Getting people to help in a co-op

Asked at the Facebook I am a Homeschool Group Leader page

I just found out about One-by-One (a book on motivating members in a homeschool group), it sounds like JUST what I need, I’m excited to order it. It’s the biggest struggle and frustration I have, trying to get people involved, committed and to follow-through! Really hoping the book can help me figure out how to get members out of the “give-me” mode!!! How do you ladies accomplish this?

Reply from : Jennifer C, a homeschool co-op leader
There will always be those who join and never show up to anything. There will also be a few who only want to take. I have found that most are willing to do something, they just aren’t sure what to do. A blanket “what can you offer us?” has not been effective for us.

I have learned that I have to pay attention to the gifts others naturally possess and work with them, be very specific when I do ask for help, and offer lots and lots of praise. Small steps. At our Spring semester sign-ups, I had everyone fill out a form asking “How can you help us?” followed by a list of areas where they could help with little boxes for them to check. That is how I got my planning committee for this coming semester. I was also able to see who is willing to teach now and who is considering teaching in the future.

If you are a very new group, it’s likely most want to just observe how things are run at first before they just jump in. That is probably the most common answer I have seen. That was very hard to deal with two years ago when things were running for the first time. We were all new to the process.

I often remind our co-op members of the definition of the word “co-op” and that what they get will be a result of the collective efforts of all. 🙂 Sorry I’m talking so much. I’m just really excited about what is happening in our group and I want to help others if I can.

Gain Happy Volunteers, Active Members and More Precious Time and Energy with these Simple, Proven Steps. . .
One by One: The Homeschool Group Leader’s Guide to Motivating Your Members

New article on homeschool support groups and the IRS

Mounting bills Project 365(2) Day 142
Creative Commons License photo credit: Keith Williamson

I just uploaded a new article onto my Leader Tools/Articles page

Are support groups automatically tax exempt?

It discusses the difference between homeschool co-ops and support groups in the eyes of the IRS and the benefits of being a support group!

Here’s what one homeschool leader said when I shared this article:

The path I believe we will go down is to become a  Non Profit Corporation and then (be a) 501(c)7.  You provide a great and much needed service to homeschooler support groups and co-ops.  I wish our previous board knew about you and your web site.  I certainly will be spreading the word.

Thanks again.  I hope I get to meet you in person some day.


If you haven’t read the articles on my Leader Tools page in a while, why not print some out and share them with your board?

Helping you lead your homeschool group,

Carol Topp, CPA

Can we accept donations from Paypal and Google checkout

Creative Commons License photo credit: iliveisl

From my understanding, you can’t use Google checkout for donations unless we are a 501(c)(3)

I do think you can use PayPal for donations, even if we aren’t a 501(c)(3). It’s taxable but considered a gift. Do I understand this correctly?

You are correct  that only donations to a 501(c)(3) organizations are tax exempt.

I read the links you provided and Google only allows 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(6) (Business leagues with a 501c3 charitable fund) organizations to accept donations.

Paypal is much  less restrictive (but the IRS determines which donations are tax deductible, not Paypal!)

If your organization’s website accepts donations and is not a 501c3, then the income is fully taxable.

FWIW, here’s a chart explaining the various 501c types and when tax deductible donations are allowed by the IRS:

How can your homeschool group become a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization? Start by reading these articles:

501c3 tax exempt status

Carol Topp, CPA

What is Unrelated Business Income Tax?


Sometimes a homeschool group brings in a lot of money from fund raising. These efforts are so successful you may wonder if your group owes anything to the government in taxes. For the most part, fund raising is not considered part of your group’s mission; it is just a means to the end. After all, your group’s mission is to encourage homeschooling, not to sell ads, pizza or other products.

The Internal Revenue Service calls the money you raise “Unrelated Business Income,” meaning it is money collected in a trade or business that is not related to your primary mission. The IRS assess a tax on unrelated business income called the Unrelated Business Income Tax or UBIT. The purpose of this tax is to prevent nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations from having an unfair advantage over the for-profit marketplace.

The best example of unrelated business income is a gift shop in a nonprofit hospital. The income from a gift shop is not related to the hospital’s primary purpose of giving medical treatment, so the profits from the gift shop are taxed.

Your homeschool organization could have unrelated business income if you sell T-shirts, candy bars, entertainment books, candles, pizza coupons and a host of other products or if you make money from ads or Amazon commissions on your website.

Fortunately, the IRS has several exceptions to paying the UBIT tax:

  • A $1,000 threshold allows that the first $1,000 in profit from an unrelated business will not be taxed.
  • If the fundraiser (or unrelated business) is run by volunteer efforts (i.e., no paid staff) then the proceeds are not taxed.
  • If the fundraiser is not regularly carried on, such as a once-a-year spaghetti supper, then the proceeds are not subject to UBIT.
  • If you are selling donated items, like in a garage sale, the income raised is not taxed.

One of these exceptions are bound to apply to most homeschool organizations.

The rules regarding UBIT are complex. You can read more about UBIT in IRS Publication 598 Tax on Unrelated Business Income of Exempt Organizations (

Carol Topp, CPA


We’re not 501c3 and don’t want to be!

IRS 1040 Forms Post Office April 14, 20113
Creative Commons License photo credit: stevendepolo

Our support group has been in existence over 20 years… and we are  STILL  not a 501(c)(3) …. and don’t want to be!

It would take so much more work, money, etc. to be a 501(c)(3)!!

Many times it is hard for our members to understand this — they think any group who’s not set up as a ‘business’ to ‘make money’ has to be a 501(c)(3).  Our group does NOT take donations — membership fees cover our cost of doing business. And they are reasonable — $10 a year, to get our newsletter via email, $20 if you want it printed and mailed to you.  We put out a group directory each year, pay for some things like church rental for our Back to School meeting, copies of membership forms & information about homeschooling that we distribute, etc.

Conroe, TX


I need to warn you in your some of your assumptions. I’m a CPA and work with homeschool organizations to organize properly and decrease their tax liabilities by obtaining tax exempt status with the IRS.

I answered a leader who asked, “Can’t we operate without IRS tax exemption?” in this blog post.

You wrote: “they think any group who’s not set up as a ‘business’ to ‘make money’ has to be a501(c)(3).” They are partially correct. If your organization makes a profit, it owes tax unless it is legally tax exempt.

If your group is a nonprofit (i.e. no profit motive) you have one of 4 legal choices:

1. Stay small and remain under the IRS threshold of $5,000 in annual gross revenues for filing for 501c3 status.The IRS allow small nonprofits to “self declare” their tax exempt status without filing an application. But even small nonprofits must file an annual report with the IRS, Form 990N.

2. Consider another tax exempt status such as 501(c)(7) Social Club if you are a support group. See my blog posts on that issue here. And, like #1, 501(c)(7) social clubs are still required to file an annual report Form 990/990EZ or 990N with the IRS.

3. File for tax exemption under 501(c)(3) as an educational organization. This just got easier with the new IRS Form 1023-EZ.

4. Or you can pay your taxes.  When paying taxes is the alternative, tax exempt status doesn’t look so bad, huh?

Just because you do not accept donations does not exempt you from the IRS and tax regulations.

The USA offers a wonderful opportunity for nonprofit groups to keep all of their surplus and avoid paying taxes on it. But it does mean filing one time a document (Form 1023 or 1024) with the IRS to become a tax exempt organization.

I hope that clears things up a bit.


Carol Topp, CPA

Where does a homeschool leader go for support?

Homeschool leaders need support and encouragement as they seek to serve other homeschooling families.

Two places that support the group leader are:
The Old Schoolhouse (TOS) magazine Leadership Yahoo Group:

and the I am A Homeschool Group Leader Facebook group

Both are great places for you to ask questions, get tips and share advice in running your homeschool support group or co-op!

Carol Topp, CPA

Teaching Kids About Money radio interview

I’m being interviewed on The Sociable Homeschooler today (Friday July 22, 2011) at 9 am EST on teaching our kids about money and starting a micro business.

Listen in at

(titled “Worm Farms and More: Carol Topp,” dated 7-22-2011; starts about 14 minutes in)

View the handout with helpful resources: How to Teach Your Kids About Money

Link to my site mentioned in the radio program: Micro Business for

(this is a great curriculum to teach in a homeschool co-op!)

Hope you enjoy the show!

Carol Topp, CPA

Carnival of Homeschooling-One Thousand Gifts

This Carnival is dedicated to Kristen Fagala, wife of Paul and mother to 7 children, who passed away from a sudden brain aneurysm. She was an inspiration and encouragement to homeschool leaders. What a loss to all of us in the homeschooling world, and especially to her family. Offer your condolences on her Facebook page.

Welcome to the Carnival of Homeschooling-One Thousand Gifts theme

The theme for this blog carnival is based on  the book by homeschool mom Ann Voskamp One Thousand Gifts. We are focusing on all the gifts we’ve been given as homeschoolers and all the gifts (especially the unexpected ones) we’ve received.

Please post a comment and add to our list of gifts; we’d love to see your blessings!

My list begins with these gifts:

  • air conditioning (so we’re not grumpy with each other!)
  • other homeschool parents who share their experience
  • books, books, books!
  • homeschool conventions and vendors
  • time with my daughters

Time with our children

Laura Grace Weldon shares how her kids are blessed with the freedom to be themselves can grow up strong enough to follow their dreams in “Strong Enough to be Ourselves” Laura’s gifts include lasting memories, laughter, family sayings worth repeating

The Home Educating Family Publishing Blog says that there’s one very special gift homeschooling brings to military families: time in a blog post titled The Gifts of Homeschooling. Some of the gifts homeschooling has brought include: time; family togetherness; opportunities; adventures; community; personalized education

Linda Dobson reminds parents that only you can rescue your child from the schooling that causes lasting psychic damage in Schooling Causes Psychic Damage Lasting Into Adulthood | PARENT AT THE HELM posted at PARENT AT THE HELM.

Henry from Why Homeschool writes about a new tradition for his family: Weekly Family Councils.

Homeschool vendors

Kay Ryan presents Internet Safety For Kids Podcast ? Episode #11 posted at Keep Your Family Safe Online, saying, “Bryan Bowers interviews Mary Kay Hoal, with YourSphere Media. Mary Kay is a nationally recognized expert in child Internet safety and was recently featured on the ABC News show 20/20. This is the second in a three part series.”

Amy shares Geography Resources posted at Hope Is the Word.

Nebby presents Things that are Supposed to be Good (re Homeschool Curricula) posted at Letters from Nebby.

Other who share their homeschool experience

Andrea of Notes from a Homeschool Mom shares Reasons why I’m glad we homeschool: CRCT fiasco. Local public schools were busted in a huge test cheating fiasco. So why do they want us homeschoolers testing again? Andrea’s gifts of homeschooling include closeness with my kids, expressive children, independent children, educational freedom and a heightened sense of responsibility.

Robin of Crack the Egg Blog blogs that if every homeschooling mom keeps these three things in mind, she won’t be bothered by watching other families with a summer break and wondering why she’s not getting one in Homeschool Organization: Three Tips to Help You Relax. Robin is thankful for these gifts: Not asking permission to pursue what we love, enjoying science with a cat in your lap and time and freedom to read about math, not just do it.

Lisa from Four Simply Living sees homeschooling not as a sacrifice but as a ministry. “How did do I change my pity to passion? I chose to look at homeschooling with different eyes. I no longer see this commitment as a sacrifice; I see it as a reward.” in her post Homeschooling Pity to Passion . Gifts that homeschooling has brought her include: turning pity to passion, knowing that God has my back, coffee, cookies and hot chocolate, home-ec at its best, really knowing who my kids are, and marveling at the gift of being able to spend every day with them, all day!

Cristina Payne presents Impressing Learning posted at Home Spun Juggling, saying, “Sometimes it’s better to lead by example. They learn when they are ready.” 3 gifts: wildlife (we learn so much from it!), a working car, art supplies.

ChristineMM presents A Risk My Husband (and I) Are Willing to Take posted at The Thinking Mother, saying, “ChristineMM of The Thinking Mother shares the content of a lecture her husband gave their 13 year old son about education.”

Jen from Chestnut Grove Academy explains the Why and How of using workboxes in a homeschool at Revisiting the ‘WHY’ and ‘HOW TO’ of work boxes

Book, books, books! (and other great stuff!)

Jen of Frugal Kids shows parents/teachers how to use foam shapes to explore sorting, matching, and making patterns with their preschoolers in Sorting, Matching, and Pattern Fun

Katherine of No fighting, no biting! blogs that after much angst, her 7 year old is reading in busting through the wall. Katherine’s gifts include a quality education for the children, more family cohesiveness, freedom, as opposed to being on someone else’s schedule

momtobe0520 presents the socialization issue posted at Bugs, Knights, and Turkeys in the Yard, saying, “Another voice on the issue of homeschool and socialization” as she reviews Rick Boyer’s The Socialization Trap.

Miss Nirvana presents Garfield Park Conservatory and Sunken Garden in Indianapolis posted at Nirvana Homeschooling.

Pamela Jorrick tells about the fun and trial of  Early Morning Camp Week posted at Blah, Blah, Blog. Her gifts : Sleeping in * Reading books in PJs * Strong family relationships * Watching my children grow and learn * Rediscovering my own love of learning

Kathi Weiss shares what her family does for fun and learning in It’s Too Hot To Think posted at Homeschool Online.

Lisa at School Marm Ohio has been busy reading and shares her recommendations  in Reads for High School. Her gift list includes  Cuddle time on the couch, Dreams shared, “Ah-ha!” moments, Sharing life as a family, Being real, Sharing my passion for the Lord and life with my sons, Seizing the moment, Field trips, Thinking outside the box, Sock fights, Hugs and kisses (Still even though they are young men) and A lifetime of memories


Thanks to everyone who shared.

Since I dedicated this Carnival to my friend, fellow homeschooler, Kristen Fagala, I need to add to my gift list: Friends I make via the internet, the hope of eternal life, examples of generosity from other homeschool mothers, prayers of others, kind words, reminders that life is short.

Please post a comment and add to our list of gifts; we’d love to see your blessings!

Next week’s carnival will be hosted at

Carol Topp, CPA

Tragic loss

I am in shock at the sudden loss of my friend Kristen Fragala, wife of Paul and mother to 7 children, who went to be with the Lord yesterday after having a brain aneurysm.


She wrote One By One: The Homeschool Group Leader’s Guide to Motivating Your Members and was an inspiration and encouragement to homeschool leaders. What a loss to us all, especially her family.

Kristen was a wonderful, generous woman who wanted to share what she knew about leading a homeschool group with others.

She also ran a website and Facebook group for homeschool leaders. Offer your condolences here:

She will be greatly missed.

Carol Topp, CPA

P.S. If you would like to purchase Kristen’s book One by One (Ebook) just click here and I will donate all proceeds to her family.

Audits: should your group be doing them?

Hi Carol,

I am looking on your HomeschoolCPA web site for a list of services that you provide.  Our homeschool group is wondering if you offered a service for auditing our books each year to make sure everything is in order?

Debi K

Here’s the link to my services:

I can offer to look over your record keeping system and offer recommendations, but I cannot (and will not) do a full audit.

The word 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). I don’t do audits because they require  a staff of people to perform and require a review of my accounting practice by other CPAs, which would cost me at least $1,000.

Instead,  I can offer my consulting services and discuss your records and system of handling your money and make recommendations. That would help your organization quite a bit, but not be a full audit. I’ve done that type of work for homeschool groups before.

Carol Topp, CPA