All posts by Erin Mirante

Developing a fundraising plan that works

A not-for-profit can have many strengths — a prominent board of directors, dedicated volunteers, committed staff members and effective programs — and still struggle to meet fundraising goals. Often, such nonprofits lack a strategic fundraising plan. Here’s how to develop one that can get better results.

Get the committee rolling

The first step is to form a fundraising committee consisting of board members, your executive director and other key staffers. You may also want to include major donors and active community members.

Committee members should start by reviewing past sources of funding and past fundraising approaches, and weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each. Even if your overall fundraising efforts have been less than successful, some sources and approaches may still be worth keeping. Next, brainstorm new donation sources and methods and select those with the greatest fundraising potential that are also likely to succeed.

As part of your plan, outline the roles you expect board members to play in fundraising efforts. For example, in addition to making their own donations, they can be crucial links to corporate and individual supporters.

Set it in motion

Once the committee has developed a plan for where the funds will hopefully come from and how to ask for them, it’s time to create a functional budget that includes operating expenses, staff costs and volunteer projections. Then, after the plan and budget have board approval, develop an action plan for achieving each objective and assign tasks to specific individuals.

Most important, once you’ve set your plan in motion, don’t let it sit on the shelf. Continually evaluate the plan and be ready to adapt it to organizational changes and unexpected situations. Although you want to give new fundraising initiatives time to succeed, don’t be afraid to cut your losses if it’s obvious an approach isn’t working.

Planning pays off

Developing a strategic plan for successful fundraising can take time and effort. However, it’s been said that every hour in effective planning saves three to four hours of work. Just remember that planning doesn’t replace doing.

Contact us for more ideas on how to meet fundraising objectives and grow your nonprofit’s revenues.

© 2019

IRS raises valuation limit for employer-provided vehicles

One of the most popular fringe benefits for employees at many organizations isn’t an insurance plan or a health club membership; it’s shiny chrome and steel — a vehicle. Providing a car, van or truck that an employee can use for both work and personal purposes can attract better job candidates or just make sense practically. If your organization offers such a fringe benefit, you should know that the IRS recently updated its valuation limit for employer-provided vehicles.

Read the Notice

Generally, you must include the value of an employer-provided vehicle that’s available for personal use in an employee’s income and wages. The personal use may be valued using the cents-per-mile or fleet-average valuation rules for the 2019 calendar year.

Because of tax law changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), the maximum dollar limitations on the depreciation deductions for passenger automobiles significantly increased and the way inflation increases are calculated changed. In Notice 2019-8, issued early this year, the IRS and the U.S. Treasury Department noted their intention to amend regulations to incorporate a higher base value of $50,000 to be adjusted annually.

Sure enough, in May the IRS issued Notice 2019-34. It provides that, for 2019, the maximum fair market value of a vehicle (including cars, vans and trucks) for use with the vehicle cents-per-mile and fleet-average valuation rules is $50,400.

Expect revisions

Because current regulations haven’t yet been updated to reflect the changes under the TCJA, the IRS provides relief to taxpayers in the form of interim guidance for 2019 in the notice. The agency (along with the Treasury Department) intends to revise the rules for the 2018 and 2019 tax years.

One example of the intended revisions addresses what an employer should do if it didn’t qualify to adopt the vehicle cents-per-mile valuation rule on the first day on which a vehicle was used by an employee for personal use because, under the rules in effect before 2018, the vehicle had an FMV more than the maximum permitted. In such cases, the employer will be allowed to first adopt the vehicle cents-per-mile valuation rule for the 2018 or 2019 tax year based on the maximum FMV of a vehicle for purposes of the vehicle cents-per-mile valuation rule.

Another intended revision noted in Notice 2019-34 will permit an employer to adopt the fleet-average valuation rule for the 2018 or 2019 tax year if the employer didn’t qualify to use the fleet-average valuation rule before January 1, 2019, because the maximum value limitation before 2018 couldn’t be met.

Rely on the guidance

Until revised final regulations are published, taxpayers may rely on the interim guidance provided in Notice 2019-34. Our firm can help you fully understand both the interim guidance and any future revisions to the rules for employer-provided vehicles. Contact us today with any questions you may have!

© 2019

Holding on to your nonprofit’s exempt status

If you think that, once your not-for-profit receives its official tax-exempt status from the IRS, you don’t have to revisit it again, think again. Whether your organization is a Section 501(c)(3), Sec. 501(c)(7) or other type, be careful. The activities you conduct, the ways you generate revenue and how you use that revenue could potentially threaten your exempt status. It’s worth reviewing the IRS’s exempt-status rules to make sure your organization is operating within them.

Hot buttons

There are many categories of tax exemption — each with its own rules. But certain hot-button issues apply to most tax-exempt entities. These include:

Lobbying. Having a Sec. 501(c)(3) status limits the amount of lobbying a charitable organization can undertake. This doesn’t mean lobbying is totally prohibited. But according to the IRS, your organization shouldn’t devote “a substantial part of its activities” trying to influence legislation.

For nonprofits that are exempt under other categories of Sec. 501(c), there are fewer restrictions on lobbying activities. Lobbying activities these groups undertake must relate to the accomplishment of the group’s purpose. For instance, an association of teachers can lobby for education reform without risking its tax exemption.

Campaign activities. The IRS considers lobbying to be different from campaign activities, which are completely off limits to Sec. 501(c)(3) organizations. This means they can’t participate or intervene in any political campaign for or against a candidate for public office. If you’re not a 501(c)(3) organization, campaign restrictions vary.

Excess profit and private inurement. The cardinal rule about profits is that a nonprofit can’t be operated to benefit private interests. If your fundraising is successful and you have extra income, you must put it back into the organization through additional services or by creating a reserve or an endowment. You can’t use extra income to reward an individual or a person’s related entities.

Unrelated revenue. If you’re generating income through a trade or business you conduct regularly and it’s outside the scope of your mission, you may be subject to unrelated business income tax (UBIT). Examples include a university that rents performance halls to nonuniversity users or a charity selling advertising in its newsletter.

Almost all nonprofits are subject to this provision of the tax code, and, if you ignore it, you could risk your exempt status. That said, losing an exempt status from unrelated business income is rare.

Know the rules

IRS Publication 557, Tax-Exempt Status for Your Organization, outlines the rules for all nonprofits that qualify for exempt status. We can help your nonprofit interpret and apply the information based on its specific situation. Contact us today!

© 2019

Buy vs. lease: Business equipment edition

Life presents us with many choices: paper or plastic, chocolate or vanilla, regular or decaf. For businesses, a common conundrum is buy or lease. You’ve probably faced this decision when considering office space or a location for your company’s production facilities. But the buy vs. lease quandary also comes into play with equipment.

Pride of ownership

Some business owners approach buying equipment like purchasing a car: “It’s mine; I’m committed to it and I’m going to do everything I can to familiarize myself with this asset and keep it in tip-top shape.” Yes, pride of ownership is still a thing.

If this is your philosophy, work to pass along that pride to employees. When you get staff members to buy in to the idea that this is your equipment and the success of the company depends on using and maintaining each asset properly, the business can obtain a great deal of long-term value from assets that are bought and paid for.

Of course, no “buy vs. lease” discussion is complete without mentioning taxes. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act dramatically enhanced Section 179 expensing and first-year bonus depreciation for asset purchases. In fact, many businesses may be able to write off the full cost of most equipment in the year it’s purchased. On the downside, you’ll take a cash flow hit when buying an asset, and the tax benefits may be mitigated somewhat if you finance.

Fine things about flexibility

Many businesses lease their equipment for one simple reason: flexibility. From a cash flow perspective, you’re not laying down a major purchase amount or even a substantial down payment in most cases. And you’re not committed to an asset for an indefinite period — if you don’t like it, at least there’s an end date in sight.

Leasing also may be the better option if your company uses technologically advanced equipment that will get outdated relatively quickly. Think about the future of your business, too. If you’re planning to explore an expansion, merger or business transformation, you may be better off leasing equipment so you’ll have the flexibility to adapt it to your changing circumstances.

Last, leasing does have some tax breaks. Lease payments generally are tax deductible as “ordinary and necessary” business expenses, though annual deduction limits may apply.

Pros and cons

On a parting note, if you do lease assets this year and your company follows Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), new accounting rules for leases take effect in 2020 for calendar-year private companies. Contact us for further information, as well as for any assistance you might need in weighing the pros and cons of buying vs. leasing business equipment.

© 2019

Writing a winning grant proposal

Competition is as fierce as it has ever been for private and public grants to not-for-profits. If your funding model depends on receiving adequate grant money, you can’t afford to submit sloppy, unprofessional grant proposals. Here are some tips on writing a winner.

Do your research

Just as you’d research potential employers before applying for a job, you should get to know grant-making organizations before asking for their support. Familiarize yourself with the grant-maker’s primary goals and objectives, the types of projects it has funded in the past, and its grant-making processes and procedures.

Performing research enables you to determine whether your programs are a good fit with the grant-maker’s mission. If they aren’t, you’ll save yourself time and effort in preparing a proposal. If they are, you’ll be better able to tailor your proposal to your audience.

Support your request

Every grant proposal has several essential elements, starting with a single-page executive summary. Your summary should be succinct, using only the number of words necessary to define your organization and its needs. You also should include a short statement of need that provides an overview of the program you’re seeking to fund and explains why you need the money for your program. Other pieces include a detailed project description and budget, an explanation of your organization’s unique ability to run this program, and a conclusion that briefly restates your case.

Support your proposal with facts and figures but don’t forget to include a human touch by telling the story behind the numbers. Augment statistics with a glimpse of the population you serve, including descriptions of typical clients or community testimonials.

Follow the rules

Review the grant-maker’s guidelines as soon as you receive them so that if you have any questions you can contact the organization in advance of the submission deadline. Then, be sure to follow application instructions to the letter. This includes submitting all required documentation on time and error-free. Double-check your proposal for common mistakes such as:

  • Excessive length,
  • Math errors,
  • Overuse of industry jargon, and
  • Missing signatures.

Take the time

To produce a winning proposal, you need to give yourself a generous time budget. Researching the grant-maker, collecting current facts and statistics about your organization, composing a compelling story about your work and proofreading your proposal all take more time than you probably think they do. Above all, don’t leave grant proposal writing to the last minute. Contact Langdon & Company LLP if you have any questions!

© 2019

How to convince donors to remove “restricted” from their gifts

Restricted gifts — or donations with conditions attached — can be difficult for not-for-profits to manage. Unlike unrestricted gifts, these donations can’t be poured into your general operating fund and be used where they’re most needed. Instead, restricted gifts generally are designated to fund a specific program or initiative, such as a building or scholarship fund.

It’s not only unethical, but dangerous, not to comply with a donor’s restrictions. If donors learn you’ve ignored their wishes, they can demand the money back and sue your organization. And your reputation will almost certainly take a hit. Rather than take that risk, try to encourage your donors to give with no strings attached.

Personal touch

Some donors simply don’t realize how restricted gifts can prevent their favorite charity from achieving its objectives. So when speaking with potential donors about their giving plans, praise the benefits of unrestricted gifts. Explain how donations are used at your organization, offering hard numbers and examples where needed. Be as upfront as possible and give them as much information as you can about your organization.

To make unrestricted giving as easy as possible, give donors (and their advisors) sample bequest clauses that refer to the general mission and purpose of your organization. Also encourage them to include wording that shows “suggestions” or “preferences” for their donations, as opposed to binding restrictions. Prepare documents that give wording samples for these cases.

Words of intent

Unless you’re holding a fundraiser to benefit a specific program, include general giving statements in your fundraising materials. For example, you might say: “All gifts will be used to further the organization’s general charitable purposes,” or “Your donations to this year’s fundraiser will be used toward the continued goal of fulfilling our organization’s mission.”

Reinforce this message in your donor thank-you letters. They should state your nonprofit’s understanding of how the gift is intended to be used. For example, if a donor stipulated no restrictions, explain that the money will be used for general operating purposes.

Gentle persuasion

Obviously, you’ll need to be respectful if a donor is determined to attach strings to a gift. (Before accepting it, just make certain you’ll be able to carry out the donor’s wishes.) But if you can persuade contributors that their gifts will be used in a responsible and mission-enhancing way, many are likely to remove restrictions.

Contact us for more information on using restricted and unrestricted funds.

© 2019

5 questions can help nonprofits avoid accounting and tax mistakes

To err is human, but some errors are more consequential — and harder to fix — than others. Most not-for-profit organizations can’t afford to lose precious financial resources, so you need to do whatever possible to minimize accounting and tax mistakes. Get started by considering the following five questions:

  1. Have we formally documented our accounting processes? All aspects of managing your nonprofit’s money should be reflected in a detailed, written accounting manual. This should include how to accept and deposit donations and pay bills.
  2. How much do we rely on our accounting software? These days, accounting software is essential to most nonprofits’ daily functioning. But even with the assistance of technology, mistakes happen. Your staff should always double-check entries and reconcile bank accounts to ensure that transactions entered into accounting software are complete and accurate.
  3. Do we consistently report unrelated business income (UBI)? IRS officials have cited “failing to consider obvious and subtle” UBI tax issues as the biggest tax mistake nonprofits make. Many organizations commonly fail to report UBI — or they underreport this income. Be sure to follow guidance in IRS Publication 598, Tax on Unrelated Business Income of Exempt Organizations. And if you need more help, consult a tax expert with nonprofit expertise.
  4. Have we correctly classified our workers? This is another area where nonprofits commonly make errors in judgment and practice. You’re required to withhold and pay various payroll taxes on employee earnings, but don’t have the same obligation for independent contractors. If the IRS can successfully argue that one or more of your independent contractors meet the criteria for being classified as employees, both you and the contractor possibly face financial consequences.
  5. Do we back up data? If you don’t regularly back up accounting and tax information, it may not be safe in the event of a fire, natural disaster, terrorist attack or other emergency. This data should be backed up automatically and frequently using cloud-based or other offsite storage solutions.

 

If your accounting and tax policies and processes aren’t quite up to snuff and potentially put your organization at risk of making serious errors, don’t despair. We can help you address these shortcomings. Contact Langdon & Company today!

© 2019

Charitable donations: Unraveling the mystery of motivation

Traditionally, Americans have supported charities not only for tax breaks and a vague sense of “giving back,” but also for a variety of other financial, emotional and social reasons. Understanding what motivates donors and how their motivations vary across demographic groups can help your not-for-profit more effectively reach and engage potential supporters.

Money matters

Asset protection and capital preservation traditionally have motivated many wealthy individuals to make charitable donations. And certain strategies — such as gifting appreciated stock or real estate to get “more bang for the buck” — may be particularly appealing to donors who make charitable giving a piece of their larger financial plans.

But high-income donors sometimes have less-obvious financial motivations, such as a wish to limit the amount their children inherit to prevent a “burden of wealth.” Warren Buffett, for example, plans to leave the vast majority of his wealth to charity rather than to his children. As he told Fortune, wealthy parents should leave their children “enough money so that they would feel they could do anything, but not so much that they could do nothing.” To appeal to these kinds of donors, you may want to offer to work with the entire family so that they can begin a multigenerational tradition of giving.

Social considerations

Research by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University has found that younger donors — those between 20 and 45 — as well as wealthier and better-educated individuals are more likely to want to “make a difference” with their gifts. Those with lower incomes and a high school degree or less often donate to meet basic needs in their communities or to “help the poor help themselves.”

Donors of all stripes are motivated by the perceived social effects of giving. Research published in American Economic Review reported that donors typically gave more when their gifts were announced publicly.

Similarly, numerous studies have found that people are more likely to give — and to give in greater amounts — if asked personally, particularly if they know the person making the appeal. These donors may want to make an altruistic impression, and some may seek the prestige of being connected with a well-established and admired nonprofit “brand.” Such individuals are more likely to buy pricey tickets to annual galas or join a nonprofit’s board to meet and socialize with others in their socioeconomic group or business community.

Get — and keep — their attention

There are probably as many motivations as there are donors, and most people have more than one reason to support a particular charity. To get — and keep — donors’ attention, perform some basic market research to learn who they are.

© 2019

Financial best practices for religious congregations

Churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious congregations aren’t required to file tax returns, so they might not regularly hire independent accountants. But regardless of size, religious organizations often are subject to other requirements, such as paying unrelated business income tax (UBIT) and properly classifying employees.

Without the oversight of tax authorities or outside accountants, religious leaders may not be aware of all requirements to which they’re subject. This can leave their organizations vulnerable to fraud and its trustees and employees subject to liabilities.

Common vulnerabilities

To effectively prevent financial and other critical mistakes, make sure your religious congregation complies with IRS rules and federal and state laws. In particular, pay attention to:

Employee classification. Determine which workers in your organization are full-time employees and which are independent contractors. Depending on many factors, such as the amount of control your organization has over them, their responsibilities, and their form of compensation, individuals you consider independent contractors may need to be reclassified as employees.

Clergy wages. Most clergy should be treated as employees and receive W-2 forms. Typically, they’re exempt from Social Security taxes, Medicare taxes and federal withholding but are subject to self-employment tax on wages. A parsonage (or rental) allowance can reduce income tax, but not self-employment tax.

UBIT. If your organization regularly engages in any type of business activity that’s unrelated to its religious mission, be aware of certain tax and reporting rules. Income from such activities could be subject to UBIT.

Lobbying. Your organization shouldn’t devote a substantial part of its activities in attempting to influence legislation. Otherwise you might risk your tax-exempt status and face potential penalties.

Trust and protect

Faith groups can be particularly vulnerable to fraud because they generally foster an environment of trust. Also, their leaders may be reluctant to punish offenders. Just keep in mind that even the most devout and long-standing members of your congregation are capable of embezzlement when faced with extreme circumstances.

To ensure employees and volunteers can’t help themselves to collections, require that at least two people handle all contributions. They should count cash in a secure area and verify the contents of offering envelopes. Next, they should document their collection activity in a signed report. For greater security, encourage your members to make electronic payments on your website or sign up for automatic bank account deductions.

Seek expertise

Although your congregation is subject to less IRS scrutiny than even your fellow nonprofit organizations, that doesn’t mean you can afford to ignore financial best practices. Contact us for help.

Fringe benefits: Long-term care insurance can pay off

The U.S. population is aging and, as it does, the need for long-term support and services will only grow. According to a 2017 fact sheet from the AARP Public Policy Institute, on average, 52% of people who turn 65 today will develop a severe disability that will require long-term care (LTC) at some point. For this reason, among others, employers should consider offering LTC insurance as a fringe benefit.

High cost of care

LTC insurance helps covered individuals pay for the care they need because of a severe cognitive impairment or if they need assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs), including bathing, dressing, toileting and eating. They might require assistance because of an accident, disability, chronic illness or aging.

The costs associated with such care have skyrocketed. AARP reports that the average annual cost of a private room in a nursing home in 2016 was about $92,000, with a shared room costing around $82,000 annually.

The average cost for a home health aide in 2016 was $20 per hour. With the average aide working about 30 hours per week, that came out to $31,000 per year. And, to the surprise of many, Medicare doesn’t pay anything for LTC, whether in-home or at a facility.

Purchase considerations

LTC insurance isn’t cheap. But by buying the insurance on a group basis, you may be able to obtain a discount from the individual policy rates.

You also might qualify for a guaranteed issue plan that provides coverage regardless of health status and need — meaning employees who might not be able to get coverage on their own would now have one less thing to worry about.

From a tax perspective, you can claim a deduction for the premiums you pay, and neither the premiums nor the benefits are taxable for the employee.

Employer benefits

The positive impact of offering LTC insurance can play out over the long term. First, a fringe benefit like this can draw better job candidates who are looking for more than just basic health care coverage. It might help you retain employees as well — especially those who are already looking toward retirement and beyond.

Think about extending LTC insurance to employees’ family members, too. As AARP notes, unpaid family and friends provide most LTC support, often incurring direct costs as well as lost wages and benefits. Employees providing caregiving could be forced to cut their work hours, take easier positions or quit work altogether.

By providing coverage for their family members, you could reduce the caregiving burden on your employees, relieving stress on them — and probably reaping productivity gains to boot.

A worthy consideration

Not every employer will have room in its benefits budget to buy LTC coverage. But if you’re looking to upgrade your fringe benefits, this is one perk that’s well worth considering. To discuss further, please contact us.

© 2018