Yesterday, one of several recent Nonprofit Town Halls was held, this one in Research Triangle Park. David Heinen has been providing policy updates pertinent to nonprofit organizations all across North Carolina. If legislative and policy updates sound rather dry no matter how important, rest assured, he was engaging and had a sense of humor. As a nonprofits lawyer serving the Burlington, Mebane, and Graham areas of North Carolina, I was exited to be in attendance at this town hall.
Below is a portion of the information that was presented. While it was focused on North Carolina, some of the information is not limited to North Carolina and most of it is transferable to other states.
Your GuideStar.org profile: GuideStar is a web site that promotes transparency as it relates to nonprofit organizations. As part of that effort, they have published organizations’ Form 990 (reporting) information. Recently, they have added the options for providing more information (with different “levels” for doing so). You may want to check that this information is up to date for your organization. (For example, when Mr. Heinen checked on it for NC Center for Nonprofits, the Board of Directors information was from many years previous.)
Lobbying: Nonprofit organizations can do insubstantial amounts of lobbying for/against issues and initiatives (not for/against people or political parties). However, if you file a 501(h) election, you can spend a defined percentage of your budget on allowed lobbying activities (about 15% to 20%, depending on the size of your organization).
Keeping Politics Personal: Use your own personal e-mail address from your own personal computer at home. The same goes for social media sites. There should never be a question that you are speaking as you — not as a representative (in any capacity) of a nonprofit organization. Nonprofitvote.org* has an excellent social media guide.
Food Stamps and Volunteering: Single, childless adults now have a time limit for receiving food and nutrition assistance of three months. However, if they work or volunteer for at least 20 hours/week, there is a possibility of extending this time limit. If your organization has a need for volunteers, contacting Department of Social Services and letting them know could help someone in need. Also, the North Carolina Justice Center is collecting stories of how this change is affecting people.
Keep an Eye on Legislative Activity: Sales tax and property tax are two of the largest sources of revenue for governmental budgets. When budgets get tight, it is very tempting for governmental representatives to look at changing nonprofit exemptions/refunds as a source of more funding (despite the services that are provided by nonprofits that otherwise would fall on the government or go unmet). It is a good idea to be informed on and aware of the following types of possible policy proposals:
Taxpayer Protection Act (TABOR). The aims of such a policy are good, but Colorado has demonstrated that nonprofits and their beneficiaries (and the economy they support) are the ones that pay the price during an economic downturn — and then continuing on afterwards.
Capping charitable deductions. Hawaii passed a cap on charitable deductions effective in 2012, nonprofits were significantly impacted (affecting the services they provide), and the state immediately repealed it by the next year.
IRA Charitable Rollover legislation. This would affect whether these types of donations by people 70.5 years old and older to nonprofit organizations can be made tax free in North Carolina. While our state has allowed this for the last two years, North Carolina is apparently the only state that has not made this tax-free status permanent.
The Department of Labor. Publication of possible regulatory changes regarding payment of overtime to staff is expected this year. Look for this around July (give or take weeks/months).
California Attorney General. You thought we were in North Carolina? We are. But if any fundraising is done in California (and we are in the internet age), California is considering requiring a “warning label” of sorts that must include a link to its Attorney General’s office.
Grier Martin (34th House District – part of Wake County) and Mike Woodard (22nd Senate District – Caswell, Person, and part of Durham County) were in attendance for all of the above presentation, up front in the audience. As a mini-panel of two, they then offered their insights on the above issues and also gave their perspectives on issues brought up in questions from the audience:
- Medicaid expansion,
- Community Care of North Carolina,
- House Bill 2,
- Teacher pay, principal pay, and education funding in general,
- Raising the age for juvenile cases required to be heard in adult court,
- How to best advocate for your organization/mission with your representative,
- The importance of local officials to nonprofit organizations, and
- Re-districting reform.
Mr. Woodard and Mr. Martin then stayed afterwards to continue the discussions with individual audience members who came up to speak with them.
So, it truly did have a town hall feel to it.
*Speaking of voting, apparently voter education and voter turnout efforts have a measurably better success rate for voter participation when conducted by nonprofit groups than efforts conducted by partisan groups. Makes sense.