A happy co-op member

Homeschool co-ops can be a great addition to your homeschool efforts.  But too much of even a good thing can become overwhelming.

Joanie over at Missouri Homeschool Daily Log blog has some excellent advice about benefiting from the advantages that homeschool co-ops offer without over doing it.

In the beginning I was all for homeschool co-ops and still am now.  Over the years I have gathered experience about what works and what doesn’t in a co-op and for my schedule.  As far as your schedule is concerned I would caution you to not jump in with both feet and offer to teach more than one class. As a matter of fact I would suggest that you attend the first year/semester to get a feel for it before volunteering.  I can not stress this enough especially if you are a new home schooling parent.  Remember you’ll be preparing all your children’s material and then the material for your co-op class once a week or so.  The first year of home schooling is like riding a bike with training wheels.   One class can dominate your home school week placing a lot of strain on you.

Teaching others is a wonderful gift for all involved if the class is well behaved. I enjoyed teaching the classes tremendously and in the process discovered that I have natural born teaching tendencies.  In a group of people, however, discipline is always an issue.  When you look for a co-op make sure that they have good policies in place.  A co-op with good policies will run smoothly and be a joy to all.  What are some good policies?  Policies that I would look for in a co-op would be a clear statement of what their goal is as a group, fair discipline issues established for students and teachers alike, a statement of faith if you are looking for one to be in agreement with your faith, and attendance requirements.  Even loose establishments that just meet for play time need to have some simple policies to prevent hurt feelings and misunderstandings.

If you are homeschooling for religious reasons one of the biggest assumptions that I made was that everyone was homeschooling for the same reasons.  Do not assume that everyone feels the same way as you. Be a careful guardian, fully ascertaining the atmosphere of your co-op.  Attending a few times before deciding to join may be wise and most co-ops will have no problem with you doing so.

Co-op groups can certainly be a blessing to all involved, yet we need to remember that as home schoolers we are not without faults.  This article is intended to be wise advice and not at all a discouragement from finding a co-op.  When I started I wasn’t ready for issues that cropped up and it side-lined me for a while.  Now that the dust has cleared I know what to expect and also more of what I’m looking for when it comes to a homeschool co-op.

Such excellent advice! I thought I heard myself talking as I read Joanie’s post because everything she said I heard over and over again from co-op members as I wrote my book, Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start them, Run Them and Not Burn Out.

If enough experienced people repeat the same advice, we can prevent a lot of frustration and burn out.

Here’s to happy co-ops!

Carol Topp


The IRS and Fund Raising

The IRS is playing Santa Claus this Christmas!

No, the IRS is not giving out presents this Christmas, but they are like Santa Claus and “making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty and nice...” and they have found some naughty children.

It seems that several booster clubs in KY were audited by the IRS and were fined for their fund raising practices. The issue was that the booster club was giving parents credit for their fund raising efforts. Like a lot of organizations, the parents worked at concessions stands, car washes, candy sales and bongo games. The booster club awarded parents monetary credit for working the fundraisers. The IRS fined one organization $61,000! The group is even facing losing 501c3 tax exempt status. Sounds like the IRS is playing Scrooge and not Santa!

It is a common practice to set up individual accounts and split the fund raising proceeds among the parents that participated in the fund raising effort. If Johnny sold the most candy, he gets the largest share of the fund raising proceeds in his account. The IRS is concerned about private benefits. They expect to see the entire group of students benefit from fund raisers, not individuals.

If your organization is sharing, dividing or distributing fund raising proceeds to individuals or families, you are on the IRS naughty list! You had better restructure your fund raising efforts and get on the IRS nice list.

If you care to read more, do a Google search on : “KY Booster IRS.” The report from the Lexington Herald-Leader at Kentucky.com is most thorough in telling the story about KY’s booster clubs. (copyright prohibits me from a direct link)

Merry Christmas everyone!

Update posted January 14, 2009: Update on the IRS and Booster Club Fundraising

Carol Topp, CPA

New EIN for New Officers?

Does your group need a new Employer Identification Number (EIN) when there are new officers?

Hi Carol,
Thanks to your wonderful services in the past we have gone from a ministry under a church to an informal non profit support group within the community. Thanks so much for what you do for homeschool groups!
I was just reading through the list of FAQ’s and have one that has a little twist to what is already there about EIN’s so I thought I would run it past you.
As the current director (board leader), I had been the person to apply for the EIN for our group. I am nearing my finish on the board and we will have new board leaders. Do we have to have a new EIN issued? I know this current one was opened with my name as the responsible party, so I don’t know if that would “tie” me to the non profit for any thing down the road if I am no longer on the board?
Thanks so much for your help and/or direction.
Blessings,
Shawna B, CA


Shawna,
Thank you for your kind words. It was my pleasure.


You do not have to apply for a new EIN just because of a switch in officers. Nonprofits change leadership frequently.

You can have your name on the EIN replaced with the new leader by filling out IRS Form 8822-B

If you are a 501c3 tax exempt organization with more than $50,000 in gross revenue annually, you should be filing the annual Form 990 with the IRS. On the Form 990, you list the new officers’ names.

If your organization makes less than $50,000 per year then you should be filing the 990N, an electronic postcard, with the IRS. The 990N requests only the name of the “principle officer” not the entire board.

For more information on the 990N, visit the IRS website at:

http://www.irs.gov/charities/article/0,,id=169250,00.html

Carol Topp, CPA

Director and Officer Insurance for homeschool groups

A support group leader in Alaska asks about Director and Officer (D&O) insurance.

Dear Carol,
I got to your website from an Old Schoolhouse article about insurance. (Read it here)

We are a support group in Alaska and we serve 90-120 families. We are trying to formalize our ministry partnership with the church and would love to see someone else’s model for a successful ministry partnership agreement. Do you have any thoughts or recommendations?

Also, 7 people on board this year and we would like D&O insurance. We are covered for liability on church’s policy, but not D&O at this point. I have talked with an attorney at HSLDA and because we are
1. a large group
2. high turnover (military community)
3. have at least once a month field trips
we think it is in our best interest to have D&O. I would love to hear your thoughts about other support groups getting D&O and if we should pursue it through the church or through another agent.
Thanks,
Kelly F in AK


Kelley,
I do not usually see a need for a typical homeschool group to need D&O insurance. I was interviewed by Home Education magazine about insurance for homeschool groups. You can read it here: HEM Interview with Carol Topp

Here’s what I said about D&O insurance:

*Director and Officer insurance: This is to protect the leaders from being personally sued for liability. Insurance agents have told me that these policies start at $1,000 per year. They explained it is expensive because of the litigious society that exists in America today. Also D&O policies cover litigation over employee issues such as sexual harassment, wrongful termination, etc. Most homeschool organizations do not have employees, so this type of insurance may not be necessary. However, I have known of potential board members that will not serve on a board without D&O liability insurance. They are usually high net worth individuals and are concerned about personal liability.

By all means purchase D&O insurance if you feel there is a risk that needs to be managed. In addition, I recommend that a homeschool group consider nonprofit incorporation as a means to offer liability protection for their leaders and officers. It is not the same as an insurance policy, but it does offer limited liability protection. Read this article I wrote to learn more about nonprofit incorporation.
Seven Great Reasons to Incorporate

I hope this helps!

Carol Topp, CPA

Seven Vital Tools for Every Homeschool Leader

I was the guest blogger over at The Homeschool Classroom today.

My post  on “Seven Vital Tools for Every Homeschool Leader” covers the basic tools that every homeschool leader needs such as:

  • A mission statement
  • A policy manual
  • A board
  • A budget
  • Insurance
  • Profits (yes, nonprofits can make a profit!)
  • Nonprofit incorporation

Read the explanations of each tool over at The Homeschool Classroom

Carol Topp, CPA

Rewarding volunteers in your homeschool organization

HomeschoolCPA has been getting quite a few questions via e-mail lately…here’s one I thought I’d share with you having to do with rewarding volunteers.

Carol,

Thank you for your web site. It is a great resource for homeschool groups.

I’m on the board of a home education association. We hold an annual conference of about 800 – 1000 and need many volunteers to help us with the event. What are some appropriate ways to thank the volunteers? Can we give them a gift (e.g. mug)? Can we give them free parking? Can we give them a dollar amount off admission for each shift they work? From one of the answers you gave in your FAQ, it appears it is OK to give discounted admission to the conference, but I just want to confirm that.

Can we give more to key volunteers (ones who are responsible for key areas of the conference and will not be able to attend sessions)? Can we give key volunteers a complete set of CDs from the conference, hotel rooms and meals while at the conference? Do we have to report this on the 990 also?

Thanks for your great help.
Dorothy K

Dorothy,
Thank you for your kind words about my website. You ask some excellent questions. As for the mugs, free parking and reduced admission: yes, yes and yes. All these are appropriate ways to thank your hard working volunteers.

As for the CD set, hotel and meals: yes, these are also appropriate ways to thank volunteers. If any of these volunteers are also board members, you should disclose these expenses paid by the organization on their behalf on Form 990 Part V-A Current Officers compensation. I’d include a note to the effect that the volunteer was given lodging and meals at the annual convention. This is not taxable income to the volunteer. Putting the information on the Form 990 is just a way of disclosing to the IRS and anyone reading your 990 that you pay expenses for volunteers. That is a completely legal, legitimate and generous thing to do!

I hope that helps! Best of success in your future efforts!

Carol L. Topp, CPA

Insurance for a homeschool sports program

Does your homeschool sports group need insurance? A homeschool leader in Indiana shares information on her insurance company.

Dear Carol,

I heard you speak at the Cincinnati Homeschool Convention and it was VERY helpful. At the end, I mentioned that we had sports insurance and you mentioned that you wanted that info. So, in keeping with my promise, I am responding to that request now.

We use USSFA which was established many years ago, as I understand it, to provide insurance for homeschool sports. There are only a few states in which they cannot insure, but you can contact Lew Owens for more information if needed.

email: ussfaoffice@comcast.net
USSFA Office
4150 Kildeer Drive, Ste 2-A
Indianapolis, IN 46237
Phome: 317-357-8908
Fax: 317-357-8791

We have used this for several years (our sports program is over 11 years old) and have been very happy with the program USSFA provides. With this insurance, we are able to show the schools and other rental locations that we have liability insurance and then we have the added benefit that our player/coach coverage picks up their existing medical coverage ends.

If you call Lew, please be sure to mention that you heard about him from me (Shawna Howell). Effective 3/15/08, I became the director the SEI Panthers Basketball (SE Indiana) program and he will know of me through that affiliation.

My prayer is that we can continue to network with one another for the benefit of the homeschool community across the country.

Thank you for all that you do to help our community and particularly for sharing your wisdom with us at the convention. I was truly blessed.

Blessings,
Shawna Howell

Thank you for sharing this helpful information, Shawna.

Carol Topp, CPA

Homeschool group avoids IRS tax notices

A homeschool group in Georgia asked for my help because they had been getting letters from the IRS about back taxes.

We are in dire need of your help. Our homeschool group has received notices from the IRS saying that we need to contact them regarding our overdue taxes. Our group was incorporated (in 2003) but we have not filed any paper work (tax returns or corporate updates) since. Please advise, as soon as possible.
TD, Georgia

I e-mailed and spoke to this homeschool leader several times, so I’ll summarize the resolution:

The treasurer e-mailed me because she had been getting letters from the IRS stating that the homeschool group was late in filing their corporate income tax return. The group ignored these letters for a few years until they found my website. It seems that the original founder had mistakenly thought that the group owed corporate income tax on their surplus. She had filed a Form 1120 (Corporate Income Tax Return ) with the IRS and paid them $71 several years ago. The IRS expected to see corporate tax returns every year thereafter and was mailing the letters when the returns were not filed.

Fortunately, the group had filed for nonprofit incorporation status with the State of Georgia several years before. This was solid documentation that the group was a nonprofit organization (even they did not have 501 tax exempt status with the IRS).

I called the IRS on behalf of the group and the IRS employee told me to mail a cover letter and a copy of the nonprofit incorporation certificate from the State of Georgia. I did so and when I called the IRS two weeks later, the IRS employee told me that the situation was taken care of, the case was closed and the group wouldn’t be getting any more letters! (We didn’t ask for a refund of the $71 previously paid, though!)

That is an excellent example of how nonprofit incorporation status helped one group avoid paying federal corporate income tax. I’m not sure that I could have convinced the IRS of their nonprofit status without the nonprofit incorporation certificate from the State of Georgia.

This is NOT to say that state nonprofit incorporation is the same as tax exempt status with the IRS. Tax exempt status with the IRS (granted by applying to the IRS using Form 1023 and paying the IRS fee) is the only way to guarantee that your group’s financial surplus will truly be classified as tax exempt.

You can read more about the benefits of nonprofit incorporation and tax exempt status in my book The IRS and Your Homeschool Organization.

Carol Topp, CPA

Can my individual homeschool have a fund raiser?

HomeschoolCPA has been asked this question twice lately,

Can we (an individual homeschool) be allowed to do fund raising similar to youth sports groups, scouts,etc?

What a good question. In general I say, Yes, you can participate in a fund raiser if the fund raising organization allows it. BUT, the profit you make is taxable income and you’ll need to report it on your tax return.

Another homeschooling mom e-mailed me with a similar question:

With 6 children needing school curriculum, we are coming up short in finances. We contacted a calendar company that said it would be permissible for us to sell calendars as a fund raiser for our homeschool. We accepted personal checks made out to our homeschool name (that we registered with the state school board, considered a non-profit private school). We do not have a checking account with our homeschool name on it. Therefore, we have no way to deposit them.

What is your advice to us? The checks amounted to $90. Is this method acceptable to continue as long as we pay taxes on it? Mrs. W.

By selling calendars Mrs W. was operating a small for-profit business. She is free to use the profit of the small business for anything she wishes,including homeschool books and supplies. Since Mrs W. didn’t mention what state she was in I cannot tell if her state requires business registration. Many do not require any type of registration for a sole proprietorship using your own name. You may have to file a name registration with your Secretary of State to establish a business name.

To deposit these checks Mrs W. need to open a checking account in the homeschool’s name. You’ll have to get an EIN number from the IRS at www.irs.gov (See the Q&A on my website for details www.HomeschoolCPA.com). You can then spend the money in the checking account on homeschool supplies and close it or keep a small amount in it until next year.

Mrs W. should report the $90 as income on her tax return as either Other Income on line 21 of the 1040 or on Schedule C Business Income if she had expenses from the sale of the calendars (postage, mileage, etc…)

Quite a mess for a $90 fund raiser, huh? Before you try a fund raiser for you individual family homeschool make sure its worth the effort of getting a business name, EIN, and checking account. Maybe try having a garage sale or sell something to bring in income instead!

Carol Topp, CPA

Individual fundraisers and homeschool groups

Michelle in CO asked a question about fund raisers in a homeschool group:

Hi Carol,
We have had fund raisers in the past (butterbraids, a frozen pastry) and have made approx. $1,500 doing that fund raiser. We had a cooking class that prepared hot lunches and the co-op made money on those. We will have less than $100 left in the check book. We have a Fed ID #. What do we do? What about next year? Is fund raising not a good idea for us as you say in your website? We thought about charging more for membership (we charge $35/ yr now) and if people wanted to do individual fund raisers that would be up to each family. What do you think? Thank you so much for your help to the homeschool community and for whatever answers you can give us.
Sincerely,
Michelle P


Dear Michelle,

Did I say fund raising is not a good idea on my website? I didn’t mean to. Hopefully I just warned groups that fund raising can be a lot of work. And if you sell products to the public (outside your own membership) you may need to report your “solicitation” to your state. I’m writing an article now on fund raising and I do say this:

Your state may have reporting requirements if you are representing yourself to the public as a nonprofit organization. In my home state of Ohio, we have to file a Charity Registration form if we do fund raising to the public. One year we sold candles door to door and had to file a seven-page financial report with Ohio’s Attorney General Office. That report was such a nuisance (and the fund raiser was so much work) that we no longer do sales to the public. Investigate what your state requires from groups doing fund raisers. This website has nonprofit reporting requirements by state: http://www.hurwitasociates.com/.

In general I encourage groups to get most of their income from membership fees and not depend too much on fund raising. Fund raising can be very successful or turn out very poorly. It is also a lot of work with sometimes only a few people doing all the work.

I’m not sure what you mean by “individual fund raisers.” I do know that it is not proper to “award” a family for raising more money than another family, nor is it proper to set up individual accounts. It’s not right because it is not in keeping with the nonprofit motive or with the idea of a group benefit. In short, individuals are not supposed to benefit; the group is supposed to benefit.

Thank you for your kind words. I hope my website was helpful. I wish you success in Colorado as you serve homeschooling families!

Carol Topp, CPA