Is Our Homeschool Group a Church?

Carol,
Our homeschool co-op would like a consultation with you. Our group is classified as a church in our state. Some of us feel that this is not the correct classification. While we have a religious purpose, offer a class in worship arts, and have Bible Studies, we are like more homeschool co-ops. We don’t have worship services, clergy or a theology.
Can you help?

I had a wonderful video call with five members of this homeschool group. Indeed they were formed as a church in their state.

We discussed religious purpose and most importantly their state’s definition of “church” (or in this state “ecclesiastical organization”). This homeschool group just didn’t fit the definition of an ecclesiastical erganization!

Their state’s definition of a church or ecclesiastical organization is (my emphasis added in italics):


The term “church” and/or “church organization” used in this act shall be construed to include any church, denominational unit, or church society as the term is commonly used and understood but shall not apply to such organizations as Sunday schools,…Bible classes and similar societies organized by and affiliated with the parent churches.

My recommendation was to dissolve the organization as is and start a new nonprofit corporation with a religious and educational purpose to run the homeschool activities.


The homeschool group followed that advice is pursuing nonprofit incorporation and 501c3 tax exempt status for a new organization.


At the same time, a Classical Conversations Director asked a tax assessor in North Carolina this question:

“Classical Conversations is Christian education. It aligns with the values and beliefs of the host church. Shouldn’t we be covered under the religious rather than nonprofit educational exemption?”

His rely, with my emphasis added in bold for brevity:

NCGS 105-278.3 defines a religious purpose as “one that pertains to practicing, teaching, and setting forth a religion. Although worship is the most common religious purpose, the term encompasses other activities that demonstrate and further the beliefs and objectives of a given church or religious body.” The Roman Catholic Church has long used a system of education as a method for instilling its particular beliefs and practices in the minds of the youth. Many protestant and other religious schools are operated by churches and church organizations in the hope of bringing the youth into conformity with the organization’s beliefs. In the developing world, Sunday Schools often teach literacy and language skills to attract children and their parents while teaching them using heavily theological materials. Thus, it is not a stretch to associate educational curriculum with organized religions and religious practices.

Problematically, CC Communities are not themselves religious organizations, denominations, or churches. NCGS 105-278.3 defines such as “a congregation, parish, mission, or similar local unit of a church or religious body; or a conference, association, presbytery, diocese, district, synod, or similar unit comprising local units of a church or religious body.”


It speaks of furthering the beliefs and objectives of “a given church or religious body” and extends exemption to “a general or promotional office or headquarters” of a group listed above, along with “residences for clergy, rabbis, priests or nuns assigned to or serving a congregation, parish, mission or similar local unit, or a conference, association, presbytery, diocese, district, synod, province or similar unit of a church or religious body.” Great lengths are taken to clearly describe who may benefit from religious exemption.

For a CC Community to benefit from the religious exemption it must prove that it is one of the above categories. Merely being a ministry, a Christian organization, etc. is insufficient, you must be a church body.

Source: Jeremy K. Akins,
Tax Administrator Alamance County
North Carolina


So although Mr Akin’s reply only applies to his county (based on North Carolina laws), it gives us an understanding that frequently the meaning of “church” for tax purposes (or property tax exemption in this case) is defined in the tax code of the states.

In other words, we as citizens, nonprofit leaders, or business owners cannot define what a church is or when our business or nonprofit group should be eligible to be called a church.

Those definitions are already in place. We just need to do our research.

Carol Topp, CPA
HomeschoolCPA.com
Helping Homeschool Leaders

Do you have a passion to help homeschool leaders?

 

Do you have a passion to help homeschool leaders?

Does a consulting business helping homeschool leaders sound appealing to you?

I have enjoyed being “the HomeschoolCPA” and advising homeschool leaders for 20 years and I’m ready to start slowly handing over my consulting business to another person(s) via a mentoring program.

Potential mentees should have:

  • an interest in homeschooling,
  • education in accounting (CPA preferred) and
  • experience in nonprofit leadership

Homeschooling is a growing niche that could serve as a great sideline business or a perfect opportunity for a parent who want to homeschool and keep using his or her accounting education and experience.

If this sounds appealing to you, visit HomeschoolCPA.com/Mentoring for details.

Carol Topp, CPA
HomeschoolCPA.com
Helping Homeschool Leaders

Summer Special: Business Consultation for CC Directors

Classical Conversations (R) Directors are advised to seek advice from a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) about running their CC business, yet many Directors do not do that for several reasons:

  • It’s too expensive
  • The Director doesn’t know any CPAs
  • The CPA doesn’t understand homeschooling or CC
  • It’s inconvenient (what to do with the kids?)

Here’s a summer special just for CC Directors that solves all those problems!

Get a 50 minute business consultation by phone with Carol Topp, CPA and Stephanie Patrick, a former CC tutor and Director.

The price is only $50
. That’s half the usual rate for Carol’s professional time and expertise and you get Stephanie’s experience as a Director and Tutor as a bonus!

Or gather other Directors and pay $75 for 2 people on the call or $100 for 3 people! All Directors will join in a conference call to practice social distancing!

This is a limited time offer (only two months this summer) with limited availability (four time slots a week on Tuesday afternoons).

During our call we can discuss any of these topics:

  • Is my CC Community a business or a ministry?
  • Should I be paying my tutors as employees or Independent Contractors?
  • How do I pay myself?
  • Paying my church-host: Is it a donation?
  • Giving refunds and discounts (especially because of COVID-19 cancellations)
  • What tax deductions can I take?
  • Should my business be an LLC?
  • Do I pay my CC business for my children’s tuition?

There are so many questions you may have that we may have to limit them to your top four issues.
But there are resources to help you run your CC Community including:

Book your consultation today. This is a limited time offer and there is limited availability (four time slots a week on Tuesday afternoons).

Carol Topp, CPA
HomeschoolCPA.com
Helping Homeschool Leaders

Options When Starting a Home School Business

I’ve been homeschooling my daughter for about 4 years. I enjoy it, I worked at a private school for a year, but It’s been on my heart to start my own home school. I could really use some help and advice on how to start my school, and the proper legal steps to take.Thank You! -LS.


Dear LS,

Thank you for contacting me.

It is unclear from your email if you want to:

  • homeschool other peoples’ children (like a tutor) in your home or
  • start a homeschool program (like a nonprofit co-op) or
  • start a business offering classes, like a tutorial, a few days a week
  • start a micro school (as your business).

If it’s homeschooling other peoples’ children in your home, these blog posts will be helpful:
Is it a homeschool co-op or Mary Poppins?
Homeschooling Other People’s Children. Is It Legal?

If you want to start a nonprofit homeschool group like a co-op, my website has lots of information including this checklist of steps. It’s a good place to start.

Offering services like classes to homeschool students is another option. Many people operate these programs or tutorials as sole proprietorship businesses. Classical Conversations Communities are one example. My ebook on Taxes for Homeschool Business Owners offers a lot of information on starting a business to serve homeschoolers.

Or if you want to start a full fledged 5-day per week micro school as your business (i.e., not a nonprofit) then read these blog posts:
Homeschool or microschool?
Fine line between a homeschool co-op and running a micro school

Of course, some homeschoolers start businesses using their experience (like me!). I wrote an articles titled, “Make Money from Your Homeschool Experience” You can read it here.

So as you see there are many options.

If you need more guidance, I would be happy to arrange a phone consultation with you. We can discuss whatever questions you have about your options.

Carol Topp, CPA
HomeschoolCPA.com
Helping Homeschool Leaders

A Decision Making Tool for Homeschool Leaders

Homeschool leaders are having a hard time planning for the future this summer (2020). There are concerns about member’s safety as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, parents needing support homeschooling, and new families considering homeschooling long-term.

There are so many decisions to make. Is there anything to help homeschool leaders?

Yes. there is!

It’s called a decision matrix.

When I was in homeschool leadership, our board had four different locations to chose from. We created a decision matrix to help us evaluate all the options and what criteria was most important to us.
We considered the location, rent, facilities, and relationship with he host church. It was a visual tool to help us see which option was the best choice.

A decision matrix could be a bit help to your homeschool group as you plan your activities for the fall of 2020.

Some of the criteria you might want to consider include:

  • Low risk of spreading the coronavirus
  • Cost to run the activity
  • Ease of social distancing
  • Ease of sanitation
  • Popularity with members
  • Indoors or outdoors
  • Availability to everyone or just some
  • Welcoming to newcomers
  • Ease of running the activity
  • Does the activity help accomplish our purpose?

Below is a snapshot of a possible decision matrix. This example has five activities the homeschool group is considering (including a new idea) and the criteria they will use to evaluate offering each activity in the fall.

The support group meetings (in homes and moms only) received a high score, but unfortunately the in-person co-op classes did not; they were too risky.

You can also add a weight factor since not all criteria are equal in importance. In this example the criteria were ranked from one (low importance) to five (highest importance). Your group may have several ones and more than one five.

This decision matrix spreadsheet is available to download. I hope it is helpful to your group as they evaluate their programs and activities in the future.


Feel free to edit the Activities and Criteria and, of course, the scores to fit you particular group.

Be sure the wording of your criteria and scores are consistent. High scores means good, low scores are bad. For example, a low risk of spreading disease gets a high score. A high risk of spreading disease would get a low score. It’s easy to get the wording and scoring mixed up!

You are allowed to share this spreadsheet with other homeschool group leaders but please attribute Carol Topp, CPA at HomeschoolCPA.com


You might find my webinar Homeschool Leaders: Planning an Uncertain Future helpful. It’s meant to help homeschool leaders who are facing difficult decisions.

Carol Topp, CPA
HomeschoolCPA.com
Helping Homeschool Leaders

Webinar Recording Homeschool Leaders: Planning an Uncertain Future

Homeschool leaders are facing an uncertain future and tough decisions this fall as the COVID-19 pandemic has caused governments to impose social distancing laws and new health and safety guidelines.

Carol Topp and three homeschool leaders hosted webinar for homeschool group leaders on June 1, 2020.

Here are some of the comments from live attendees:

Enjoyed the webinar very much! Took away some great snippets that have had my head swimming with possibilities for the coming school year. Really excited about this year!

My co-leader and I have much to discuss in the next few days. Things we didn’t realize we should be considering were brought to light. I think, as a result of our attendance last evening, our planning will be more strategic.

Thank you ladies for doing this. Very helpful and insightful. I really appreciate your time in putting this together.

The webinar was recorded and can be viewed on YouTube https://youtu.be/AaQ1c_XuUvY?

The topics discussed included:

  • Making Decisions as a Board
  • Planning Tools
  • Social Distancing in a Homeschool Group
  • Ideas from Homeschool Leader Panelists
  • How to Communicate Your Plans to Members

A handout of the slides is available. Slide Handout


Carol Topp, CPA
HomeschoolCPA.com
Helping Homeschool Leaders

Telling members about future plans regarding COVID-19

Many homeschool leaders are trying make plans for the fall of 2020 amidst the corona pandemic, social distancing requirements and concerns for member’s health and safety.

Recently one leader, Jennifer, shared on a Facebook group for leaders classical education programs called The Garden: Planting and Tending Classical Homeschool Programs what she has communicated at this point (early May 2020) to her member-families.

Jennifer graciously gave me permission to share this. We both hope it is helpful.


What about Covid?

As of right now, we DO plan to begin our school year on time. The board will be closely monitoring all of the happenings with Covid-19 and will make timely decisions as needed.

However, please know that we will not necessarily make decisions in line with local school systems. We will likely be more in line with local churches and of course we will honor the mandates from our local government.

We will strictly enforce our campus sick-policy which is carefully outlined in our handbook. I am confident that all of our families will be so careful to respect each other by being extra diligent in choosing to keep their family home if in doubt regarding the illness.

Everyone will receive an updated handbook at the Parent Orientation.

We want to be wise and we are eager to meet at (group name)!

Obviously, you may make a different decision from what Jennifer’s group decided, so please feel free to edit Jennifer’s email to your voice and your group.

HomeschoolCPA is planning a webinar for Monday June 1, 2020 at 8 pm ET for homeschool leaders to address how to make decisions about your fall 2020 programs.

Registration is now open (it’s free, but you need to register). There are three homeschool leaders who have agreed to be on a panel to explain how they are making their decisions.

Carol Topp, CPA
HomeschoolCPA.com
Helping Homeschool Leaders

How do you create a budget with uncertainty?

Laura is a new homeschool leader struggling with figuring out what to charge for her program. She asked this question on the I am A Homeschool Group Leader Facebook page

If you are a small homeschool group, how do you figure out costs? We know for the space for the year it will cost us $900. We want to split it as equally as possible but without knowing the total number going to register, we don’t know what to divide it by. -Laura


Laura,
In accounting there are fixed expenses (like your rent or website fees which does not vary with the number of families you serve) and variable expenses, which vary depending on the number of families you serve (like supplies and sometime insurance).

Variable expenses are usually easy to estimate and charge the families accordingly.

But fixed expenses like the website, rent, etc. need to be paid from what you charge families, too. Sometimes they are called overhead expenses. So I recommend that you estimate a minimum number of families you expect and then create a budget of what income you need to cover both the variable expenses and the overhead (fixed expenses).

Create several budgets with varying numbers of families.

Don’t be afraid to over charge. You need to accommodate for those overhead/fixed expenses.

I see lots of homeschool groups charging several fees for every last expense like $9 for insurance, $5 for the website, $20 for supplies, etc. That assumes that everything is a variable expense, but it’s not.

Instead, just charge the families one round dollar amount. Make sure it’s large enough to cover the variable expense, the overhead (fixed) expenses, and a buffer.

You need a buffer for unexpected expenses or surprises like a global pandemic!


Want advice from other homeschool leaders? Join with 1300 other homeschool leaders on the I am A Homeschool Group Leader Facebook page
We offer ideas, feedback and encouragement that only other homeschool leaders would understand!


Other leaders in the Facebook group ‘ offered this advice:

You might start by deciding what the maximum amount your families would be willing to pay. For example, if you don’t want your families to pay more than $50 per family for the use of space, you know you need a minimum of 18 families (to cover a $900 facility fee).

Our first year, we took our best wild guess at how many families we thought we would have. We underestimated just to be safe. We had money left over because we had more families join than we budgeted for which was great. That allowed us to have some buffer money in case we had years with low enrollment.

In my experience it is always better to slightly overcharge rather than undercharge. It’s a great thing to have enough money to pay for unanticipated costs without having to ask the families (for more money) every time.


You might find my book Money Management is a Homeschool Organization helpful. I discuss budgets and show a few sample budgets.


Carol Topp, CPA
HomeschoolCPA.com
Helping Homeschool Leaders

A budget can reduce stress

 

As a homeschool leader, are you “a people person” and hate dealing with numbers or a budget? Do numbers or a budget stresses you out?

Numbers on a budget can help homeschool leaders plan and look to the future. A budget can do a lot to reduce stress.

If you make a plan and know what might be coming, it will help you set priorities.

 

I’m writing this during the COVID-19 pandemic, something none of us planned for!  But hopefully, we will be returning to “normal” (whatever that will look like!) sometime soon.

Aren’t we glad that many scientists and hospitals had already made pandemic plans? Yes, we have had shortages and problems, but we’ve coped a lot better because some leaders made plans.

A budget helps you and your leadership team ask yourselves :

  • What is important to us in our group? Is it cost, convenience or quality? You cannot offer all three! Choose two.
  • Is it important that we keep the cost extremely low? A budget that aims for low cost is going to be a very different budget than one aiming for top quality.

Good, easy and cheap. Your homeschool program cannot offer all three!

A budget helps you focus, plan, and set your group’s priorities.   So, believe it or not–having a budget might sound like it is a limiting thing, and some people don’t like budgets. But instead a budget can bring great freedom and relief from a lot of stress.  


If you need help establishing a budget, start with my article  Budgeting basics

And consider ordering my book Money Management for Homeschool Organizations.

This 115 page book will help you to open a checking account, establish a budget, prevent mistakes and fraud, use software to keep the books, prepare a financial statement and hire workers.

Sample forms and examples of financial statements in clear English are provided.


Carol Topp, CPA
HomeschoolCPA.com
Helping Homeschool Leaders

IRS guidance on nonprofit boards

A client recently asked me what the IRS had to say about nonprofit boards. In general, the IRS is not the rule enforcer on nonprofit hoards. The states define the requirements to be a nonprofit and the size and make up of the board

As the IRS puts it,

“And while the tax law generally does not mandate particular management structures, operational policies, or administrative practices, it is important that each charity be thoughtful about the governance practices that are most appropriate for that charity in assuring sound operations and compliance with the tax law. As a measure of our interest in this area, we ask about an organization’s governance, both when it applies for tax-exempt status and then annually as part of the information return that many charities are required to file with the Internal Revenue Service.”

https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-tege/governance_practices.pdf

IOW, the IRS asks questions in its application for tax exempt status and in the annual returns nonprofit file (Form 990). These questions try to drive good behaviors.

In an IRS document titled Governance and Related Topics – 501(c)(3) Organizations the IRS recommends good practices for nonprofit boards. Some of the topics covered in the 8-page document include:

  • Mission-Know your mission, and purpose and review it regularly
  • Organizational Documents– includes bylaws and Articles of Incorporation (for nonprofit corporations) or Articles of Association (for unincorporated associations).
  • Governing Body-your board should consist of qualified, involved members who are independent and not dominated by employees or paid staff.
  • Governance and Management Policies-Have policies on compensation, conflicts of interest, investments, fundraising, documenting governance decisions, document retention and destruction, and whistle blower claims.
  • Financial Statements and Form 990 Reporting– The board should ensure the nonprofits funds are properly spent.
  • Transparency and Accountability-The Internal Revenue Code requires a charity to make its Form 1023 exemption application, Form 990, and Form 990-T available for public inspection.

How is your board doing in these areas? Need improvement?

How about we talk about it?

I’d love to set up a conference call or Zoom video chat with your board to discuss ways to improve your nonprofit’s governance. All this leads to better run organizations and less work and stress on your hard-working board members!

Contact me today and we can set up a call.

Carol Topp, CPA
HomeschoolCPA.com
Helping Homeschool Leaders