated 501(c)(4) organization may be an attractive option.

Unlike 501(c)(3)s, 501(c)(4) organizations are permitted to engage in an unlimited amount of lobbying activities, provided such activities are in furtherance of the organization’s social welfare purposes.  They may also engage in a limited amount of political campaign intervention activities, so long as such activities are secondary to their general social welfare activities.  Because of the greater flexibility that 501(c)(4)s have in these areas, they can be a great tool for effectively furthering a social welfare mission.

Once you’ve decided to form an affiliated 501(c)(4), you may find our post on the step by step process for creating a 501(c)(4) helpful.  However, before launching into forming a new entity, here are a few things to consider:

  • Capacity – In creating a separate 501(c)(4), you are creating a separate legal entity with its own filing, registration, and compliance obligations, and operational needs. The 501(c)(3) should carefully assess whether it has access to the additional capacity necessary to create and run a separate entity.
  • Funding – While 501(c)(4)s are exempt from federal income taxes, donations to them are typically not deductible for donors. Accordingly, finding funding for a 501(c)(4)’s activities can be challenging.  Before beginning the process of forming an affiliated 501(c)(4), it would be wise for a 501(c)(3) to ensure that the 501(c)(4) will be able to attract sufficient funding to set it up for success, and that the pursuit of such funding will not negatively impact the 501(c)(3)’s ability to fundraise from common donors.
  • Affiliation Structure – Because nonprofits do not have any owners, it is not possible to a create a 501(c)(4) “subsidiary” of a 501(c)(3). However, if close affiliation between the two organizations is desired, there are a few options for structuring such affiliation.  These structures are usually created in the 501(c)(4)’s Bylaws, which will be subject to the laws of the state in which the entity was incorporated.  In California, one option may be to create a voting membership structure with the 501(c)(3) as the sole voting member of the 501(c)(4).  Alternatively, the 501(c)(3) could be given the right to designate some or all of the Directors of the 501(c)(4).  However, in setting up such an affiliation, the 501(c)(3) will need to be mindful of the need to maintain appropriate separation between the entities, for the purposes of both ascending liabilities and to ensure it does not jeopardize its own tax-exempt status.
  • Exemption/Registration – Another distinction between 501(c)(4) and most 501(c)(3) organizations is that 501(c)(4)s may self-declare as exempt from federal income taxes without needing to file an application with the IRS. Many 501(c)(4)s nonetheless choose to file a Form 1024 and obtain recognition of tax-exemption in order to have the assurance that comes with such recognition.  In addition, as of mid-2016, organizations intended to operate as exempt under Section 501(c)(4) must file IRS Form 8976 with the IRS no later than 60 days after the organization is formed (see our earlier blog post on this requirement here).
  • Maintain Appropriate Separation – Because 501(c)(4)s can engage in activities that 501(c)(3)s may not, it is important that appropriate separation between two such affiliated organization be maintained and that the 501(c)(3) not allow its assets to be used to subsidize the activities of the 501(c)(4) that are prohibited for the 501(c)(3). For example, if the 501(c)(3) wishes to make a grant to an affiliated 501(c)(4), it should be made pursuant to a written grant agreement that clearly requires the funds to be used solely for 501(c)(3)-consistent purposes.  Accordingly, a general operating grant from a 501(c)(3) to a 501(c)(4) would not be permissible, even for startup costs, as such a grant could serve to further activities not permissible for the 501(c)(3).  A grant made for the stated purpose of supporting the 501(c)(4)’s lobbying activities must be accounted for as a lobbying activity and/or expenditure of the 501(c)(3), and a grant that does prohibit its use for lobbying may also be attributed as a lobbying expenditure by the 501(c)(3).  If the two entities will share resources, such as staff or facilities, such sharing should be pursuant to a resource sharing agreement that ensures that the 501(c)(4) pays at least its fair share for the costs of the day-to-day operations of the 501(c)(4).
  • Political/Election Laws – Finally, if a 501(c)(4) does engage in lobbying or election-related work, it may be subject to additional election and political laws beyond the tax laws generally discussed in this post. A 501(c)(4) will need to be aware of any such applicable laws in advance of engaging in lobbying or election-related activities in order to ensure compliance.  Note that a 501(c)(3) may also be subject to some political and election laws if it engages in certain activities, particularly permissible nonpartisan election-related activities.

In summary, in many instances, creating an affiliated 501(c)(4) can be a highly effective means of furthering an organization’s mission.  However, it is important to think through the various considerations in advance to ensure that such an affiliation is proper under the particular circumstances, and will be set up for success.


20th Annual Western Conference on Tax-Exempt Organizations


The 20th annual Western Conference on Tax-Exempt Organizations (WCTEO) will take place at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles this Thursday and Friday, December 1-2, 2016. The WCTEO has been my top go-to conference every year since starting NEO Law Group, and I’m particularly excited about this year, my first as a member of the planning committee. With a schedule that features panels led by some of the country’s top tax-law experts (no hyperbole!), I highly recommend the WCTEO to all of my professional colleagues serving or working in the nonprofit sector and am happy to talk with anybody considering attending. You can submit your name on the waitlist for registration here and you’ll be contacted by the staff to complete your registration.

Some Highlights from the Schedule:

  • Exempt Organization Practice: A Twenty Year Retrospective – Marcus Owens (former Director of the IRS Exempt Organizations Division).
  • Current Developments – Bruce Hopkins
  • Investing in the Future: What Does Mission Have to Do with It? – Jeffrey R. Hom,  David A. Levitt
  • Funding Through Exploitation – The Life Cycle of Nonprofit IP and Other Desirable Assets – Ofer Lion,  Michael I. Sanders 
  • A Twenty Year Prospective – Exempt Organizations Through 2036 – Ofer Lion,  Alexander L. Reid,  Jean L. Tom,  Stephanie Wilkinson

In addition, there are sessions on tax compliance issues, property tax exemption, private foundations, charitable solicitations, charitable giving, accelerators and incubators, and international activities, and an update from the IRS and Treasury. I’m looking forward to moderating an informative and fun session on crowdfunding with panelists Jeanette Lodwig, Arthur M. Rieman, and Jean L. Tom.

Check out this profile on WCTEO Co-Chair Ellen April: Loyola Tax-Law Leadership Exemplified in Conference.

Washington Update

Compliance Issues – Not Just Your 990

  • Form 990: Much more than financial information. Also mission, program services, governance, compensation, transactions with insiders, related organizations.
  • Who cares? IRS, media, individual donors, watchdog organizations (and state charity officials, state revenue authorities, potential board members, private foundations, corporate sponsors and donors, etc.).
  • Disclosures of uncertain items on Form 990 may be important to start statute of limitations (e.g., potential unrelated business taxable income).
  • IRS moving from a subsector-driven compliance model (e.g, universities and hospitals) to data-driven compliance model (from information submitted on the Form 990). Panel discussed several possible triggers of examination (audit) on the Form 990.
  • IRS TE/GE FY 2017 Work Plan – reinforces 5 issue areas of focus: (1) exemption; (2) protection of assets; (3) tax gap (e.g., employment taxes, unrelated business income taxes); (4) international (e.g., conduit to foreign persons or entities, inadequate oversight of grants); and (5) emerging issues (e.g., 501(r)).
  • For independence of directors, be careful if director has a material financial transaction with a related organization – nonprofit or for-profit (can blow her or his independence as a director).
  • Form L of the Form 990 – identifying business transactions with interested persons can be very challenging. Consider using a negative confirmation letter with no need to respond if the “interested person” (including any Schedule B contributors) has no disclosures to make.

Expanding Your International Footprint

  • Regulatory Trends: shifting enforcement of tax-related regulations, stricter immigration, linking immigration to tax reporting, NGO registration and reporting.
  • Many issues with operating outside of the United States, including unfamiliar laws of foreign countries, no existing legal structure in foreign country, different health and safety considerations.
  • War stories include independent contractors in foreign countries claiming to be employees, foreign parter non-compliance, detention of employees or volunteers.
  • Forms of international activities: grant to an existing overseas entity, collaboration with a partner organization. branch office, new NGO, new for profit subsidiary.

Exempt Organization Practice: A Twenty Year Retrospective

Former head of the IRS Exempt Organizations Division Marcus Owens provided a twenty-year retrospective and included some insightful thoughts for the future, including a forecast of problems for the IRS hidden by use of the Form 1023-EZ.

Expecting the Unexpected in Property Tax Exemption (California)

  • Even if you haven’t received an Organizational Clearance Certificate (OCC) yet, file with the County Assessor before the February deadline.
  • The court in the Jewish Comm Center Dev. Corp v. LA case in 2016 held that an operator of a property does not need to file an exemption claim with the assessor or hold an OCC issued by the Board of Equalization (BOE). The BOE has revised (but not yet released) BOE-267, Claim For Welfare Exemption (First Filing), and BOE-267-A, 20__ Claim For Welfare Exemption (Annual Filing), to remove instructions requiring that both the owner and operator must file a separate exemption claim form and each must hold a valid OCC issued by the BOE. In addition, the BOE has created a supplemental affidavit, BOE-267-O, Welfare Exemption Supplemental Affidavit, Organizations Operating On Claimant’s Real Property, for the property owner to demonstrate that the property is used exclusively for welfare exempt purposes by an operator that is organized and operated for an exempt purpose.
  • The “exclusive” use requirement for property tax exemption remains elusive to define. There are precedents both for a fairly strict interpretation  (“incidental use must be directly connected with, essential to, and in furtherance of the primary use”) and a more permissive interpretation (allowing for some non-qualifying uses).

Investing in the Future: What Does Mission Have to Do with It?

Funding Through Exploitation – The Life Cycle of Nonprofit IP and Other Desirable Assets

  • Traditional intellectual property (IP): patents, copyrights, trademarks/servicemarks, trade secrets
  • Non-traditional IP: provision of assets to captive audiences, corporate sponsorships, naming opportunities, endorsements
  • IP license income or royalties (excluded from unrelated business income tax or UBIT) vs. service income (which, if unrelated, may be subject to UBIT)
  • Where IP is being transferred to a related organization, additional issues may arise, including conflicts of interest, resource-sharing, fair market value, and taxable subsidiary issues.
  • Fascinating discussion of National Geographic Society (nonprofit) – 21st Century Fox (for-profit) joint venture from Michael Sanders – 73% Fox; 27% NG equity split but 50:50 representation on board (based on IRS Revenue Rulings and seminal cases on joint ventures)
  • Big challenge is how to value nonprofit’s contribution to the joint venture if it involves non-traditional IP
  • Negotiating issues on behalf of nonprofit to joint venture with for-profit involves educating for-profit counsel regarding control requirements and critical provisions in the operating agreement to protect the nonprofit’s exempt status; also consider exit strategies in advance

Current Developments



  • About $16.2 billion was raised globally through crowdfunding in 2014 , and that number has been projected to reach $34 billion in 2015 . According to a 2013 study commissioned by the World Bank, crowdfunding is projected to become a $90-96 billion industry by 2025, almost twice the size of the current global venture capital industry.
  • Donation crowdfunding can be hosted on a site/platform owned and operated by either a nonprofit or for-profit organization.
  • Donation crowdfunding campaigns can be run by charities or individuals who may not may not be operating with a charity’s authority.
  • For fundraising campaigns run by charities, issues include mission-consistency, charitable class, conduit (jeopardizing a donor’s ability to deduct her contribution), registered vs. unregistered professional fundraisers, restricted gifts, and substantiating contributions; and, if rewards are involved, unrelated business income, commerciality, seller’s permit and sales tax, and quid pro quo written disclosures.
  • For fundraising campaigns run by individuals, issues include charity vs. charitable class vs. private beneficiaries, charitable trust jurisdiction, characterization of income, diversion of assets, charitable trust vs. consumer protection laws, delegation of authority with due care (including terms and limitations), and registration requirements.
  • Cautionary tales regarding over-reliance on an annual crowdfunding campaign. See, e.g., Technology Glitch Results in Day of Giving Fiasco (Nonprofit Quarterly).

Charitable Giving Update


Accelerators and Incubators

  • The terms “incubator” and “accelerator” are not defined in the law. However, according to UC Senior Counsel Thomas Schroeder, “these terms are commonly understood to refer to programs designed to nurture and accelerate the growth and success of private start-up companies by providing resources such as physical space in a collaborative environment with other start-ups, shared office equipment, technology and administrative services, mentoring and management training, networking opportunities, and, in some cases, capital or access to some other form of financing.”
  • There is still little guidance from the IRS regarding university incubators and accelerators and the circumstances under which they further 501(c)(3) educational purposes. For colleges and universities, they may want to tie the incubator to the students’ curricula. They must differentiate themselves for for-profit incubators in their exemption application and operations.
  • Other possible 501(c)(3) exempt purposes: scientific, charitable (relief of the poor, economic development, lessening the burdens of government)
  • Some of the tax issues for a 501(c)(3) incubator include: related or unrelated business activities, private benefit, in-kind payments of equity, and joint venture.

A Twenty Year Prospective – Exempt Organizations Through 2036

  • Ofer Lion: Nonprofits looking to access capital markets, high brow arts organizations tax-exempt status will be questioned (populist movements). 501(c)(3) hospitals will still be around (not all will convert or be forced to convert to for-profits) but there will be more consolidation. IRS will still be around to provide tax law enforcement over charities and other exempt organizations (perhaps doing less with less). More mission-related investments and shareholder activism (with 70% of U.S. equities being held by tax-exempt organizations).
  • Stephanie Wilkinson: Tax reform under Trump may severely and detrimentally impact charitable contributions (changes to standard deduction, limiting number of people who can get tax benefit of charitable contributions to 5%; elimination of estate tax). IRS will operate picking a few select areas of enforcement on which to focus; practitioners will specialize accordingly.
  • Jean Tom: Artificial intelligence (AI) using big data to help charities target particular prospective donors, virtual reality used in communications and fundraising, self-driving cars, drone deliveries, laws trying to catch up. With the devaluing of tax benefits associated with charitable contributions, despite the Trump-supported Johnson Amendment, which would blur difference between 501(c)(3)s and 501(c)(4)s (it would allow 501(c)(3)s to engage in electioneering), more 501(c)(4)s formed in place of 501(c)(3)s. More use of for-profit vehicles (instead of private foundations) to engage in charitable and other social good activities (like Omidyar Network and Chan Zuckerberg Initiative). Tech tools will help improve public accountability and self-regulation (where the public sector may fail).
  • Alex Reid: Increase in corporate civil rights, leadership by AI. Some DAF regulations! Challenge to charitable grantmaking as a charitable activity. Consumption tax in the form of exempting savings from income tax. Possible move of charitable contribution deduction moving ‘above the line” so not impacted by increase in standard deduction (but would only a type or part of charitable contributions move above the line?).

Nonprofit Tweets of the Week – 11/25/16

Peace of mind

Thanksgiving week highlighted by continuing uncertainties of a Trump presidency. Have a listen to Otis Redding‘s I Want to Thank You while perusing our curated nonprofit tweets of the week:

  • President Obama: This Thanksgiving, we give thanks for our blessings, and work to fulfill the timeless responsibility we have as Americans to serve others.
  • David Fahrenthold: NEW: @realDonaldTrump’s charity tells IRS it broke “self-dealing” rules in ’15, also did so in past w/o reporting it Washington Post [Ed. Questions still to be answered: Who will admit to being the other participant to the self-dealing? Did that person effectively steal charitable assets from a foundation? Did that same person just get elected to be President of the United States?]
  • Washington Post: Trump adviser [chief White House strategist, Stephen K. Bannon] received salary [$376,000 in pay over four years for working 30 hours a week] from charity [Government Accountability Institute] while steering Breitbart News Washington Post
  • Vu Le: 10 ways the nonprofit sector must adapt to the new reality Nonprofit with Balls
  • Gene: Excellent quick read for #nonprofits: The Election Is Over. Now What?David Levitt @AdlerColvinSF @AFJBeBold
  • Nonprofit Quarterly: The relationship between charity and government in the UK has “gone horribly wrong” NPQ
  • National Council of Nonprofits: Overtime rules slated to go into effect next week – now on hold – but we’re guessing not forever
  • Gene: Sorry to have missed @robreich‘s provocative keynote about #philanthropy at #ARNOVA16 building on What Are Foundations For?
  • New report: “Gilded Giving: Top Heavy Philanthropy in an Age of Extreme Inequality”
  • Mark Blumberg: Will we see great non-profit consolidation or merger as result of turbulence #ARNOVA16 Here is [a] resource CPA Canada

Thanksgiving 2016


Happy Thanksgiving Greeting, Fall Leaves Background and text Happy Thanksgiving


This Thanksgiving, I intend to think about all the things for which I’m grateful, but beyond that, I intend to commit myself to acting to preserve those things.

I’m thankful for the First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”).

I’m thankful for the Equal Protection Clause (“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”).

I’m thankful for the charitable nonprofit sector and for all the charities and all the people working for and supporting those charities, including those advancing social and racial justice, addressing climate change, and promoting and protecting a healthy independent sector.

I’m thankful for the emergence of for-profit social enterprises bringing social good and environmental protection/sustainability as additional bottom lines for companies to pursue and for consumers making decisions based on companies’ social and environmental performance.

I’m thankful for family, friends, and my wonderful colleagues at NEO Law Group, without whom I could not pursue the work I love doing.

With the growing threat to our civil liberties, rights, and personal safety, it’s time for us to move beyond processing and venting and disrupt our personal lives to protect and hopefully make things better for our communities. For too long, much of the citizenry has been in reactive rather than proactive mode so a wait-and-see attitude would only signal weakness and/or uncaring complacency. I hope we’ll be stronger and better as a community and a country.


Nonprofit Tweets of the Week – 11/18/16


I’m back in Washington DC and fresh off a visit to Capitol Hill. Have a listen to Rachel Platten‘s Fight Song while perusing our curated nonprofit tweets of the week:

  • Nonprofit Quarterly: Look out boards, turbulent times are ahead! Here’s ten questions that can ease the transition:
  • Inside Philanthropy: Six predictions about Trump-era philanthropy—it doesn’t look good …
  • National Council of Nonprofits: Effect of elections on charitable nonprofits – A bottom-down but also bottom-up process of policy setting ahead
  • Philantopic: #Nonprofits Wonder, Worry About Trump’s Policies @BostonGlobe
  • Nonprofit Quarterly: What can we discern from Trump’s first day on the Hill as president-elect about where he might start his presidency?
  • Claire Dunning: I wrote about how the history of philanthropy could help the social sector in a Trump administration for SSIReview
  • ACLU National: Today [November 11] we published a full-page open letter in the New York Times to President-elect Trump [republished on The Daily Beast]
  • Keith Kamisugi: .@civilrightsorg [The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights] firmly opposes the nomination of @SenatorSessions as Attorney General. Read the statement:
  • For Purpose Law: Charity Embezzlement: Thwart It With Good Controls
  • Omidyar Network: After $1 billion & 12 years of investing, we’re sharing our #ReturnsContinuum framework: #impinv SSIReview

New Frontiers: 2016 Independent Sector Annual Conference


Washington DC is the site for New Frontiers, the 2016 Independent Sector Annual Conference and Public Policy Action Institute, taking place  November 15-18. The Conference comes at a pivotal time for the nonprofit sector and our nation, rigidly divided on so many issues and characterized in many ways by a disengaged and disenchanted citizenry. The opening reception will be held at the Smithsonian’s brand new National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The Independent Sector Conference is the meeting ground for leaders and changemakers looking to drive momentum for the charitable community, set the sector’s agenda for the coming year, and collaborate on strategies for success.


We’ll take our messages to Capitol Hill, learn from insiders about how we can connect with the new administration, and collaborate to revitalize the ideals of democratic engagement in service of the common good.

Public Policy Action Institute (pre-conference)

Whether you’re a policy novice or an expert, the Public Policy Action Institute gives charitable sector leaders, policy advocates, and communications specialists effective strategies for getting your mission and message front and center with policymakers. And new this year, we’ll take our messages directly to the Capitol for Independent Sector Hill Day. You’ll meet face-to-face with policymakers about the issues most important to your work.

Making our Voices Heard in an Election Year and Beyond

  • “America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” – Alexis de Tocqueville
  • “The independent sector is our best line of defense for vulnerable populations. … Advocacy is not a luxury; it’s essential.” – Tom Sheridan
  • America doesn’t believe government is working for them but overwhelmingly believe in the nonprofit sector. See The Power of Nonprofit Advocacy: Best Lobbying Resource
  • 85% of young voters believe fed gov’t should be doing more to engage charitable sector to help address economic & social challenges. United For Charity (p. 8)
  • Report Shows Foundation Funding of #Advocacy Produces a Return on Investment of $115 to $1. NCRP
  • We don’t change without some level of disruption and revolution. Allow and don’t suppress millennial activism. Focus on engagement and empowerment of millennials.
  • To leverage engagement with elected officials, some charities (like Save the Children) have formed an affiliated 501(c)(4) organization that can lobby without limitation and endorse and/or oppose political candidates. The 501(c)(4) allows you to “thank and spank;” it’s the hammer to hold elected officials accountable.
  • Use the arts to further your message and engagement with elected officials.
  • Data is important (particularly for federal grants – see the Commission on Evidenced-Based Policy Making) but it’s expensive, can be skewed, and campaigns have been shown to win without good data. Sheridan advised organizations to “spend just enough on data to get you where you need to go.” He added that organizations should do (1) message-focused research to ensure they are avoiding the common trap of simply preaching to the choir and (2) impact-focused research to ensure they are satisfying donors and funders. Of course, impact-related data is important to inform nonprofits and their boards about their activities and decision-making.

Positioning our Tax Policy Soapbox for 2017

Continuing the Public Policy Legacy of John Gardner

  • “We can’t write off the danger of complacency, growing rigidity, imprisonment by our own comfortable habits and opinions.” – John Gardner, Personal Renewal
  • “You have within you more resources of energy than have ever been tapped, more talent than has ever been exploited, more strength than has ever been tested, more to give than you have ever given.” – Gardner – appropriate on an organizational and national level too

Sway the Other Branches of Government

Effectively Communicating with Congress: How to Develop and Implement an Effective Communications and Advocacy Strategy

  • Consider allies and opponents resulting from your advocacy and how that may play out in the future
  • Review levels of engagement mapped against audiences – see Evaluating Public Policy Advocacy (Framework for Policy & Advocacy Outcomes)
  • Communications: modern storytelling with peer voices (e.g., Humans of New York); humor; real-time; value-based; best practices (curating content, inviting others to conversation)
  • Jab-jab-jab-right hook – only every fourth piece should be an “ask”
  • “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” Keep messaging (use social media but don’t let it be stagnant).
  • “We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.” – Thomas Jefferson
  • Congressional offices are using social media to help gauge public opinion but district services still #1
  • How many similar comments on a social media post would be enough for your office to pay attention to? 80% of Congressional staff say less than 30. But you have to respond to them in 24-48 hours tops.

2020 Census

  • Census is connected to when redistricting [gerrymandering] gets done.
  • Policy decisions will matter. Immigration status could be added, which would result in significant reporting issues with many in fear of sharing information with the government.
  • Get-out-the-count will matter. Note that in the 2010 Census over 10% of Blacks and Latinos were missed in certain urban areas because of undercounting, particularly of children under 5.
  • Check out Annie B. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Data Center

New Frontiers – Independent Sector Annual Conference

The Great Shared Task (Opening Plenary)

Christylez Bacon, Grammy-nominated hip hop music artist, opened the plenary with It’s the Beatbox. Immediately after, a panel reacted to the recent Presidential election.

  • Media may be the most effective check against the President; the First Amendment is first for a reason.
  • How do we discuss race and sexism in ways that aren’t so divisive? How can we listen to racists without getting angry at them? We should be angry.
  • Americans have deliberately chosen to blow up the system and elect a leadership in which anything is possible. But power is not permanent. – Michael Steel
  • Charitable organizations provide a voice for marginalized groups. The sector has a collective responsibility to influence policymakers.
  • Must work like hell to make sure we make good decisions on the state level. – Ellen Alberding
  • Private foundations should be much more aggressive on the advocacy front on the issues they care about. Many private foundations do not take the opportunity to fund advocacy.
  • What people care about are big issues, not your institution. Charities of all sizes and types must have a policy strategy, lock arms, and go after the big issues (including tax policy). – Brian Gallagher
  • Anti-establishment sentiment has already colored how people think about foundations and charities. – Gallagher

Live From IS: Where Nonprofits Fit After ‘Primal Scream’ – The NonProfit Times

Frame-Breaking Ideas for 21st Century Fundraising

  • Jeanne Bell (CompassPoint) shared with the audience the following publications:
    • Underdeveloped – nonprofits struggling with high turnover & long vacancies in development director post – results in vicious cycle –
    • Fundraising Bright Spots – 1. Fundraising is core to the organization’s identity; 2. Fundraising is distributed broadly across staff, board, and volunteers; 3. Fundraising succeeds because of authentic relationships with donors built on strong, trusting relationships among staff, board, and volunteers; 4. Fundraising is characterized by a systematic approach to donor engagement and continuous improvement
  • Discussion Issue: What is most challenging about engaging the broader staff in fundraising at your organization? Groups quickly moved to looking at solutions, including focusing on understanding charitable motivations of staff and framing it also as leadership training.
  • Anne Wallested (BoardSource) noted our unhealthy obsession with cost of fundraising and introduced a new way of measuring fundraising effectiveness with a preliminary draft paper:

1. Are we raising enough money to fund our mission now and in the future? (Total Fundraising Net)

2. To what extent are we dependent on a small number of large-scale donations? (Dependency Quotient = sum of contributions from top five donors or funders/total expenditures)

3. How efficiently are we raising funds? (Cost of Fundraising = total fundraising expenses/total fundraising net)

Equation: Enough money to fund programs + A responsible balance of risk and reward = Healthy fundraising programs

Communications: Talk impact, not percentages; focus on overall results, not individual tactics; be transparent, but holistic

  • Ann Hale (AFP) discussed competencies of fundraisers – relationship building, leadership, professional judgment, and organizational management.

Opening Reception (National Museum of African American History and Culture – Smithsonian)

The reception allowed us to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture and it was a powerful, moving experience.

Community Town Hall (Plenary)

The Duke Ellington School of the Arts Show Choir opened the plenary with Hit Me With a Hot Note.

  • We were introduced to Independent Sector President and CEO Dan Cardinali (bio).
  • Dan learned from Native Americans in Philanthropy CEO Sarah Eagle Heart that “New Frontiers” meant something other than intended to some people, which left him feeling embarrassed but also hopeful that we could openly have this discussion at a meeting with newcomers to the Conference.
  • “We as a community care about the means as much as the ends.” – Cardinali
  • Through relationships, toxic stress diminishes in the body and the community. Nonprofit sector has the treasure of public trust and the public confidence in having expertise. Nonprofit sector is trusted to heal the country. – Cardinali

Community Dialogues

  • What are the three unique assets the sector has that are critical to healing the nation?
  • What are the commitments of the nonprofit sector?
  • What are the commitments we should expect of government?

Philanthropy Making a Difference with Government

  • Bad systems trump good programs – this is why philanthropy must partner with government
  • Philanthropy allows government to be more nimble, take risks, and create change
  • Lessons learned from collaborations: (1) role confusion and conflation; (2) defined responsibilities; (3) resources – whose; (4) results – shared definition; (5) risk – allocation (and who is going to move first). Add readiness (agencies may have many barriers to saying “yes” to anything but some barriers may be historical and not true legal barriers).
  • Foundations should invest heavily in having the community’s voices heard. One type of investment is higher risk tolerance.
  • Lean in, don’t step back in collaborating with government now. Mechanisms may be different, your missions are the same.

Dog Whistle Politics: How Racism Wrecks the Middle Class

  • “Strategic racism helps win elections…and not just this one.” Ian Haney Lopez
  • Call to Action: “This is the best opportunity in a generation to convince people that racism is a divide and conquer weapon that hurts all of us.”
  • “To restore our country–we need an inclusion revolution.” – Lopez. We must organize around identity, not class.

Keeping Up With Forces Shaping Our Future

  • Futurists look for trends and signs of change across the “STEEP” categories: social, technological, environmental, ecological, and political.
  • A futurist can help shape plans – see Perez Art Museum’s plans for surviving a hurricane.
  • Changing future of work – jobs are rapidly changing, millennials change jobs every 2 years or less (is this a symptom of a big problem?), rise of the “gig” economy, fight for $15 hour minimum wage, technology (e.g., artificial intelligence, diverless cars) automating work.
  • Pace of change is so rapid, it may require multiple pivots in organizational direction and structure.
  • Scenario planning is a structured way for organisations to think about the future.. The Economist

America Divided: How Can Our Sector Work Together Better? (Screening)

This series cuts to the heart of the inequality crisis, exploring life-and-death struggles around the economic, social and political divide. Our aim is to expose the damage extreme inequality inflicts on all Americans, reveal its systemic causes, and celebrate real-world heroes fighting for solutions.

The creator and executive producer of America DividedSolly Granatstein, provided us with a glimpse at some of our problems with inequality, including through subtle (to the prospective tenant) but pervasive housing discrimination.

On Shifting Ground – A Production of the Hilton Prize Coalition (Screening)

Steve Connors, Master Storyteller and Director, Hilton Prize Coalition Storytelling Program, noted the challenges of collaboration among local NGOs after the devastating 2015 earthquake in Nepal. They simply didn’t know each other.

With the production of “On Shifting Ground” as the Storytelling Program pilot, The Hilton Prize Coalition has created a new model for collaboration to achieve collective impact. With tools and support from the Coalition, the organizations featured are now formalizing a collaborative framework around program delivery that arose organically from their participation in the film.

Leadership Awards Luncheon

The Luncheon celebrated the transformative leadership of Bryan Stevenson, recipient of the 2016 John W. Gardner Leadership Award, and Diana Nambatya Nsubuga, recipient of the 2016 American Express NGen Leadership Award. Stevenson’s powerful messages inspired and resonated with the attendees:

  • “I don’t believe slavery ended in 1865, it just evolved.”
  • Whenever you allow yourself to be governed by fear and anger, you will tolerate inequality and oppression.
  • “If we do the uncomfortable things, we’ll find something on the other side of that.” We don’t create change when we only do what’s convenient and comfortable. Progress is never comfortable.
  • We need to change the narrative and be willing to talk about things we’ve been afraid to talk about.
  • You are beating the drum for justice. “We’ve got to be brave, brave, brave.”
  • Hopelessness is the enemy of justice. Hope will get you to speak, stand when others try to hold you down.
  • There is power in proximity. Too often we are trying to help suffering people from afar.
  • Beware of any romanticization of civil rights activism; it’s nothing like a “3-day carnival”.

Some final words from the Conference:

  • “America faces breathtaking opportunities disguised as unsolvable problems.” – Gardner
  • Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights.

Nonprofit Tweets of the Week – 11/11/16

Washington, DC - White House back yard on a Summer day

We have elected a new President of the United States – our President – who will represent our country — but who has shown he will not represent the beliefs and values that a majority of the country holds dear — though he will be held accountable to and by all Americans, including those who trusted him with their vote, about making their day-to-day lives better even as many lose their health care, receive fewer government services and benefits, have their family members and friends deported, fear the backlash of greater racial injustice and Islamaphobia, and suffer from the emergence of hatred and misogyny emboldened by his election to our highest office. The nonprofit sector will have much work to do and we’ll need to ensure the charitable giving laws are defended and enhanced with less public resources devoted to basic public goods. On this Veteran’s Day, we give thanks to all who have served this country. Have a listen Bob Dylan‘s Blowin’ in the Wind while perusing our curated nonprofit tweets of the week: