Can a homeschool co-op be denied 501(c)(3) status?

I frequently learn a lot about nonprofit law from Harvey Mechanic’s All Experts Site. Mr Mechanic is an attorney that does a fantastic job of answering all sorts of questions about nonprofit law. I always learn a lot.

Recently, a parent from a small private school mentioned the need to do fundraisers and have everyone “do their fair share.” That is a pretty common expectation in activities involving children like youth sports leagues, scouting, etc. But to my surprise, Mr Mechanic has a problem with the “fair share” idea.

Here is Harvey Mechanic’s reply:

The statement that you made about “fair share” indicates that you do not want to operate properly. The fair share is applicable for a co-operative organization but not a charitable organization. In denying exemption to a purported 501(c)(3) organization booster organization, in 1992 the IRS at
http://viewer.zoho.com/docs/s2ca6g on page 6 stated “The reason you were created and your method of operation indicate that you are made up of a group of parents who have joined together to work cooperatively to provide funds to pay for the participation of their children in athletic events.
The expenses incurred by these children would otherwise have been paid by the parents.  All parents of competitive team members are automatically members of your organization.  Accordingly, members expect to receive a benefit in return for their membership.  You pay no benefits to non-members.

Another, similar denial of exemption was issued by the IRS in 1990 and may be viewed at
http://viewer.zoho.com/docs/a4vd3

Such an operation would be what the IRS calls a cooperative. A cooperative is not qualified as a 501(c)(3) organization. (emphasis added)


IRS and Your Homeschool Org cover

Wow!  So does that mean homeschool co-ops cannot obtain 501(c)(3) status? Oh, no!  I spend a lot of time helping homeschool co-ops obtain 501(c)(3) tax exempt status. I have been successful many times.

I even wrote a book, The IRS and Your  Homeschool Organization, telling homeschool organizations how and why to become a 501(c)(3) organization.

Am I wrong?  Or is Mr. Mechanic incorrect?

Neither.  Or rather, it depends on how your organization is structured and your purpose.  If your homeschool organization is a support group that is “made up of a group of parents who have joined together to work cooperatively to provide funds to pay for the participation of their children in athletic (or educational) events.” you do not qualify for 501(c)(3) tax exempt status. But you can qualify for a different IRS tax exempt status called 501(c)(7) Social Club status.

I am assisting a homeschool support group that has a few co-op classes, but their main purpose is to join together to support each other in homeschooling. They are applying for 501(c)(7) as a Social Club. They will receive many of the benefits of tax exempt status, but not quite the same a 501(c)(3) status.

What about your homeschool organization?  Would you qualify as a 501(c)(3) charity or 501(c)(7) Social Club?

Do you know the difference?

How can you decide? It depends on your activities, purpose and structure.

I can help you sort out the differences.

Please contact me about a phone consultation to help you determine which status is best for your organization.

Do not make the mistake of choosing the wrong tax exempt status.  You could be denied by the IRS like Mr Mechanic mentioned and waste a lot of time and money. It can happen to your group.  Read a real life story here:

http://homeschoolcpa.com/irs-intimidates-homeschool-group

If you need help discerning the tax exempt status of your homeschool organization, send me an email at Carol@HomeschoolCPA.com. We can arrange a private consultation to discuss your particular situation.

Carol Topp, CPA

What are the legal responsibilities of homeschool leaders?

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Carol,

We are hesitant about linking personal Social Security Numbers to the group EIN. What legal ramifications does putting personal SSN info on the group form have for that individual?

Tasha

Tasha,

The IRS form SS-4 Application for Employer Identification Number asks for the name of a responsible party and either a SSN, ITIN (tax ID for aliens) or EIN (for businesses). You asked what are the legal ramifications of putting a name and SSN on the EIN application for a nonprofit organization.

The answer lies in the responsibility of leadership. All leaders, officers or directors of a nonprofit has some responsibilities. Each board member has a fiduciary (i.e. legal) duty of care and loyalty to manage the organization and its funds within the purpose/mission of the organization and not for private gain or benefit. The board’s job is to govern the organization, be responsible for the management of funds, and be responsible for its programs. Those are the “legal ramifications” of leadership.

Specifically, the duty of care includes:

  • Be aware of the nonprofit’s mission, plans and policies
  • Be sure that all activities are in accordance with the mission, plans and policies
  • Fully participate in Board meetings, deliberations and decisions.
  • Read, evaluate and ensure the accuracy of all reports, including minutes and financial statements.
  • Ensure the organization has sufficient people, funding and other assets to meet its purpose.

The duty of loyalty includes clearly making a reasonable and good-faith effort, when acting as a Board member, to:

  • Always be thinking about, and focusing on, the priorities of the nonprofit, and not that of yourself or another organization.
  • Share ideas, opinions and advice to forward the progress of the nonprofit.
  • Represent the nonprofit in a favorable light.

These definitions and examples come from an excellent article on board responsibilities found at Managementhelp.org, a great website with lots of articles on running a nonprofit.

http://managementhelp.org/misc/Fiduciary-Responsibilities-of-NP-Board.pdf

Most of these fiduciary (legal) responsibilities are not too heavy for any loyal board member. I think they are very reasonable. It might be a good idea to share them with new and old board members.

So next time someone asks, “What are my responsibilities as a board member?” or “What are the legal ramifications of putting my name on an IRS form?” you have an answer to give.

Carol Topp, CPA

Can a small group be an IRS qualified charity?

In the past week, I have received two emails from homeschool leaders in MD and CA with  a surprisingly similar situations.

In both groups, a small number of homeschooling families were  joining together to hire a single teacher to teach their children once or twice a week. Both groups were very small, only seven families total, but they were paying each instructor quite a bit of money-$11,000 annually in one case and $17,000 in the other. This meant that they exceeded the IRS threshold of $5,000 annual gross revenue and needed to consider filing for 501c3 tax exempt status.

They had several concerns such as a contract with the teacher, how should the teacher be paid and could the group qualify for 501c3 tax exempt status as an educational organization?

Here were some of their questions:

I found your website and found it to be most interesting and helpful to homeschool co-ops.  I would like to schedule a personal consultation with you.  I am part of a homeschool group that informally hired a teacher to teach certain classes in past years, but this coming year the teacher wants a contract.
Rosemary in MD


I saw your website and had some general questions for you.  Appreciate your ministry to homeschoolers. We are trying to decide whether our group should be a sole proprietorship owned by person or try to establish a nonprofit. What would be the pros and cons of each? What if we can’t afford to file for tax exemption at this time?  What are our choices if our gross receipts are around $11K/year?
Teri in CA

There are several options for homeschool organizations who are trying to decide how to structure themselves. I advised the leader from CA to read this article:

When to become a 501c3?

I offered a private phone consultation and discussed the concerns and options with the leader from MD. I explained that I doubted the IRS would grant 501c3 “qualified charity” status to a group with only seven families. An IRS qualified charity is supposed to serve a public good, not the needs of only seven families.

Instead of pursuing 501c3 tax exempt status, we discussed that the hired teacher is really running a for-profit business (a sole proprietorship) with seven families as her customers. I shared with her several sample contractor agreements the teacher could use in her business.

There is a sample contractor agreement available in my ebooks Money Management in a Homeschool Organization and Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization.

Thank you again for the consultation.  It answered a lot of questions for me, and I appreciate your support. Thank you also for the contractor agreements – I have been reading through them.
Rosemary in MD

If you have a unique homeschooling situation and would like to schedule a private consultation with me, please send me an email at Carol@HomeschoolCPA.com. Tell me a little about your group and we can arrange a mutually convenient time to talk.

Carol Topp, CPA

Do you need insurance on your officers?

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In my article, Insurance for Homeschol Groups , I discussed several types of insurance a homeschool organization might need. One type is called Director and Officers Insurance, or D&O insurance.

D&O insurance provides defense for leaders if they are sued for wrongful acts in their capacity as leaders. Typical lawsuits against a nonprofit organization include mismanagement of assets and improper employment practices such as discrimination, wrongful termination, and harassment. Many small homeschool organization find that D&O insurance can be very expensive and sometimes forgo purchasing a policy.

But could that be harmful to your organization or leaders?

Since writing that article, I have found an excellent explanation of D&O insurance for nonprofit organizations written by the Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York. You may read the entire article here.

Here is a helpful excerpt:

Unlike general liability insurance — which any organization that has a physical plant would be foolish not to have — many nonprofits are uncertain whether they need D&O coverage. When a person becomes a board member of a nonprofit organization, she assumes a level of responsibility for the organization (“duty of care”), and exposes herself to claims for not running and managing it in a proper way. Whether or not your organization needs D&O insurance depends on what the likelihood is that one of your board members will be the target of such a claim.

Claims generally fall into two categories: bodily injury (physical harm) and non-bodily injury (non-physical harm, like discrimination or termination). The majority of claims are for bodily injury. Your general liability insurance covers board members, subject to policy terms and conditions, for claims arising out of bodily injury and property damage.

Directors & Officers liability insurance only covers non-bodily injury claims. Non-bodily claims include employment-related claims and mismanagement of funds.

Fear of non-bodily injury lawsuits would be one reason to have D&O insurance. Although there are very few reported cases, it doesn’t mean that claims have not been filed and then either settled out of court or dropped.

Generally, there are two types of lawsuits in which a claim might be brought against a board member: derivative lawsuits and direct or third-party lawsuits.

Derivative lawsuits are claims against a board member on behalf of the corporation. The typical claim here would be mismanagement of assets. But, under New York State law only a few people have “standing” or the right to bring such claims. They are: 1) board member(s) suing other board member(s) 2) members of an organization suing a board (if at least 5% of the total membership join the lawsuit), and 3) the state Attorney General.

Because of these restrictive standing rules, very few derivative claims are ever made. It should be noted that claims of these types are not made for awards to an individual, but rather to make the corporation “whole.”

Direct or third-party lawsuits are brought by an employee or by a person not connected with the corporation who asserts a claim against it or its board on account of some non-bodily injury.

Employment practices like termination and discrimination are the largest exposure in these types of claims. If you have a small, friendly staff, and feel unlikely to have employment claims resulting in a lawsuit, you might not think it necessary to carry D&O insurance. However, when employees feel they have been wronged and are angry, they may file a claim even if it is baseless. At that point, you will have to hire lawyers. Your D&O then becomes a legal defense policy.

Indeed, Swords’ view is that D&O insurance is essentially legal defense insurance, noting that “99.99% of the cases brought against a board are going to be thrown out, but you’re still going to have to pay the legal fees if a claim is filed.”

In this connection, the “deep pocket” theory is relevant. This theory holds that only people with money are likely to be sued. Lawyers may file a suit based on a bogus claim against “deep pocket” board members with the hope of securing a settlement for their client. Organizations that have a board made up of “ordinary” people who aren’t known to have vast amounts of money may then be comfortable without D&O insurance.

I think their explanation of D&O insurance being “legal defense insurance” is very understandable. They also point out that most of the lawsuits filed against nonprofits are related to employees.  If your homeschool organization does not hire employees (and most do not), your risk is low and D&O insurance may not be necessary.

Carol Topp, CPA

Homeschool co-op teachers influence the future!

EmilyToppSo many wonderful people have influenced my daughters by teaching at our homeschool co-op.  I will be forever grateful to them!

When Amy Puetz announced she was looking for stories form homeschool graduates, I asked my daughter, Emily, to write something.

Here is an excerpt:

When I was in fifth grade, my mother enrolled me in a homeschool co-op because she thought it would be “good for me.” Unfortunately, I was less than enthusiastic about the prospect of trying something new and facing “real teachers.” In hindsight, however, I can see that the co-op was one of the greatest blessings of those years of homeschooling!

The volunteer instructor for my public speaking class was a veteran homeschool mother, Mrs. Hill. In her class, I learned how to follow a syllabus, complete weekly assignments, and learn from a teacher other than my own parents. I also benefited from Mrs. Hill’s patient encouragement and instruction, as she shared her passion for communicating for Christ with my class. Because each of my co-op teachers led a class in her area of expertise, their passion developed my love for learning beyond what I would have experienced working with just my mom and sister at home. Although I did not particularly enjoy speaking in public, I appreciated Mrs. Hill’s encouragement. Specifically, her praise—from a source other than my parents—reinforced my self confidence and motivated me to work diligently even in my least favorite subjects. On the car ride home from co-op, I would frequently say to my mother, “Guess what I learned from Mrs. Hill today!” The co-op provided a unique opportunity to learn from other adults, without sacrificing the integral element of family from my homeschool experience.

Read my daughter’s thank you to co-op teachers in Thank You! 20 Homeschool Grads Tip Their Hats to Homeschooling Parents Compiled by Amy Puetz

Amy is offering this as a fee ebook at her website.

If you as a homeschool parent, leader or co-op teacher need a bit of encouragement, read Amy’s Thank You book. It will be the “shot in the arm” you need!

Thank You! 20 Homeschool Grads Tip Their Hats to Homeschooling Parents


Audits for small nonprofits are rarely needed

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Dear Carol:

Our organization was organized last year. It is a non-profit group that was designed to offer homeschool sports to our local homeschool athletes.

In January we received our 501c3 status as a non-profit group. It is time for our annual audit, but I am not sure which way to go now and who to get to do the audit.

I used an excel spreadsheet to do our check register.

Any help or suggestions that you could offer would be greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,

Nikki D

Nikki,

Congratulations on obtaining your 501c3 status.  that’s a huge accomplishment!

I’d be happy to help you in any way that I can. You mentioned your “annual audit.”  Does your organization really need an annual audit?  An audit has  a specific meaning in accounting and it involves an in-depth look at your entire accounting operation. It is very time consuming and expensive ($3,000 and up). Since you said that you keep your records on an Excel spreadsheet, I assume that the record keeping is pretty simple. So, that makes me wonder if you mean an “audit” or something else, like just filing your annual information return with the IRS.

Carol Topp, CPA

Follow up: Nikki sent me the bylaws for her organization and I made some recommended changes, gave her some financial practices to follow and suggested she consider doing an internal audit.

Some small nonprofits and churches do an internal audit annually or every other year. An internal audit goes beyond the financial practices I recommended, but it is not as extensive as a full audit. Internal audits are performed by people within the organization. They check accounting records for compliance with the financial practices.

The following website explains internal audits for small churches and nonprofits:
http://www.freechurchaccounting.com/churchaudit.html

It also contains a checklist for conducting an internal audit:
http://www.freechurchaccounting.com/support-files/internalauditchecklistguidelines.pdf

Homeschool Co-ops now avaliable at Rainbow Resource

I am pleased to announce that Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn Out is now available at Rainbow Resource, the largest homeschool catalog I have ever seen, with 1300+ pages! I love that catalog. I spend hours looking through it. I am honored to now be included in its pages!

HomeschoolCo-ops

Rainbow price  $11.75

Order here

Read more about Homeschool Co-ops here.

(P.S. if you prefer an electronic version of Homeschool Co-ops, I have a special going on through the end of July. Buy the electronic version of Homeschool Co-ops for $10.00 and receive a copy of my 60 page ebook Questions and Answers for Homeschool Leaders. Learn more here.)

Carol Topp, CPA

Hosting a booth at county fair makes history

The San Diego Christian Homeschools hosted an information booth at the San Diego county fair. It was the first time in the fair’s history that a homeschool organization had been featured there.

Leader Lisa Vaca, wrote to tell me about it:

I just wanted to share with you about how blessed we were to be able to host a homeschool information booth at our County fair yesterday. This all happened thanks, in part, to the encouragement and tips of you, Kristen and Denise (of HomeschoolGroupLeader.com) , and thanks to the huge help of Carol with our non-profit filing last year. (You’re very welcome!)

Our booth was a big hit and the organizers of the non-profit booths at our County fair are begging us to return again next summer. We were able to get HSLDA and other homeschool organizations to send us brochures and publications to hand out, plus we got some of our SDCH kids involved in the photography and displays.

Through this Homeschool Info Booth we were able to introduce homeschooling to our community in a fun, new and positive way, and answer the public’s many questions about home education.



Isn’t that a great idea? The San Diego Christians are reaching out to others in their community to share the benefits of homeschooling.

Carol Topp, CPA

P.S. The San Diego Christian Homeschoolers obtained 501c3 tax exempt status (with my help) which gives them extra credibility in the eyes of their community. Learn the benefits of 501c3 tax exempt status for your homeschool group  in this article Do we need 501c3 status?

Homeschool Co-ops now available as an ebook!

HomeschoolCo-opsCoverMy book, Homeschool Co-ops: has been available in print since 2008. It has been helpful resource for many homeschool leaders, as  Dawn in Janesville, WI wrote me:

I am the director of a 40+ family homeschool co-op.  We have already purchased one book, and I read it in a weekend.  It has been an awesome resource.  My Assistant Director has just finished reading it, and we are in agreement that we should purchase a set of at least 5 for our board.  We would like to offer it to the board as a resource as well as for our membership to check out to read.

Now Homeschool Co-ops is available as an electronic book, available for immediate download as a pdf.

OrderNowButton

Price $10.00


Table of Contents

Sample Chapter


What’s the difference between an ebook and the print version?

The content is exactly the same. I have the ebook laid out with two pages of the book on one sheet of paper (horizontally), so it takes fewer sheets of paper if you wish to print out the book or portions of the book.

See a sample of the pages: Two-page Layout Sample

Why would I want an electronic version?

You receive the book immediately. There is no waiting for delivery.  It is stored forever on your computer. It will not get ripped, lost or eaten by your dog.

Can I print out several copies of the ebook to share with my co-op members?

No, sorry, but you cannot print out several copies. Electronic books have copyrights just like a print book. You may make one copy for your personal use. Your friends will have to purchase their own copies of the print or ebook.

What is the price of the ebook?

The ebook price is $10.00.

During the month of July 2010, I am offering a special bonus. When you purchase Homeschool Co-ops as an ebook, you will receive  a free copy of another ebook, Questions and Answers for Homeschool Leaders.

Questions and Answers for Homeschool Leaders

QALeadersCover3DTable of Contents
Read a Sample here

This  62 page ebook contains the most frequently asked questions from homeschool leaders on the IRS, nonprofit and tax exempt status, boards, conflict, money, fund raising, volunteers, paying workers and insurance. As you read the questions from other leaders and answers from Carol Topp, CPA, you will find practical and helpful guidelines on a variety of topics to run a successful homeschool group.


How will this work?

Click on Order Now button and you’ll be taken to my shopping cart program. It looks like this:

CBOrderpage

1. You enter your credit card number, email and name.

2. You will be directed to another website page, my download page. On that page you will be able to download your ebook immediately by clicking a link. The ebook will open as a pdf file.  You will need Adobe Reader to view and print it. Get Adobe Reader for free here.

3. Save the document on your computer.

4. You can read the ebook on your computer screen or print it out.


You only have until July 31, 2010 to buy the electronic version of Homeschool Co-ops and receive the bonus copy of Questions and Answers for Homeschool Leaders. Order your copy today!

OrderNowButton Price $10.00 for Homeschool Co-ops ebook (and bonus ebook)

Special at The Old Schoolhouse magazine

My favorite homeschool magazine, The Old Schoolhouse, is running a special that you should check out!
Receive a 2-year subscription, free Homeschooling with Heart tote bag, and five FREE E-Books for just $17.76!
Sign up early to get all three goodies. It’s only good until July 4th, so don’t delay!

July 4th Sale

I think you’ll love this magazine as much as I do!

Carol Topp, CPA