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


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)

Plan a summer mini music co-op

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Summer is here, so now is a good time to consider running a mini homeschool co-op. Mini co-ops that are small, focused on one subject and only last a few weeks are a great way to try out the co-oping idea. Renee shares some great ideas on running a music co-op in the summer. It can be fairly quick and easy to plan and a lot of fun.

How to Plan a Summer Music Class for Your Homeschool Coop

A summer music class for your homeschool group can certainly be a lot of fun. It will help the summer months to be a lot more enjoyable. Planning a summer music class is a lot easier than you think. The first thing that you can do is find out if any of the parents in your co-op play’s instruments. If they do see if they would be willing to teach something about the instrument they play, and how to play it. The kids do not need to actually have the instrument to learn some interesting facts about it, and how it is played. You can have the parents give simple demonstrations of how the instruments are played. If you have more than one parent that is willing to instruct the class, you can allow them to each pick which day they want to teach the class.

You may also be able to get a tour of a local music school. Taking a tour of the local music school can certainly be a lot of fun for all of the kids. If you live near the New York area, there are plenty of locations that you can go to that may give you a free tour. Do a basic Google search for a location near you that has a music program. Music schools are really best for this type of tour. Most towns have at least one music school which is located nearby. The music class can be held once a week to kind of switch up from the ordinary during the summer months. If there are kids in the co-op who are currently learning to play instruments you can also have them demonstrate their skills. The kids will enjoy having the opportunity to show off some of their skills, and they will also be helping others to learn about instruments as well.

To wrap up the classes at the end of the summer, you can plan a fun music fest for the entire co-op. This can basically be a barbecue that you plan for the students, and the family members. You can have each of the families chip in, and cover the expenses of the event. You can reserve a spot in your local park, and have plenty of food, and activities based around music. Why not check with the families to see if each family can come up with a fun music activity for the event. This can be a nice project for each family tow work on during the course of the summer.

I think homeschool parents are some of the most creative people around! This is a great way to do a mini co-op on a specific subject.

Have a great summer!

Carol Topp, CPA

Should you compensate board members?

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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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Hold a Homeschool Cotillion

A homeschool co-op or group is a terrific place to teach manners and etiquette.  Read about how one homeschool co-op held a homeschool cotillion.

How to Hold a Homeschool Cotillion

First, let me address why your kids could benefit from a cotillion. Table manners and etiquette are something to which every child should be exposed. I don’t know about you, but dinner at our house isn’t a very formal affair. We usually use only the utensils that are necessary for that meal and don’t spend a lot of time discussing the proper way to set a table or which fork to use.

The kids were paired into couples ahead of time based on height and age. Another photographer and I took pictures of each couple as they were announced at the top of the stairs. The event was held at the local church that has hosted our co-op classes for years. There was a per-child fee used to purchase the food from a local wholesale club, and we rented the dishes and silverware from a party rental company. Moms dressed in black pants and white shirts while inwardly chanting “serve from the left, clear from the right!”

I would like to encourage you that this is a doable event for a homeschool co-op.

You should visit the blog post and see the pictures and read up on the details!  Wonderful!

If they can do it, so can you!

Carol Topp, CPA

IRS starts revoking tax exempt status May 17

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Homeschool leaders, if your organization has 501c3 tax exempt status be sure to file your annual Form 990N, 990 EZ or 990 or risk losing your tax exempt status. The IRS is beginning automatic revocation of tax exempt status May 17, 2010.

Hundreds of thousands of small non-profits, from Little League teams to community soup kitchens, could lose their tax-exempt status on Monday because of an IRS filing requirement.

The 2006 Pension Protection Act included a provision requiring all non-profits to file an annual return with the IRS.

Previously, non-profits with annual revenue of less than $25,000 were excluded. Non-profits that fail to file a return for three consecutive years lose their tax-exempt status. On May 17, the three-year clock runs out for non-profits that haven’t filed a return since 2007.

The Urban Institute estimates that up to 365,000 non-profits could lose their tax-exempt status if they fail to file by Monday. Groups that miss the deadline will have to apply for a new exemption and pay a user fee of up to $850. They could also be liable for taxes on any revenue earned before their exemption is renewed.

The requirement does not apply to churches or church-related operations.

Non-profits with less than $25,000 in annual revenue can file a 990-N, an abbreviated online form. Completing the online form takes less than 10 minutes, says Tim Delaney, president of the National Council of Nonprofits.

What should you do if your organization loses its tax exempt status?  The IRS says you will need to reapply for tax exempt status.

The IRS as a FAQ page.

And I can help.  I assist homeschool organizations with tax exempt applications.  See my Services page for details.

Carol Topp, CPA