Nonprofit & Tax-Exempt Organizations

Now that we are living in the age of the internet, businesses are discovering the importance of marketing themselves online. However, some businesses are finding themselves in trouble under the US Copyright Act for inadvertently posting images or photographs on their websites without the proper permission to do so.

The following is a typical scenario in

For most nonprofit organizations, the board of directors establishes the policies that allow the organization to carry out its mission. As a result, in a perfect world, every board would be filled with qualified individuals who are passionate about and committed to the organization’s mission. 

Unfortunately, in the real world, the perfect board does not exist. Achieving and maintaining an effective board is difficult for any organization, but it can be especially tough for nonprofits. I have seen clients end up with apathetic or problematic board members who, for one reason or another, actually hinder their organizations’ missions. At times, board meetings devolved into dysfunctional bullying sessions where a few directors put their own interests ahead of those of the organization. The selfish actions of a few directors were so damaging in one instance that the organization was in danger of losing its tax-exempt status. 

These cases make it clear that, when recruiting new board members, it is important for nonprofit organizations to implement effective vetting policies and thus minimize the possibility of letting a wolf into the henhouse. Here are a few tips that can help you establish such a policy:

Job Description. Adopt a job description for directors that incorporates your mission and clarifies the expectations and duties that the prospective directors will face when they join the board.

Job Interview. Treat the process just as you would a job interview. Go over the job description with candidates and ask them why your mission is important to them. This should help you weed out potential board members with self-serving motives. Ask them for references and follow through in checking them. Ask the interviewees how their skills and experience can support your mission.

Warning Signs. Asking the following questions can help your organization identify warning signs in potential directors:

Continue Reading Vetting Nonprofit Board Members

On April 17, 2012, Matthew Grosh will be a part of a legal breakout panel at the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations (PANO) annual conference. The session, entitled “Don’t Have Your Story Be a Scandal,” will consist of a panel of nonprofit legal experts discussing a variety of topics to clarify policies and procedures that

It is tax season, and while much of spring is spent discussing what must be paid out in taxes, it is also a great time to take advantage of savings opportunities.

For small businesses, one of the greatest expenditures, healthcare, can now offer additional savings this tax season. The Affordable Care Act (enacted March 2010) intends to help small businesses and tax-exempt organizations afford the cost of providing healthcare to their employees. In particular, the credit is focused on helping employers with low and moderate income workers, and encouraging employers to offer health insurance for the first time or maintain the coverage that they already have.           

The Small Business Healthcare Tax Credit provides a credit worth up to 35% of eligible small businesses’ premium costs through 2013. Even if a business did not owe tax in 2011, the credit can be carried back or forward for other tax years. Non-profits are also eligible to receive a tax credit of up to 25% of the cost of the organization’s premium through 2013. Even if a business has no taxable income, they may be eligible to receive the credit as a refund. This is particularly beneficial to tax-exempt organizations. In 2014, the rate increases to 50% for small businesses and 35% for non-profits. 

To be eligible, a business or tax-exempt organization must meet the following requirements: 

  1. The employer must cover at least 50% of the premium for healthcare coverage based on the single employee-only rate.
  2. The employer must have less than the equivalent of 25 full-time workers (for example, an employee with fewer than 50 half-time workers may be eligible).
  3. The employer must pay average annual wages below $50,000. The credit will gradually phase out for businesses with average wages between $25,000 and $50,000.


Continue Reading Healthcare Tax Credit for Small Businesses and Tax-Exempt Organizations

Some say it takes a village to raise a child. Others say it takes a family. I recently became convinced that it takes a law firm to advise a pastor who is administering a church. While preparing to participate in a class on church administration as part of the ministerial formation requirement for students at the Lancaster Theological Seminary, I became convinced that any pastor in a parish setting needs a law firm on call. Anecdotes related by the adjunct professor, the Reverend Dr. Barbara Kershner Daniel, about her years in the parish ministry further illustrated the need.

Pastors face many decisions in the course of their work, from choosing a form of organization for their church to managing property matters. Depending upon denominational polity and local requirements, pastors face concerns in the buying, selling and mortgaging of real estate in addition to those which an individual or commercial enterprise would encounter. Real estate law and church law such as the United Methodist "trust clause" intersect.

Changes in worship style and advances in technology now necessitate that each pastor become familiar with licensing and permissions. The new intellectual property issues go far beyond the standard church performance exception to copyright law that for many years made such concerns unnecessary. Printing hymns in bulletins, using screen projections, not to mention sharing podcasts and streaming videos, now demand that each pastor become his or her own intellectual property lawyer.

Having some working knowledge of real estate and intellectual property law is hardly enough. In what can be a highly competitive fundraising environment, pastors must also understand the administration of estates and trusts. The more estate planning knowledge pastors have, the more effective they will be in raising funds for their churches.

Continue Reading It Takes a Village: Pastors and the Law

As we have witnessed the Penn State Scandal spark movement toward change in state legislation, it is no surprise that its impact has now reached Washington, D.C. Yesterday, Pennsylvania Senator Robert Casey and California Senator Barbara Boxer introduced the Speak Up to Protect Every Abused Kid (Speak Up) Act of 2011. The purpose of the

On Friday I posted an article regarding Pennsylvania’s Mandatory Reporting Statute which requires certain people to report suspected child abuse to the proper authorities.  I highlighted some of the changes that have occurred in the law and the continuing confusion with the current law.  I suggested that our legislature may be prompted to take a look

Unless you have avoided picking up a newspaper, turning on the television or conversing with friends, family or co-workers recently, you probably have heard about the scandal surrounding Penn State University and the sexual abuse allegations against former defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky. The scandal, however, extends beyond the football program and has resulted in criminal charges being filed against former athletic director, Tim Curley, and finance and business administrator, Gary Schultz. The charges against these two individuals are perjury and failure to report child abuse. The allegations surrounding the Penn State football program and the charges against its administration, aside from becoming major national news, have brought significant attention to the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law and have raised a number of questions about who is required to report child abuse and when.

The current Child Protective Services Law in Pennsylvania requires that someone who, in the course of their employment, comes into contact with children must make a report to the appropriate Children & Youth Service or police when they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child has been a victim of abuse. The Law further goes on to specifically list a number of categories of persons who are required to report suspected abuse including, but not limited to:

  • Any licensed physician, osteopath
  • Medical Examiner, Coroner
  • Funeral Director
  • Dentist
  • Optometrist
  • Chiropractor
  • Podiatrist
  • Intern
  • Registered Nurse
  • Licensed Practical Nurse
  • Hospital personnel engaged in the admission, examination, care or treatment of persons
  • Christian Science practitioner
  • Member of the Clergy
  • School administrator, teacher, school nurse
  • Social services worker
  • Day-care center worker or any other child-care or foster-care worker
  • Mental health professional
  • Peace officer or law enforcement official

This list is not meant to be exclusive of others, but provides specific examples of those required to report. The Law also provides that any person may, even if not included in the above list, report suspected child abuse, although the Law does not impose a specific duty to do so.

The language of the Child Protective Services Law, while seemingly clear in its intent to require those in contact with children to report abuse, does leave open the question of what constitutes contact with children during one’s course of employment. Does it require constant contact? Occasional contact? It has been found that incidental contact with children during employment is not enough to trigger a reporting duty under the Law. In one case decided by a federal court interpreting this law, the Court found that a photo lab worker in a retail store was not under the purview of the Child Protective Services Law. Because the photo lab worker did not have regular contact with children during the course of her employment, she did not have a duty to report suspected abuse she perceived from photographs she processed in the lab.

Much has been made of the legal duty to report child abuse in the context of the allegations against the Penn State administrators. The question has been raised by at least one of the administrator’s attorneys as to whether a crime was actually committed by the administrator’s failure to report the information provided to him by Joe Paterno and the former graduate assistant who allegedly witnessed the sexual abuse of the child. It has also been pointed out by legal journals and commentaries that in 2002, when these alleged failure-to-report crimes occurred, the law was different than it is today. The 2002 law required that the abused child come directly in contact with a person in his or her professional capacity in order for that person to be considered a mandatory reporter. The law was then amended in 2007 to broaden the reporting requirements and include those who received the information second-hand. 

Continue Reading The Penn State Child Sex Abuse Scandal and the Legal Obligation to Report