Lessons from a goose on leadership

Geese

Who knew that geese could tell us so much about leadership?

Geese fly in a V formation to create uplift. They fly 71% farther when flying together than if they flew alone.
Application for homeschool leaders: Don’t run your group alone. Gather other people to help you and you’ll go farther and avoid burnout.

When the lead bird gets tired, he drops out of the head spot and flies in the back to recover and take advantage of the lift from the other birds.
Application for homeschool leaders: Rotate leadership. Bring in fresh, new people. Set term limits for board members.

Geese honk to offer encouragement to each other, sort of an “Atta boy!” or “You can do it! Keep going!” to each other and their leader.
Application for homeschool leaders: Encourage your leaders. Offer appreciation gifts and thank you cards.

Thanks to :

http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/apjinternational/apj-s/2007/4tri07/popeeng.htm

Carol Topp, CPA

Paying co-op leaders

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Hello,
I am the leader of a support group with around 65 families.  Our group has a board of elders and by-laws.  We also have a co-op of about half the members of the larger group.  The co-op requires members to be a member of the larger group.  The co-op has separate leadership and it’s own checking account. The by-laws don’t address the co-op specifically.

The co-op pays the leadership and teachers from their account.  Tuition and fees are charged for participating families.  Teachers are written checks from the co-ops account monthly. “Teacher Gift” is always written in the memo in the checks. For the most part, curriculum for the classes are decided upon by the leadership of the co-op. Those in the leadership of the co-op serve no other volunteer function in the main group (their leadership on the co-op has been counted as their volunteer service for all the 7 years the co-op has existed ). Another member of the group has complained that their paid leadership service is not volunteer service and should not be counted toward the main group.  I do agree with this.  But it seems that we need to address this and some other issues that aren’t quite right.

Should our groups separate?  The larger group has not reviewed the co-op’s financial records. The co-op only gave out 1099’s last year for the first time.  I know that whatever is done, there will be hurt feelings and I am at a loss to know where and how to tackle these issues.  Where and what should I start with?

Thanks in advance.

Tina

Tina,

Here’s my advice:
PayingWorkersCoverRead my ebook Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organizations. Available as a pdf for immediate download for $7.00 at
http://homeschoolcpa.com/bookstore/paying-workers-ebook/

Good for your group for finally giving 1099MISC to the teachers!  But you should stop writing “Teacher Gift” in the memo. These are not gifts. They are payments for services.

In my experience, it is untypical for homeschool co-op leaders to be paid. That is because most co-ops cannot afford to pay leaders. Instead, many leaders receive discounted tuition (or free classes) in appreciation for their volunteer efforts.

Since you are paying these leaders, they are employees, not independent contractors as your teachers apparently are (although this statement concerns me: “curriculum for the classes are decided upon by the leadership of the co-op.” It sounds as if they are employees and not independent contractors). Employees require quite a bit more paperwork and may involve paying unemployment tax and workers compensation taxes. I discuss the difference between independent contractors and employees in the Paying Workers ebook.

You asked: “Should our groups separate? The larger group has not reviewed the co-op’s financial records.” Obviously the larger support group has neglected some of their responsibilities. See my blog post on leader responsibilities here:
http://homeschoolcpa.com/what-are-the-legal-responsibilities-of-homeschool-leaders/ Perhaps it is time to weigh the pros and cons of being separate. A lot goes into that decision.

You also said: “Another member of the group has complained that their paid leadership service is not volunteer service and should not be counted toward the main group. I do agree with this. But it seems that we need to address this and some other issues that aren’t quite right.”
You are correct that you cannot pay a volunteer, so perhaps the volunteer service is not fulfilled because they are paid.

If you wish to discuss your group’s issues and concerns, I do offer private phone consultation with homeschool leaders. It’s one of my most popular services. Read more about it here: http://homeschoolcpa.com/services/consultation/

I hope that helps.

Carol Topp, CPA
HomeschoolCPA.com Helping homeschool leaders
————

Hi,

I wanted to thank you so much for writing back and give a little update.  The officers met and decided to work at correcting any errors we may be making.  We have a meeting scheduled with the co-op directors in the next couple of weeks.  I think it is so important to set a good example in everything you do.

I do want to add that I was incorrect in that the co-op leaders receive tuition waivers instead of being paid.  Once we get all the information on the finances, then we can make the necessary decisions about our groups.  I am praying for a smooth road.

Your website is very helpful and I have shared it with all the officers of our group.   We are so very appreciative.

Tina

Duties of a Secretary

The Nonprofit Law Blog explains that the duties of a secretary of a nonprofit is more than attending meetings.

Duties of the Secretary of a Nonprofit Corporation

The secretary position of a non-profit organization plays a critical role in fostering communication and diligence through proper management and utilization of important records such as meeting minutes and the organization’s bylaws.

The secretary position has wide-ranging responsibilities, requiring much more than simply being present at all board meetings. He or she is an active conduit for communication by giving proper notice of any meetings and timely distribution of materials such as agendas and meeting minutes. Additionally, the secretary should be knowledgeable of the organization’s records and related materials, providing advice and resources to the board on topics such as governance issues, amendments to the state laws, and the like, that will assist them in fulfilling their fiduciary duties.

As the custodian of the organization’s records, the secretary is responsible for maintaining accurate documentation and meeting any legal requirements such as annual filing deadlines. The secretary is responsible for reviewing and updating documents as necessary and ensuring all documents are safely stored and readily accessible.

A secretary will be most useful to an organization when his or her role is catered to meet the unique structure and needs of the organization, rather than filling a “one-fits-all” job description. For example, these duties often increase when the corporation is a membership organization, giving members the right to elect the directors. Duties may additionally change from time to time as may be assigned to him or her by the board.

I recommend that every homeschool organization set up a permanent file  to keep important papers including:

  • Bylaws
  • Articles of Incorporation
  • Employer Identification Number (EIN)
  • Bank account information
  • Name registrations
  • 501c3 determination letter from the IRS
  • Copies of EVERYTHING ever mailed to or received from any branch of the government, IRS, state or local.

Pass this permanent file to the next secretary as board members change.

Happy filing!

Carol Topp, CPA

Do liability waivers really protect homeschool leaders?

I was recently asked about liability waivers from a homeschool leader:

As we draw up a liability waiver, do we need to have an attorney in our state look at it to make sure it is okay, or are they generally pretty generic forms? It seems those I have filled out in the past were basically the same, with just a few minor changes to make it appropriate for the group and/or event. Judy K. (Tennessee)

I wasn’t sure how to answer Judy, so I turned to Christine Field, an homeschool parent and attorney with Homeschool Legal Advantage:

You don’t think of homeschool groups as engaging in potentially dangerous activity, so the whole idea of waivers and liability insurance may seem unnecessary. Yet many groups are increasingly called upon to obtain liability insurance. The insurer may insist on your group having a release of liability form or a liability waiver.

Many people believe that a signed waiver makes them invulnerable. This is not true. Here are some common misconceptions about liability waivers:

1. If someone signs a waiver, they can’t sue us. This is not true. An injured party can still attack the validity and scope of a waiver.

2. If I have a waiver signed, I send it to the injured party’s lawyer and they won’t sue. Also not true. As a homeschool group, you still need to report the claim to your insurance company along with sending them a copy of the waiver to be used as part of your defense.

3. If I have waivers signed, I don’t need insurance. Definitely not true! In fact, if you have insurance, the insurer will often insist that you obtain waivers or releases from participants.
An enforceable waiver of liability is one which is prepared in accordance with state law, sufficiently describes the risk and is understood by the reader.

Some things to look out for in your releases are as follows:
1. Remember, minors generally cannot release liability. Parents or guardians must sign the release on behalf of the minor.

2. A release can only release from ordinary negligence. In other words, if there is gross negligence or intentional injury, the release will not be effective.

3. The language of the release must be in compliance with the state law and the signer must understand the language of the release. Look for language barriers or other inability to understand.

It is always good to have an attorney licensed in your state take a look at your liability waivers or releases. Doing so provides the best possible protection for your group as well as your directors.


Thank you, Christine, for your reply and insight into the best use of liability waivers for homeschool leaders.

Carol Topp, CPA

The benefits of a board to avoid burn out

My friends Kristen & Denise at Homeschool Group Leader have been running an interview they did with me as a blog series on leader burn out.

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This session is about how a team of people or a board can help leaders avoid burnout
Here’s part of the interview:
Having a board means you are sharing the responsibility for that group. You’re sharing the decision-making. Who wants to make all these decisions themselves about what classes will be held or where they’re going to find a meeting place or do we need insurance or a million other questions?

But the most important thing a board does is to help you avoid burning out, because you’re sharing that load. And also, having a board means that you can replace yourself–that no one person is doing it all–if she is, then she is making herself too difficult to replace.

There are lots of times when a leader may have to step down. Maybe because she is burned out, but also it could be that her family moves out of town. We’ve had that happen. Or maybe she becomes ill or someone in the house becomes ill, and she has to step down from her responsibilities for a while. Every group out there and every leader out there ought to be saying, “If one of us had to leave, could we keep going?” Who could step in—always have that in the back of your mind.

The next session is on how a budget can help avoid burnout:
Carol Topp, CPA

What are the legal responsibilities of homeschool leaders?

legal-books-gavel-scale

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

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

Should you compensate board members?

MeetingRoom2

I know that the board members of a homeschool groups are hard-working people.  They not only homeschool their own children, but they organize support groups and co-ops to help other homeschool families.  Sometimes a homeschool group would like to “reward” these generous individuals.

Is it OK to compensate your board members?

A homeschool co-op in the Midwest contacted me recently to apply for 501c3 tax exempt status.  The Treasurer told me that her co-op had been paying their leaders anywhere from $200-$1,200 a year for their service on the board.  I discussed why paying board members was not a typical practice.  Here is some of what we discussed:

  • Payments to board members can create a conflict of interest. Does the loyalty of the leader lie in herself or in the best interests of the group?
  • Paying board members can call into question the duty of loyalty of the board member.  Is she acting in the best interest of the group rather than a personal, financial interest?
  • Payment could compromise the leader’s duty of care. A leader should act in good faith, with the care an ordinary, prudent person would exercise and with the best interest of the group in mind.
  • Payments on nonprofit boards is not a typical practice.  Charities do not usually compensate their board members. Their funds usually go back into the program. Board members serve because they have a passion for the mission and a concern for the members.
  • Board payments can undermine the volunteer spirit of other members. Why should a member volunteer her time when others are paid for their efforts?
  • Paying a board member can cause dissension and a sense of injustice or imbalance in the group.
  • In this particular case the payments did not have member approval. The board voted themselves compensation, but never put the idea to a member vote. This could be considered inurement  which is forbidden for 501(c)(3) tax exempt organizations and could put the organizations tax exempt status at risk.
  • Paying board members involves correctly classifying them as employees or independent contractors. The classification is a matter of IRS law, not your choice.

This group has wisely decided to stop payments to board members. I think the group will be better served by an all-volunteer board and healthier in the long run.

payingworkerscoveroutlinedYou can pay board members, but the income is taxable income. My book Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization explains the correct way to pay board members as employees or independent contractors and alternative tax-free ways to thank your hard-working board members.

Carol Topp, CPA

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Homeschool Leader, Do You Need Help?

I know that being a homeschool leader is not an easy job.  You have taken on extra responsibilities in addition to homeschooling your own children. But help is on the way!

I am so pleased to announce several ebooks and audios for homeschool leaders are now available


A 39 page ebook covering money management for small, medium and large sized groups. Sample forms and examples of financial statements in clear English are provided. Also covered are topics such as using Quickbooks, collecting fees, creating a budget, insurance, and hiring paid teachers. All written specifically for homeschool groups.
Price: $10.00 (immediate download as a pdf file)
Read more and order here

A 51 page ebook explaining the pros and cons of tax exempt 501c3 status. Is it needed? Is it worth it? Also covered are non profit incorporation, the application process, and how to maintain tax exempt status. Written specifically for homeschool groups.
Price: $10.00 (immediate download as a pdf file)
Read more and order here

A  62 page ebook containing some of 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.
Price $8.00 (immediate download as a pdf file)
Read more and order here

A 20 page ebook that covers paying workers as employees or independent contractors.  Includes sample forms, tips and advice to help you pay workers in accordance with the IRS laws. Written specifically for homeschool organizations.
Price: $7.00 (immediate download as a pdf file)
Read more and order here

Are You Ready? Tax Exempt 501c3 Status for Homeschool Organizations

audio download
An hour-long audio that explains the advantages of 501c3 tax exempt status for your homeschool group. What’s involved, what will it cost and is it worth it? All specifically for homeschool groups.
Price: $7.00 includes a file of the presentation slides
Read more and order here

An hour-long audio that explains the importance of boards, budgets and bylaws in a homeschool organization. Get your group set up correctly and running smoothly. All specifically for homeschool groups.
Price: $7.00 includes a file of the presentation slides
Read more and order here


I hope you find these ebooks and audios helpful as you run your homeschool organizations.
Carol Topp, CPA

Should a co-op be a separate organization?

Carol,

We have one entity (group) that works outside of our association, this is our checkbook2Co-op group. This group does take in money – I believe it’s run out of a separate bank account. I know our Co-op group has a board, and bylaws but not an EIN number, which I know is very easy to get. What are they benefits of us staying as one group? My question is: should our Co-op group run their funds separately like this?

Sandy in TX

Sandy,

Your co-op could be organized as under your association or as a separate group. It’s really up to you. Since they have their own separate board and bylaws, perhaps they are really operating as a separate unincorporated association already. You could be officially separate if they obtain their own Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS.

There might be advantages to staying as one group. There are fewer volunteers for the board positions, consolidated financial reports, and shared workload. The co-op could remain a part of your organization, but with a separate checking account and its own budget. It could be self-sustaining financially, but still part of your association. Many church-run schools operate like this, financially self-sufficient, but still under the umbrella of the church.

Carol Topp, CPA