Many nonprofits are poised to grow, but recognize risks

More than three-quarters of nonprofits are at least “somewhat likely” to pursue growth through expanded fundraising efforts during the next 12 to 18 months, according to a recent study. Nonprofit Finance Study: Managing Growth, conducted by nonprofit software firm Abila, also found that 84% of the financial professional respondents expect to seek new grant funding opportunities. Nonprofits are at least “somewhat likely” to pursue partnerships with other organizations (72%), provide new services that will bring in new revenue (69%) and seek corporate sponsorships (67%).

The results don’t only highlight a desire to grow among nonprofits. They also reflect the respondents’ recognition that growth makes risk management more challenging. More than 60% indicated that, as their organization grows, their ability to manage risk becomes somewhat or much harder.

If your organization is poised for growth, the report suggests a number of risk management activities. Among them: creating contingency plans for future funding uncertainty, maintaining compliance with funding requirements, assessing internal controls and training employees.

Your 990-EZ filings get easier

One out of three nonprofits that file paper Forms 990-EZ make a mistake. That’s according to the IRS, which is attempting to reduce errors with an updated form. The form has 29 “help” icons to help small and midsize nonprofits avoid common missteps.

The icons describe key information you need to complete many of the form’s fields, and provide links to useful information on the IRS website. Once organizations complete their forms, they can print them for mailing to the IRS. SKR+CO can work with you to ensure your 990 EZ is filed properly.

Gamers raise funds for hurricane victims

When natural disasters hit, many people look for ways to help the survivors get back on their feet. And some nonprofits have found particularly innovative approaches to compound the efforts they make and donations they receive. The Los Angeles Times reports, for example, that one charity, Direct Relief, received over $500,000 from thousands of online gamers in the wake of the 2017 hurricanes.

Gamers also raised more than $5 million for Save the Children over the last five years by holding marathon gaming sessions on live-stream platforms such as Twitch and Gaming for Good. The platforms let viewers watch and talk to their favorite players. The resulting donations — largely from young, male first-time donors — have prompted more nonprofits to reach out to the gaming community to build alliances.

Most nonprofits are understandably laser-focused on their mission, and other, seemingly less-critical matters may fall between the cracks. But if the finance function does not receive the attention it deserves, you run the risk of IRS penalties, reputational damage and lost revenue.

Here are four common mistakes related to managing the finance function:

1. Failure to report unrelated business income

According to the IRS, unreported business income ranks as one of the most common tax filing errors made by nonprofits. Revenue generated from a trade or business that your organization regularly engages in, but that is not substantially related to furthering its tax-exempt purpose (other than the need for funding), may well be subject to the unrelated business income tax (UBIT).

Generally, an exempt organization with $1,000 or more of gross income from an unrelated business activity must file Form 990-T. The nonprofit must also pay estimated tax if it expects its tax for the year to be $500 or more.

2. Misclassification of employees

Nonprofits have long turned to independent contractors in the face of tight budgets and small staffs. Contractors can provide valuable flexibility, reduce administrative work and cut your costs and potential liability.

The IRS, however, has strict tests for determining whether an individual is indeed an independent contractor or is actually an employee for whom you must withhold, and pay, payroll taxes. If the IRS reclassifies any of your contractors as employees, you will likely find yourself on the hook for back payroll taxes, interest and penalties. You also may be subject to minimum wage and overtime laws, Social Security and Medicare contributions, and unemployment and workers’ compensation premiums.

3. Overreliance on software

Nonprofits sport plenty of choices when it comes to off-the-shelf accounting software packages. Although these products can improve efficiency, you can rely on them too much. The fact is that accounting software is not fail-safe; it may not flag a mistake or spot possible fraud.

Even with the most expensive and sophisticated software, garbage in means garbage out — the output, in other words, is only as reliable as the input. For example, if an employee enters cash receipts for the wrong amounts or dates, or simply fails to enter them at all, that may have a domino effect. Everything from financial statements to tax filings potentially may be impacted. You need a knowledgeable individual (someone other than the person who makes the entries) to review journal entries, reconcile account balances and perform other checks and balances.

4. Failure to invest in expertise

An overreliance on software also may lead to inadequate investment in accounting resources.  Some organizations may count on volunteers to serve as their accountants. Think about the critical role your financial reporting plays in obtaining funding, though. Can you really afford to leave it to underinformed volunteers or one-size-fits-all software?

An option some nonprofits are turning to is to hire part-time or interim CFO and controller contractors. By design, this service is performed by an independent, c-suite level executive at a fraction of the budget.

The bottom line

Mistakes in the oversight of the finance function can get in the way of accomplishing your organization’s mission. By allocating sufficient resources to this area, you can fortify your financial footing, protect your reputation and arm your leadership with vital information for decision-making.

When President Trump signed the massive federal income tax overhaul into law on December 22, 2017, much was made of nonprofits’ understandable concern that the higher standard deduction would reduce incentives for charitable giving. The concern is, of course, extremely important, but the new law also includes several other provisions that may affect nonprofits.

Calculating unrelated business taxable income

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has substantially lowered the corporate tax rate to 21%, a significant benefit to any nonprofits already paying unrelated business income tax, which is imposed at the corporate rate. But when it comes to calculating the income that is subject to this tax, the new law brings a significant change for nonprofits.

The TCJA requires nonprofits to compute unrelated business taxable income (UBTI) separately for each unrelated business activity and pay tax on any activity with net income. That means nonprofits cannot use a loss from one unrelated business to offset income from a different unrelated business for the same tax year.

They may, however, use one year’s losses on an unrelated business to offset profits in a different year for that business, subject to certain restrictions. For example, if your nonprofit incurred a loss in its bookstore business in 2018, it can use that loss to offset bookstore profits in 2019.

The TCJA also makes certain fringe benefits includable in UBTI. These include qualified transportation benefits (for example, transit passes), qualified parking benefits and access to any on-site athletic facility.

Compensating executives

The TCJA also imposes a 21% excise tax on “excessive” executive compensation. The tax applies to the sum of any compensation (including most benefits) in excess of $1 million paid in the tax year to a covered employee plus certain large payments to that employee upon his or her departure from the organization (known as “excess parachute payments”).

A “covered employee” means a current or former employee reported as one of the five highest paid employees for any taxable year beginning after 2016. Licensed medical professionals are not covered employees for this tax.

But what is an “excess parachute payment?” A payment generally is considered an excess parachute payment if two conditions are met:

  1. It is contingent on the employee’s departure
  2. The present value of the payments equals or exceeds three times the base amount, which is the employee’s average annual compensation for the preceding five years.

The excess parachute payment subject to the excise tax is the amount of the parachute payment less the base amount.

Discouraging donations?

The increase in the standard deduction — it is expected to reduce the number of taxpayers who itemize and, thus, can deduct charitable contributions — is not the only change that may affect giving.

For example, the TCJA doubles the estate tax exemption to $10 million (indexed for inflation) through 2025. With fewer wealthy individuals at risk of paying this tax, fewer people may make the generous donations that have been partly motivated by a desire to shrink their taxable estates. Plus, the TCJA eliminates any deduction for donations made in exchange for the right to buy season tickets to college athletic events.

The TCJA does raise the limit on cash donation deductions from 50% of adjusted gross income to 60%. But cash donations at this level are uncommon, so the higher limit may not stimulate much additional giving.

Obtaining financing

Some nonprofits issue tax-exempt bonds to finance construction and other capital activities. These bonds typically pay lower interest rates than other bonds. But investors are willing to accept the lower rates because they are not required to pay income taxes on the interest.

The TCJA, however, repeals the tax-exempt treatment for interest paid on a bond issued to refinance another tax-exempt bond. An “advance refunding bond” is used to pay principal, interest or redemption price on a prior bond issued more than 90 days before redemption of the refinanced (refunded) bond.

Let’s say you issue tax-exempt bonds at 4% interest but later discover you can refinance the bonds at 3% interest. Under the TCJA, the interest payments on the 3% advance refunding bonds will not be tax-exempt for investors — that means you will need to pay a higher interest rate because of the new bonds not being tax-exempt as recompense for the investors’ increased tax liability.

Charting the course ahead

Despite the advantage of a lower tax rate on unrelated business income, the new income tax law may reduce overall charitable giving while simultaneously increasing some nonprofits’ costs. Your CPA may help identify the potential impact of charitable giving on your nonprofit as well as chart the best course forward.

Nonprofits nationwide are increasingly considering shared workspace arrangements to lower rising facility costs. These arrangements are particularly appealing in areas where nonprofits are being priced out of the real estate market and to those determined to cut operating costs. In the Pikes Peak region, the “health care” desert of services is in the 80916/10 area.

Options to choose from

The term “shared space” refers to workspaces shared by small businesses, freelancers, consultants, start-ups and others. Depending on their needs, tenants can pay for short- or long-term access to private offices, conference rooms and common areas. Office equipment and services, such as high-speed Internet; photocopiers, printers and scanners; and coffee and office supplies, are shared among the tenants.

The shared space trend in recent years has led to the development of several options. For example, you could rent space in a dedicated shared workspace facility that also might provide “back-office” services such as HR. Many of these arrangements welcome a variety of businesses, but some cater primarily to nonprofits.

Similarly, some private foundations, with more space than they require, lease out the excess to nonprofits. As tax-exempt organizations, they avoid steep property taxes and pass the savings along to their tenants in the form of reduced rent.

When two or more nonprofits serve the same population, they may rent a shared facility and slice the cost in half. You may also rent out unused space to other organizations, generating revenue to offset your rent obligations.

Potential perks

The most obvious benefit of sharing space lies in potential cost savings. Why, for example, pay annual rent on space that includes a conference room you only use for semiannual board meetings? Organizations of all sizes benefit by efficient use of supplies and equipment, utilities and maintenance expenses.

Flexibility is especially valuable for nonprofits in the early stages of development or entry into a new market. Organizations usually do not want to commit to long-term leases before they have a handle on how much space they will need in the future.

Additional cost sharing opportunities

Workspace is not the only expense you can share with other organizations to reap impressive savings. You also can cut your costs by:

Sharing staff. Your organization may, for instance, be too small to justify a full-time IT person — you might not have the need or the budget. But perhaps you and another organization together have sufficient need and funding for such support.

Sharing equipment. You probably have equipment that goes unused or is used below capacity. Think about sharing it with another organization whose needs for such equipment complement yours. (For example, a summer music program could share instruments with a program that operates during the school year.)

Sharing buying power. Consolidate your buying power with that of other nonprofits to obtain lower rates, discounts and possibly even improved service.

Not all rainbows and unicorns

Shared space is not all rainbows and unicorns, though. Organizations need to take a variety of factors into consideration before taking the plunge. Some nonprofits, for example, may not want to share space with “competing” organizations that serve the same population or pursue similar funding sources.

You also should think about:

You can assess many of these issues by making site visits, both scheduled (to get the sales pitch) and unscheduled (to get a more realistic lay of the land).

Is it right for you?

As nonprofit budgets get tighter and come under more scrutiny, cutting your space-related costs may provide some peace of mind and pave the way to sustainability. Your CPA can help you determine whether moving your operations to shared space is a solid financial decision.


Overheard in a nonprofit’s office: “It’s so hard to find good board members. It’s going to be really difficult to fill these board openings.”

If your organization struggles each time it needs to fill a board vacancy or does not always come up with the candidates it desires; it may be time to consider creating a board compensation program.

Add up the pluses and minuses

Board member compensation comes with several pluses and minuses your nonprofit should consider. Different organizations might assign different weight to each of the factors.

On the plus side, offering compensation could help attract board members with specialized expertise, such as fundraising or a well-regarded community presence. It also could give you an edge when courting potential board members who would receive generous compensation from for-profit organizations for serving on their boards.

Compensation could be in order, as well, if your board members are expected to invest significant time and effort, or if your nonprofit has a business model that competes with for-profit organizations, such as a nonprofit hospital. In addition, providing compensation can help create an obligation to perform on the board member’s part and promote professionalism. This also might:

Board compensation also comes with several minuses. In general — and this is a big one — it can look bad. Donors expect their funds to go to program services, and board compensation represents resources diverted from the organization’s mission.

Further, there are IRS and legal implications. The IRS looks carefully at whether any arrangement could create a conflict of interest. And, board members receiving compensation of more than $10,000 aren’t independent members of the board by the IRS definition. Reimbursing for expenses under an accountable plan is not considered compensation for measuring independence. Also, in some states, volunteer board members are protected from legal liability, while compensated members may not be. So you will need to check on your state’s laws.

Launch a compensation program carefully

If you decide to compensate board members, do it correctly. First and foremost, the compensation arrangements must comply with the Internal Revenue Code’s private inurement and excess benefit regulations, as well as the IRS rules about “reasonable compensation.” Failure to do so can result in steep excise taxes, penalties and even the loss of your organization’s tax-exempt status.

Independence is indispensable when setting the amount of, or formula for, board compensation. It should be set by independent directors (who aren’t among those to be compensated), or an independent governance or compensation committee, with insight from an independent consultant. The amount should be comparable to that paid by similar nonprofits, as determined by compensation surveys or other data. Whoever sets the amount should be guided by a formal compensation policy.

The policy should include clear objectives outlining how compensating board members pays off for the organization (for example, by allowing it to attract a member with financial expertise). It should specify which board members are eligible for compensation (the chair, the officers or all members) and how compensation is structured (for instance, flat fee, retainer or per-meeting fee).

The policy also should address expectations for the board members in exchange for their compensation. Expectations can be described, for instance, in terms of number of meetings attended, hours worked or qualifications and experience.

Finally, document, document, document. You’ll want written evidence of a formal board vote approving the policy and the compensation amounts, related discussion and copies of the data the board relied on to make the decisions.

Leave no loose ends

Making a shift to a board compensation program is a major change. Your preparation also should include checking to see how other nonprofits with compensation programs handled communicating the change to the public, which can help you develop your own communication plan.

Be sure to seek advice from an attorney who’s familiar with laws governing nonprofits in your state. And you may also want to get feedback from supporters and donors before making a final decision.

With the end of the year on the horizon, your supporters may be thinking about making charitable contributions they can deduct on their 2017 federal tax returns. If a nonprofit wants to keep donors on its side, it needs to explain that different types of donations can carry different tax benefits and that some donations are not deductible at all.

What can be deducted?

Generally, donors can deduct contributions of money or property. The amount of the allowable deduction varies based on the type of donation:

Cash. Cash donations are 100% deductible, including donations made by check, credit card or payroll deduction.

Ordinary income property. Donations of this type are generally limited to the donor’s tax basis in the property (usually the amount the donor paid for it). Specifically, donors can deduct the property’s fair market value less the amount that would be ordinary income or short-term capital gains if they sold the property at fair market value (FMV).

Property is ordinary income property when the donor recognizes ordinary income or short-term capital gains if he or she sold it at FMV on the date of donation. Examples include inventory, donor-created works of art, and capital assets (for example, stocks and bonds) held for one year or less.

Capital gains property. Donors of capital gains property can usually deduct the property’s fair market value. Property is considered capital gains property if the donor would have recognized long-term capital gains had he or she sold it at FMV on the donation date. This includes capital assets held more than one year. But there are certain situations where only the donor’s tax basis of the property may be deducted, such as when the donation is intellectual property (for instance, a patent or copyright) or, interestingly, “certain taxidermy property.”

Tangible personal property. As the name implies, tangible personal property can be seen or touched. Examples include furniture, books, jewelry and paintings. If your nonprofit uses the donated property for its tax-exempt purpose — for example, a museum displays a donated painting — the donor can deduct its fair market value. But if the property is put to an unrelated use — for example, a nonprofit children’s hospital sells the donated painting at its charitable auction — the deduction is limited to the donor’s basis in the property.

Vehicles. Generally, if a vehicle has an FMV greater than $500, the donor can deduct the lesser of the gross proceeds from its sale by the organization or the FMV on the donation date. But if the nonprofit uses the vehicle to carry out its tax-exempt purpose — for instance, an animal welfare organization that uses a donated van to transport rescued dogs and cats — the donor can deduct the FMV. Make sure you provide Form 1098-C, which your donor must attach to his or her tax return to take the deduction.

Use of property. Say a supporter donates a one-week stay at his vacation home for an auction. Unfortunately, he cannot take a deduction because generally only donations of the full ownership interest in property are deductible. The right to use property is considered a contribution of less than the donor’s entire interest in the property. But there are some situations in which a donor can receive a deduction for a partial-interest donation, such as with a qualified conservation easement.

Donors also might want to claim a deduction for the donation of their services, such as when a hair stylist donates one free haircut and color for your auction, or a graphic designer lays out each issue of your quarterly newsletter for free. These types of donations are not deductible as contributions, only as normal costs of doing business. But the related out-of-pocket costs, such as supplies and miles driven for charitable purposes (14 cents per mile), are deductible as charitable contributions.

Help donors help you out

Be aware that there are additional limits on charitable deductions. Proposed tax law changes could also affect charitable deductions, though most likely not for 2017. So keep an eye on federal developments in Washington.

While tax education may seem beyond your responsibility, you cannot afford disgruntled donors. Taking the time to make sure your donors understand the tax implications of their gifts can avoid unpleasant surprises down the road, and keep donors on board as long-term supporters.


What other limits apply to charitable deductions?

As you probably know, there’s a limit to the amount of charitable deductions a taxpayer can claim in a given year. The taxpayer’s total deduction generally cannot exceed 50% of his or her adjusted gross income (AGI). (A higher limit applies for certain qualified conservation contributions.) But donations of capital gains property are generally limited to 30% of AGI.

In some cases, the limits are even lower. For example, deductions for contributions to certain private foundations, veterans’ organizations, fraternal societies and cemetery organizations are limited to 30% of AGI. And capital gains property contributions to such organizations are limited to 20% of AGI.

Nonprofits have pursued corporate sponsorships for years, with good reason. Effectively executed, sponsorships can benefit both sponsor and organization. But if your nonprofit is not careful, a sponsorship can be deemed paid advertising and your organization could end up liable for unrelated business income tax (UBIT). Although the Internal Revenue Code includes an exception from UBIT for certain sponsorship arrangements, navigating the rules can prove tricky.

“Qualified sponsorship payment” exception

Generally, “qualified sponsorship payments” received by a nonprofit aren’t income from an unrelated trade or business. A qualified sponsorship payment is a payment of money, transfer of property, or performance of services with no expectation that the sponsor will receive any “substantial return benefit.” Benefits returned to the sponsor can include advertising; goods, facilities, services or other privileges; rights to use an intangible asset such as a trademark, logo or designation; or an exclusive provider arrangement.

To be considered “substantial” by the IRS, the aggregate fair market value (FMV) of all benefits provided to the sponsor during the year must exceed 2% of the amount of the sponsor’s payment to the nonprofit. If the total benefit exceeds 2% of the payment, the entire FMV of the benefits (not just the excess amount) is a substantial return benefit.

“Use or acknowledgment” provisions

The regulations specify for purposes of the exception that a nonprofit’s “use or acknowledgment” (as opposed to promotion, marketing or endorsement) of a sponsor’s name, logo or product lines won’t constitute a substantial return benefit to the sponsor. Your organization’s use or acknowledgment can include:

You can include a sponsor’s product at the sponsored activity as long as there’s no agreement to provide the sponsor’s product exclusively. Mere display or distribution of a sponsor’s product at an event, whether for free or remuneration, isn’t considered an inducement to purchase, sell or use the product (that is, advertising). It won’t affect the determination of whether the qualified sponsorship payment applies.

Say that a nonprofit is holding an annual 10K race and is providing participants with drinks and prizes supplied free of charge by a sponsor. If the organization lists the sponsor’s name in promotional materials or includes it in the event name, those activities constitute permissible acknowledgment of the sponsorship. Therefore, the drinks and prizes are an exempt qualified sponsorship payment.

Note that contingent payments aren’t qualified sponsorship payments. If a sponsor’s payment is contingent on event attendance, broadcast ratings or other measures of public exposure to the sponsored activity, the payment falls outside the exception.

Allocation of sponsor payments

When a sponsorship comes with a substantial return benefit, only the part of the sponsor’s payment that exceeds the substantial return benefit is considered a qualified sponsorship payment. The remainder is unrelated business income.

Consider, for instance, a not-for-profit that receives a large payment from a sponsor to help fund an event. The organization recognizes the support by using the sponsor’s name and logo in promotional materials. It also hosts a dinner for the sponsor’s executives, and the FMV of the dinner exceeds 2% of the sponsor’s payment.

The use of the sponsor’s name and logo constitutes permissible acknowledgment of the sponsorship, but the dinner is a substantial return benefit. As a result, only that portion of the sponsorship payment that exceeds the dinner’s FMV is an exempt qualified sponsorship payment.

Proceed with caution

Application of the qualified sponsorship payment exception and the rules for unrelated business income are complicated. Your financial advisor can help reduce the risk of incurring UBIT.

Following the rules for exclusivity arrangements

The Internal Revenue Code provisions about unrelated business income distinguish between “exclusive sponsor” and “exclusive provider” arrangements. An arrangement that acknowledges a corporation as the exclusive sponsor of a nonprofit’s activity generally doesn’t by itself result in a substantial return benefit that could incur the unrelated business income tax (UBIT) for a nonprofit. Similarly, an arrangement that acknowledges a company as the exclusive sponsor representing a particular trade, business or industry won’t constitute a substantial return benefit on its own.

On the other hand, an arrangement with a sponsor that limits the sale, distribution, availability or use of competing products, services or facilities in connection with the nonprofit’s activity generally does result in a substantial return benefit. For example, if the organization agrees in exchange for a payment to allow only the sponsor’s products to be sold in connection with an activity, the sponsor has received a substantial return benefit.


Whether an executive on staff or a member of the board, new to the organization or a long-time veteran, a nonprofit leader sometimes faces tough challenges that a formal development class will not address. But according to the nonprofit Community Resource Exchange (CRE), learning on the job itself can be a rich source of leadership and management development. The CRE advocates two self-coaching opportunities that lean on resources you can find in yourself, within the workplace and among your networks.

Strategies that work

The CRE’s first technique is a method known as “reframing.” It refers to the ability to shift your perspective and unlock a fresh approach to problems.

The organization also urges leaders to follow what it calls the 1-2-3 steps, which target low-hanging fruit first. This approach calls for beginning with the first few, relatively easy actions you can take to address a specific challenge. The idea is that these initial steps will help move you from understanding the problem to taking action and accomplishing real change.

Applying the 1-2-3 step

Example: Managing an inadequate infrastructure

These strategies can work, for example, to reframe a problem familiar to many nonprofits — the lack of the strong accounting systems and staff needed to ensure the accurate and timely reporting required for continued funding of your organization.

You could reframe this situation by shifting staff from other areas of the organization to shared responsibilities in finance, thus encouraging managers to think beyond narrow roles. Would involvement of a board member or volunteer supply the manhours and controls you’re missing?  You also can get past hiring the additional person you can’t afford by trying to improve the processes in place, and by inviting and seriously considering creative suggestions from your staff.

From here, you can identify the 1-2-3 steps to get the ball rolling. For instance, you might establish a team from various areas of the organization to outline what needs to be completed on a project and when. Are there tasks that should be prioritized to satisfy government and grantor requirements? Are there other nonessential recordkeeping tasks that could be minimized or eliminated? You also could obtain information and pricing from professional outside accounting firms that specialize in this type of work. Then compare those costs with providing accounting in-house.

Example: Managing differences

The CRE also has applied its suggested strategies to the challenges of managing differences. Imagine you’re dealing with several diverse groups that use your library’s services. Reframing would shift from viewing the different groups as a hodgepodge to seeking common ground among the personalities, demographics and needs. Are these groups all from the local community? Do they all need access to the programs in person? Are they all readers? You also could move from trying to achieve uniformity of interest to mining their diversity.

Easy steps might include convening all of the relevant parties to develop an initial plan for priority activities in the coming year. How best can these groups interact?  Possibly, you could bring the children from Story Hour to share an activity with the Writers’ Group.

You also could take time to learn more about strategies for managing differences by reading relevant books and articles, meeting to share what you’ve learned, and planning how to handle future interactions with the various groups that benefit from your services.

Learning as a lifelong pursuit

The most effective leaders always encourage their employees to seek more knowledge and then lead by example. Employing the methods above can help you continually hone your leadership and management skills, even when you don’t have the time or money for formal development.

Whistleblower policies encourage staff, volunteers and others to discreetly provide credible information on illegal practices or violations of organizational policies. They protect individuals who risk their careers or take other kinds of risks to report illegal or unethical practices. According to its Report to the Nations, the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners identified tips as the No. 1 method by which fraud is detected. Whistleblower policies (and the use of hotlines) are important to ensuring tips are received by the organization. IRS Form 990 asks nonprofits to report whether they’ve adopted a whistleblower policy. And although no federal law specifically requires organizations to have such policies in place, several state laws do.

Policy essentials

Your whistleblower policy should be tailored to your not-for-profit’s unique circumstances. But here are some general tips to consider when forming, or refining, your policy’s provisions:

1. Be clear about whom the policy covers. Spell out who’s covered by your policy. In addition to employees, volunteers and board members, you might want to include clients and third parties that conduct business with your organization, such as vendors and independent contractors.

2. State which types of wrongdoing are covered. Financial misdeeds often get the most attention, but whistleblower policies can have a longer reach. For example, you might include violations of your organization’s client protection policies, conflicts of interest and unsafe work conditions.

3. Spell out reporting procedures. Explain the procedures for reporting concerns. Must claims be made to a compliance officer or can they be reported anonymously? Is a confidential hotline available? Whom can whistleblowers turn to if the designated individual is suspected of wrongdoing? Your procedures should be clear and simple enough to encourage individuals to come forward.

4. Describe investigative procedures. State that every concern raised by a whistleblower will be promptly and thoroughly investigated and that designated investigators will have adequate independence to conduct an objective query. Ideally, investigators should report directly to your nonprofit’s board of directors.

5. Describe postinvestigation steps. Let everyone know what will happen after the investigation is complete. For instance, will the reporting individual receive feedback? Will the individual responsible for the illegal or unethical behavior be punished? If your organization opts not to take corrective action, be sure to document your reasoning.

6. Promise confidentiality. A guarantee of confidentiality can make whistleblowing more appealing. But it may not be possible to make such promises if whistleblowers need to become witnesses in criminal or civil proceedings. However, your policy should assure confidentiality to the greatest extent possible.

7. Describe disciplinary action. Not every whistleblower is motivated by pure intentions. State that your organization will take disciplinary action against individuals who make unfounded allegations that are reckless, malicious or intentionally false.

8. Forbid retaliation. A critical component of a whistleblower policy is the prohibition against retaliation. Make clear that no retaliation — including harassment, termination or blacklisting — will be tolerated against anyone who raises concerns about potentially illegal or otherwise wrongful practices in good faith. “Good faith” means the individual has a reasonable belief that a problem exists. Specify the party to whom complaints of retaliation can be addressed. Violators should be disciplined promptly and appropriately.

A strong commitment

Whistleblower policies send a strong message about your commitment to good governance and ethical behavior. Make sure that your policy echoes your adherence to an environment of accountability and employee empowerment.

New positions popping up at nonprofits?

Three “top jobs” that nonprofits will need to fulfill their missions in the future have been identified by business magazine, Fast Company: 1) chief culture officer (CCO), 2) data scientist and 3) user experience (UX) designer.

A CCO manages an organization’s relationship with the community, implements internal wellness and health initiatives and devises policies to combat employee burnout, according to the magazine. Data scientists help nonprofits identify trends and critical information that can guide their program and service decisions. And UX designers improve the on- and offline processes that clients use (or don’t use) to access a nonprofit’s programs and services.


Study shows digital revenue on the rise

Online nonprofit revenue in 2016 grew by 14%, and email marketing revenue grew by 15%, according to a new study by nonprofit consultants M+R. Based on input from 133 nonprofits, “Benchmarks 2017” found that web traffic, email list size, Facebook fans, and Twitter and Instagram followers were all on the rise in 2016, while most individual email metrics were down. For example, the emails opened per number delivered fell 7% overall, for an average just under 15%.

For fundraising messages, the response rate was only 0.05%, an 8% drop from 2015. In other words, a nonprofit had to deliver 2,000 fundraising emails to generate a single donation. For every 1,000 fundraising emails delivered, nonprofits raised $36.

The M+R study also found that respondents increased their spending — including paid search, display and social media advertising spending.

The bottom line is that email marketing can be an effective fundraising tool. Two components for success are targeting your audience and building your email list of prospective supporters.


Employee retention examined

Recognition, trust and support — both monetary and otherwise — are among the critical factors that make nonprofit employees happy and, thus, create a superior nonprofit employer, according to The NonProfit Times “2017 Best Nonprofits To Work For” report.

Among the eight categories considered, the largest disparity overall between organizations that made the “Best Nonprofits” list and those that didn’t was found within “pay and benefits” (an 18-point differential) and “leadership and planning” (a 16-point differential). Across the 50 nonprofits recognized, the key drivers for employees included confidence and trust in the organization’s leadership and overall satisfaction with the organization’s benefits package.

Another statement where the “Best Nonprofits” diverged from others was “This organization gives enough recognition for work that is well done.” About 84% of respondents at the recognized organizations responded positively to that statement, compared to only 66% for nonprofits that didn’t make the list.