Directors and officers (D&O) liability insurance enables board members to make decisions without fear that they’ll be personally responsible for any related litigation costs. Such coverage is common in the business world, but fewer not-for-profits carry it. Not-for-profits may assume that their charitable mission and the good intentions of volunteer board members protect them from litigation. These assumptions can be wrong.

Here are several FAQs to help you determine whether your board needs D&O insurance:  Continue Reading Does Your Not-for-Profit Board Need D&O Insurance?

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.

Continue Reading How to Persuade Donors to Remove “Restricted” from Gifts

The Greater Houston Partnership’s next Houston Young Professionals and Entrepreneurs (HYPE) event, “Explore Your Passion,” is coming up on February 20, 2019.

The event, sponsored by PKF Texas, is designed PechaKucha style where young professionals can meet, talk and interact with various not-for-profit and volunteer organizations. Young professionals will have the opportunity to network and find their purpose to make a difference in Houston – whether it’s in youth development, education, health, social services, crisis services, family services and more.

For more information and to register, visit www.houston.org.

Stay up to date with more Houston events at our website: www.PKFTexas.com/Calendar.

An operating reserve is an unrestricted and relatively liquid portion of a not-for-profit’s net assets. Securing this reserve for use in emergencies or simply when your budget falls short is critical to your organization’s security and long-term survival.

Long-Term Effort
Building an adequate operating reserve takes time and should be regarded as a continuous project. Your board of directors needs to determine your not-for-profit’s policy on building an operating reserve, the desired fund amount and the circumstances under which it can be drawn down.

Reserve funds can come from unrestricted contributions, investment income and planned surpluses. Many boards designate a portion of their organizations’ unrestricted net assets as an operating reserve.

Continue Reading How Your Not-For-Profit’s Operating Reserve is Your Financial Safety Net

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 multi-generational 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 not-for-profit “brand.” Such individuals are more likely to buy pricey tickets to annual galas or join a not-for-profit’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.

Not-for-profits that direct and benefit from the actions of their volunteers can be held accountable if those individuals are harmed or harm others on the job. Lawsuits involving volunteers often arise from allegations of negligence or intentional misconduct, even when volunteers act outside the scope of their prescribed duties. Your organization needs to take steps to limit risk associated with unpaid workers.

Volunteers as Employees
Your volunteer recruitment process should be almost as formal and structured as your paid employee hiring process. Develop job descriptions for open positions that outline the nature of the work, any required skills or experience and possible risks the job presents to the volunteer or your nonprofit.

Once you have volunteer candidates, screen them according to the risks that might be involved based on your nonprofit’s mission, programs and likely volunteer activities. Some positions will pose few risks. For those, ask candidates to fill out an application and submit to an interview, and then check their work and character references.

Positions that carry greater risks — such as work involving children, the elderly and other vulnerable populations, or direct access to cash donations — should involve more rigorous screening. This might include criminal history and credit report checks and verification of driver’s licenses, certifications or degrees.

Training and Performance Plans
Once volunteers are on board, provide training, supervision and, if necessary, discipline. Hold an orientation session to explain your nonprofit’s mission and policies. After volunteers have begun working for you, continue active supervision to verify that they understand expectations.

To encourage professionalism and responsibility in your volunteers, consider devising performance plans that include goals — and rewards for achieving them. Such plans can also provide you with a framework to evaluate and dismiss volunteers who may be putting your nonprofit at risk by, for example, failing to follow safety procedures.

Role of Insurance
No risk reduction plan is complete without insurance coverage. In addition to general liability, consider supplemental policies that address specific types of exposure such as medical malpractice or sexual misconduct.

It’s also a good idea to have legal advisors periodically review policies and procedures pertaining to volunteers. Attorneys and financial advisors can help you determine whether your organization is doing all it can to reduce risks.

Many not-for-profits look international, beyond the United States, to boost revenue. They recruit members, sell products, promote conferences or solicit donations abroad. But it’s important to look before you leap borders; consider not only potential windfalls, but also pitfalls.

Research Your Target
Before your nonprofit invests funds internationally, make sure that the need in your target country for your services or products is robust enough to justify the costs of doing business there. For instance, what will your competition be like? Ample research is essential before making a decision.

This includes gathering information about the country’s relevant laws and regulations. If you plan to sell products or services there, investigate sales and tax issues thoroughly. If, for example, the country engages in free trade, it may be easy to do business there. But if the country isn’t a party to a free trade agreement with the United States, high tariffs might prove an insurmountable obstacle.

Consult with legal and financial advisors as you chart your business plan. Foreign activities also may require analysis to ensure that your American contributors retain their tax deductions and that you don’t jeopardize your organization’s own tax-exempt status.

Put People First
Your understanding of the target country’s people will be key to your success. Setting up a cultural advisory committee in the United States that includes expatriates is one way to develop insights into your new market. If English isn’t the primary spoken language in the target country, bring a translator along on exploratory visits.

Offering membership to individuals in other countries can be your initial step toward becoming a global organization. Some organizations hold seminars and conferences for these potential new members and even open local offices to establish roots.

If you appoint a member from the target country to your board, be willing to accept different approaches to issues. Board meetings probably will continue to be held at your U.S. headquarters. But videoconferencing applications and collaborative software can help board members participate fully in meetings regardless of physical location.

Consider Currency
Finally, don’t discount the potential impact of currency exchange rates. If the U.S. dollar is weak, it could work to your advantage in selling products and services abroad. On the other hand, a strong dollar will likely go further when leasing foreign property or compensating international staff.

To err is human, but some errors are more consequential — and harder to fix — than others. Most not-for-profits 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:

Have we formally documented our accounting processes? All aspects of managing your not-for-profit’s money should be reflected in a detailed, written accounting manual. This should include how to accept and deposit donations and pay bills.

How much do we rely on our accounting software? These days, accounting software is essential to most not-for-profits’ 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.

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 not-for-profits 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 not-for-profit expertise.

Have we correctly classified our workers? This is another area where not-for-profits 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.

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.