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Archive for the ‘legal profession’ Category

When it comes to nonprofits and their tax-exempt status, faith-based organizations (FBOs) must be especially careful when they decide to go beyond “having church” to providing services that benefit the community overall.  For example, when a FBO decides to go from developing Sunday School curriculum for its own use to developing and selling biblical children’s stories to be used by the general public…or when a FBO expands its transitional housing efforts from housing the homeless in their multi-purpose building to providing shelter in homes the FBO has purchased…or when a FBO intends to purchase land not just for a new church building but for other uses such as senior housing and small-shop retail…and the list can go on.

Even though the examples given above can be deemed as extensions of the FBOs overall mission, these “extensions” may be viewed by the Internal Revenue Service differently.  In fact, there are many recent examples of FBOs and their leaders being investigated by the federal government questioning their tax-exempt status.  Ultimately, these investigations were dropped, but the fact remains that as budgets tighten at the federal and state levels, government bodies will continue to aggressively seek additional sources of revenue and FBOs will continue to be potential targets as the line blurs between their charitable and auxiliary activities.

One way to address this possibility is for FBOs to establish independent organizations that can facilitate these activities without jeopardizing the FBOs tax-exempt status.  For example, using the “bible children’s stories” example from above, I would recommend that the FBO create a separate entity (e.g., a publishing company) that would develop, market and sell the products so that the tax-exempt status of the FBO would not be put into question – especially when the income of the publishing company begins to increase substantially.  In addition, if the FBO intends to secure grants for various charitable activities that will benefit the community as a whole, many philanthropic organizations cannot award grants directly to FBOs, but can make awards to non-profit organizations that facilitate these charitable activities.

The examples given above are merely for illustration and not intended to be definitive.  Case law is constantly evolving in this area, so please consult with a local attorney or CPA who can help you wade through these waters.  If you have questions or comments that would help broaden this discussion, please respond.

Be strong and be blessed!

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Let’s see…we’ve talked about assessing the needs of your community and matching these needs with your organization’s interests.  After assessing community needs, you would develop programming to address these needs.  We’ve talked about the importance of focusing your efforts to avoid trying to be all things to all people.  We’ve discussed the reasoning behind and necessity of knowing your target market (in other words, who you’re trying to reach to positively affect their lives in some way).  Now, let’s look at “needs assessment” from a different vantage point – what are the needs of YOUR ORGANIZATION to most effectively serve your target market with your programming.

When one begins to look at the needs of an organization, the focus usually sharpens very quickly on MONEY.  Now don’t get me wrong, having sufficient financial resources are vital for short- and long-term success, but it is not the first thing you need and it may not even be the most important!  As has been mentioned before, having the right PEOPLE on the team, I submit, is more important than money.  People help create the organization in its infancy…people can perform a preliminary community needs assessment…people develop the organization’s programming concepts…people help identify the MONEY! 

To expand this idea further, an organizational needs assessment should include answering the following questions:

  • Do we have the “right” board members?  Even though your board is enthusiastic and supportive, the experience and skill sets of the members may be very similar (e.g., members of the same church, neighbors, etc.) – on the surface, of course.  However, as you look at the make-up of your board, seek to identify members with experience in areas such as finance/accounting, management, legal, working with your target market(s), public relations, fundraising, city/county government, advocacy, and others.  Resources that can help include organizations such as Triangle BoardConnect (to identify potential board members) and BoardSource (building the board’s capacity).
  • How many volunteers do we need?  As you implement your programming, you cannot solely rely on board members to do the work.  You will need dedicated volunteers for program implementation and, ultimately, to become advocates and ambassadors on behalf of the organization.  (Possible resources:  United Way, Volunteer Match, and Senior Corps).
  • Are there other organizations in the community I can work with and how can I work with them?  You will learn about other organizations that do similar work and/or target similar markets as you perform your community needs assessment.  You will, also, get vital information from your board members because, in many cases, they are very familiar with these organizations and may even serve on their boards as well.  Feel free to reach out to these organizations to let them know what you plan to do, seek their advice and explore possible partnership opportunities.
  • How much money do I need and where can I find it?  You will need to determine your organizational and programming budget(s) as well as develop a strategy for securing these financial resources.  We’ll discuss this important topic in the near future.

You will find that by doing a thorough organizational needs assessment, you will identify YOUR needs to effective implement your programming that will address COMMUNITY needs.

Be strong and be blessed!

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We’ve discussed a number of topics over the past few months pertaining to community economic development (CED) – from identifying key partners to embracing fundraising to recognizing the important role of the legal profession.  However, we must not forget that at the end of the day, community economic development is a “people business”.  It takes knowledgeable people to create and implement policies and procedures that positively affect communities.  It takes observant people to see how local decisions and regional trends will affect them and their communities.  It takes a giving person to look beyond themselves and see how they can help improve their communities.  In other words, the basic infrastructure for successful CED is made up of the development of the people who live in that community.

I will be the first one to admit that I am not a psychologist, sociologist or have any other expertise in the study of people.  However, I believe there are a number of ways that individuals can prepare themselves physically, mentally and spiritually for the work of CED.  A few are listed below:

  • Gain knowledge – We’ve all heard that “knowledge is power”, and this is especially true when it comes to CED.  Individuals must become knowledgeable about issues such as available resources, trends in the economy, who to contact for assistance, and new laws that can affect your work.  The more people who have relevant knowledge, the better.
  • Get control of your personal finances – The issue of debt is something that people generally don’t discuss because it’s so personal and, sometimes, embarrassing.  I’ve experienced personally how excessive debt can be an “albatross around your neck”!  It can, for example, hinder your ability to support local businesses, one of the building blocks of CED.  If you have better control of your personal finances, you will be in a better position to buy a home, expand your education or even start a business.  For many years, Black Enterprise Magazine has led a campaign to encourage individuals and families to improve their financial status and has recently initiated a Financial Fitness Contest.
  • Give – I believe that a person (and a community) that is focused on giving will generate not only goodwill, but increased resources as a result.  The Bible speaks about giving numerous times throughout the text.  Examples include the following:

–  “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38 NIV).
–  “‘Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this,’ Says the Lord of hosts, ‘If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it'” (Malachi 3:10 NKJV).
–  “But this I say: He who sows [plants, gives] sparingly will also reap [gather, gain] sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6 NKJV) [Comments added].

In short, a discussion of the “macro” issues of CED should begin with a discussion of what it takes to improve the health and wellbeing of those on the “micro” level – its people.

Be strong and be blessed!

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Even before programs such as the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program was enacted by Congress in 1974, the federal government had been intricately involved in creating policy and funding programs that benefitted low-, medium- and moderate-income individuals and families.  These programs sought to address many of the social and economic challenges of these populations such as blight, poverty, unemployment, lack of affordable housing, etc.

However, another vital piece of the puzzle that is often overlooked is the important role the legal system plays in shaping and implementing CED.  From the NAACP and other civil rights organizations to public and private practices to university-based law clinics (talked about more below), these organizations work to address a wide variety of issues that affect CED, including family law, poverty law, government benefits, homelessness, housing and legal assistance to the poor.

CED Law Clinics – There is a wide array of law clinics throughout the U.S. that focus on community economic development.  Even though each may have a different focus (e.g., affordable housing, entrepreneurship, etc), they are all dedicated to improving the economic conditions of low wealth populations through the law by providing direct services as well as specialized training for future lawyers.  Some examples of CED law clinics include the following (for a more complete list, click here):

If you have legal questions regarding your small business, if your landlord has treated you unfairly or have other issues affecting your economic wellbeing, contact your local CED law clinic for assistance.

As you can see, CED and the legal profession are “joined at the hip”.  The community must ensure that the legal profession continues this service without bias that benefits ALL people.

Be strong and be blessed!

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