From the fiscal sponsorship front lines


Greg Colvin named ABA’s outstanding nonprofit attorney

By Marjorie Beggs
Directory Manager

Gregory Colvin, author of Fiscal Sponsorship: 6 Ways to Do It Right, has been named Outstanding Nonprofit Attorney of 2015 by a special committee of the American Bar Association.

The award — presented to San Francisco attorney Colvin by the ABA’s Business Law Section at its annual meeting Sept. 18 in Chicago — honors his four decades of commitment to nonprofit law, during which he defined fiscal sponsorship, clarifying the practice and helping to professionalize the field.

“The lawyers who have won the Nonprofit Lawyer Awards for Outstanding Attorney reads like an honor roll of the great practitioners in our part of the bar,” said committee member William M. Klimon in an email to the Directory. “Greg’s work for the nonprofit sector is widely known and respected. His prominence in areas like political activity of nonprofits and fiscal sponsorship is well earned. The ABA’s Nonprofit Organizations Committee is very pleased to be honoring Greg this year — it’s an honor overdue.”

The ABA’s Section on Business Law began recognizing the outstanding contributions in the nonprofit sector in 1999 by lawyers in the categories of Vanguard (Lifetime Achievement), Outstanding Academic, Outstanding In–House Counsel, Outstanding Young Attorney and Outstanding Nonprofit Attorney.

“When I look at the names of this year’s winners, I’m privileged to be in their company,” Colvin said in an interview. “But in getting to this place and accepting this award, I have to acknowledge that I’ve stood on the shoulders of many colleagues, especially those who’ve supported the development of fiscal sponsorship in our field — Tom Silk, who described the first three ways to structure sponsorship of projects (Models A, B, C), Drummond Pike, Tom Layton, Paul Vandeventer, Frances Phillips, Melanie Beene, and lawyers at my firm and around the country who’ve advanced the practical application and legal integrity of fiscal sponsorship.”

Colvin’s seminal publication, Fiscal Sponsorship: 6 Ways to Do It Right, first published in 1993, transformed a still-growing niche of the nonprofit sector. It changed the language and, consequently, the culture of a pragmatic, cost-effective business model for grassroots startups.

His reading of Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code made a sea-change distinction between the then-popular term “fiscal agency,” which came to be called “a trap for the unwary,” and “fiscal sponsorship.” He not only renamed that region of the nonprofit world, he crafted best practices clearly, so that well-managed public charities could spread their wings, take on projects and build community capacity.

Pioneers and early adopters of fiscal sponsorship immediately began speaking his language after the book came out. The 2nd edition in 2005 cemented the publication as the bible of fiscal sponsorship. He’s working on the 3rd edition, promising comprehensive updating and significant new information, including adding a model.

Reporter Rick Cohen in the June 9, 2015, Nonprofit Quarterly called Fiscal Sponsorship: 6 Ways to Do It Right “the consistently best resource we found and frequently referred to on fiscal sponsorship. … It’s simply one example of many demonstrating how Colvin’s advice to the nonprofit sector has stood the test of time and made him — and his firm — so valuable.”

“I do hope that this award might have some salutary effect on the understanding and acceptance of fiscal sponsorship,” Colvin said. “It’s a confirmation that it’s a legitimate and useful relationship that should become a permanent tool in our nonprofit toolbox.”  

Colvin joined Adler & Colvin in 1986. In addition to fiscal sponsorship, his practice focuses on nonprofits’ political and lobbying activities, complex membership organizations, donor-advised funds, anonymous giving, grantmaking, pretty much any issue that arises between individual donors and charities.

Elizabeth Kingsley, an attorney with Harmon, Curran, Spielberg + Eisenberg in Washington, D.C., and a Colvin colleague for 20 years, in a letter of support for the award called him “a moving force” in developing “thoughtful, helpful guidance recommendations, even in the face of apparent agency [IRS] indifference” in defining the scope of  exempt organizations’ political activity.

And Fiscal Sponsorship, she added, ”has no doubt allowed many organizations to steer clear of legal pitfalls. … Greg’s commitment to improving the law that governs our sector is second to none.”

Posted September 17, 2015


Embracing diversity in a pay-what-you-can cafe

By Marjorie Beggs
Directory Manager

September 22 marks the start of a crowdfunding campaign for A Place at the Table, a Raleigh, N.C., cafe breaking ground with its flexible payments for the food it serves. The cafe — appealing to the homeless as well as the affluent — is a fiscally sponsored project of Presbyterian Campus Ministry, also in Raleigh. It’s to open early next year.



Ministry member and recent N.C. State University graduate Maggie Kane heads up the progressive project in which patrons can treat others to a snack or meal or pay for their own food by volunteering for an hour — helping the chef, washing dishes, wiping tables, greeting patrons, perhaps serving food. Kane and the chef, the only salaried staff, will oversee volunteers, many of whom are expected to be enrolled at nearby 40,000-student N.C. State.

“If we just provide the place and the food and long, communal tables, and a form of hospitality for people, then I, who grew up privileged, can sit next to Howard, who may have slept outside last night,” Kane told Technician, the university’s student newspaper.

All cities today struggle with homelessness. Raleigh, pop. 431,746, estimates that 1,170 were homeless in 2014. To put that into perspective, San Francisco, with not quite twice Raleigh’s population, has five times the homeless.

Kane says that unifying people of different backgrounds is the project’s ultimate goal. “We all coexist and we should acknowledge each other and not look at the other as invisible — and that can go for both sides.”

This experiment in economics and culture isn’t unique. Kane estimates that 50 similar cafes are operating around the United States. At least two of those — Seeds Community Cafe in Colorado and Fareground Community Cafe in New York State — use fiscal sponsors.

A 2013 Nonprofit Times article says models in St. Louis, Detroit, Boston, Chicago and Portland, Ore., have met with varied success, mostly because revenue is so unpredictable. An estimated 60% of customers pay the full suggested price of food while 15%-20% leave less or nothing. The cafes also are competing with for-profit restaurants for customers who can or will pay, so staff need to keep food quality and service at a high level.

Kane acknowledges the risks — volunteers must sign waivers and they have no reliable “work” schedules. But the biggest challenge will be raising enough money to cover costs, she says: “Other cafes around the country say that sometimes it is difficult to break even.” Still, she’s moving forward with plans for a January opening.

“We’re launching a few fundraisers in the next few months in hopes that those and the crowdfunding — on crowdrise.com — will jump-start what we need.” She estimates startup costs for the first six months will be more than $95,000, with most — $50,000 — going to build a kitchen.

Presbyterian Campus Ministry has established a separate account for the cafe, with all donations, minus bank fees, going to the project. Kane, enthusiastic about the relationship, recommends fiscal sponsorship without reservation: “It gives you the means, time and opportunity you need to get started,” she says.

“We couldn’t be where we are without Presbyterian Campus Ministry. We could have launched, yes, but we probably wouldn’t have the donations we have now. People want to give but also want to know that it’s safe and secure, being used for good and, in some cases, that they can write it off.”

Donations may benefit its fiscal sponsor, too. “When people go to donate on PCM’s page and see the good work it’s doing, they may donate to the ministry as well.”

The ministry’s history dates from the late 1920s when West Raleigh Presbyterian Church organized to serve N.C. State’s faculty and students. It operates a number of programs, including a weekly Peace and Justice Forum that hosts speakers from various academic disciplines and religions to discuss ethical and moral issues.

Posted September 8, 2015


Kohala Mountain News
for isolated residents ‘at the end of the road’

By Marjorie Beggs
Directory Manager

Local history and politics, environmental concerns, arts news, civic improvement, residents’ accomplishments — such stories and more are lifelines that connect people living on the isolated northern tip of the big island of Hawai’i. That’s what the Kohala Mountain News does best.

North Kohala, population 6,300, sits below Kohala Mountain, oldest of the island’s five big volcanoes. Residents catch up on the latest local doings from the free, 20-page monthly, in print and online.

“We’re a small, rural, close-knit community,” says Megan Solis, the paper’s former editor and now associate director of its fiscal sponsor, North Kohala Community Resource Center. “But we’re isolated and ‘at the end of the road,’ so our news often doesn’t make it to the larger papers in Hilo and Kailua-Kona.”

Before Mountain News, Solis adds, people got their scoops “through ‘the coconut wireless’ ” — word of mouth, mostly local gossip. “Now the News is a vital part of our community.” It touts itself as “The Best Way to Reach All the Residents and Businesses Plus Most Visitors in Kohala.”

The paper’s $60,000 annual budget employs five part-timers, who work from their homes. They print 3,800 copies a month — every post office box in town gets one. A cadre of volunteer reporters has helped the News grow from its original eight pages to 20, and an impressive amount of advertising makes this community journalism effort self-supporting.

Top story in June was the annual Kamehameha Day Celebration of King Kamehameha’s reign, 1782-1819, with a 15-float parade led by Pa`u Queen Roberta Ku`ulei Keakealani. Stories about a pending new boat ramp and a hospital fundraiser shared Page 1.

Inside were pieces about how Facebook could help in a Kohala emergency by pinpointing where help is most needed, the dangers of herbicides and alternatives for gardeners and farmers, the North Kohala Community Development Plan Action Committee’s June agenda, a first-person account of a goose that had learned to shoot the tube (surf) in the waves off North Kohala, excerpts from the high school valedictorians’ speeches — “...be fearless. There are going to be opportunities ahead to take chances so you know what? Take them” — and more.

Community history is a regular feature. June’s “Pride of Kohala” was a colorful remembrance of Kohala native Rose Kaohu Moe, born in 1908. The beautiful, accomplished steel guitarist toured the world from the 1930s through the ’70s with her husband, Tau, and, later, their son and daughter. Among the first to perform Polynesian music and dance in every Western European country and on every continent except Antarctica, the Moes also recorded albums and appeared on television and in films. Rose Kaohu Moe died in 1998.

North Kohala Community Resource Center opened its doors 13 years ago to support community improvement projects by helping them develop budgets, funding plans and campaigns, and reporting to the IRS.

It took on Kohala Mountain News as a fiscally sponsored project in 2007 when it resumed publishing after a 10-plus year hiatus. Most valuable for the paper, Solis says, was that every donation was tax-deductible during the period it was building its advertising base.

The state of Hawai’i has few fiscal sponsors to serve its population of 1.4 million. Staff at the Hawaii Community Foundation said they knew of several other besides the Resource Center: Friends of the Future with 12 projects, Tri-Isle Resource Conservation & Development Council with 46 projects and the Research Corporation of the University of Hawaii, project number unknown.

Christine Richardson, the Resource Center’s executive director, says that as far as she knows, the center is “the only organization in the state that follows Model C from Fiscal Sponsorship: 6 Ways to Do It Right.” It currently has 92 fiscally sponsored projects — from the Angel Fund, which defrays the expenses for life-saving veterinary treatment, to a youth camp for at-risk kids — all providing vital services to the island’s widespread population.

Its newest project is Kohala Radio, “our very first community radio station,” Solis says. “Because of the mountains south of us, we don’t receive any radio signal from the Big Island. We only get Maui stations, and they don’t seem to know we exist!”

The station will offer more than just entertainment: North Kahala residents will be able to communicate in real time, especially valuable during emergencies.

Posted June 27, 2015

 


Fiscal sponsor helps veteran filmmaker finance LGBT documentary

By Marjorie Beggs
Directory Manager

Teen  Suicide Public Hearing

Minnesota’s largest school district, Anoka-Hennepin, in 2009 adopted a hands-off policy requiring teachers and staff to “remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation” — a follow-up to an earlier school board prohibition on teaching about homosexuality as a “normal, valid lifestyle.”

 Such attitudes, the U.S. Justice Department found, enabled the bullying that led to the suicide of nine students — many gay or perceived to be gay — over the next two years.

 “Normal Valid Lives” began principal photography July 12. The feature-length documentary by director Gorman Bechard follows the story of the bullying, harassment and anti-LGBT policies in the district and a grassroots group’s fight to end the abuse. Bechard, 56, also co-founded What Were We Thinking Films in New Haven, Conn., which is producing “Normal Valid Lives.” The Film Collaborative in Los Angeles is the fiscal sponsor.

Since 1983, Bechard has directed 16 shorts, features and documentaries, but this is his first film using a fiscal sponsor — he’s used KickStarter “exclusively” to fund the production of his last five documentaries, he says, and most had multiple campaigns, a total of 28 in all.  

“They were successful campaigns,” he says, “but one disadvantage was that larger backers always wanted that deduction. This film tackles such an important social issue, and Film Collaborative has such an amazing track record of important films — it’s an honor to be in that company.”

And the relationship has paid dividends. His film company, he adds, can now also “apply for certain grants that were always out of reach because of the lack of fiscal sponsorship.”

Anoka-Hennepin School District, outside Minneapolis/St. Paul, serves 38,000 students. It overturned the neutrality policy last year and agreed to a historic consent decree that gave the Justice Department district oversight for five years.

The film connects the complex dots between the suicides and the district’s current antibullying prevention measures: Minnesota public health officials declared the district a “suicide contagion area.” By officially having no opinion on student wrongdoing, the schools gave tacit approval to the humiliation, enabling bullying to go viral.

A parents group organized to rescind the policy. A Christian evangelical organization launched a counteroffensive. Six students sued the school district. Finally, the U.S. Justice and Education departments investigated the civil rights violations against LGBT students.

“Documentaries have the advantage over news of consolidating complicated stories that unfold over time,” says Bechard. “The Anoka-Hennepin story is important on so many levels. It shows the devastating consequences of bullying, so many young lives lost over such a short period of time. It’s a tragedy, but it takes a tragedy most times to get things done.

“That’s the other side of this story: That people stood up and fought back. Is it perfect now? Is bullying a thing of the past? Of course not, but it’s a major step toward that goal.” 

The budget for “Normal Valid Lives” is estimated at $187,000. Seed&Spark crowdfunding aims to raise $27,500 as a starter. By July 1, more than half had been pledged.

The 5-year-old Film Collaborative is fiscal sponsor to 30 film projects, about half documentary features, the rest feature-length narrative and shorts, multimedia projects and film festivals or screenings. It gives priority to projects, most under $3 million, that can be fully financed by donations and grants or by fundraising for part of the project’s budget, usually development. All projects are Model C.

Mother Jones article on teen suicide

Posted July 9, 2015

 

Fiscally sponsored project leads to San Francisco’s e-cigarette enforcement

By Mark Hedin
Central City Extra Reporter

Smoke shop selling e-cigs with marketing attractive to minors

In what are among the first prosecutions anywhere for the unlawful sale of e-cigarettes — a delivery system for nicotine especially popular with kids — 15 San Francisco retailers have been cited in police sting operations targeting sales to minors.

Using underage decoys last fall, at the urging of the S.F. Department of Public Health’s Tobacco Free Project, police tested 80 retailers’ compliance with a city ordinance that extends regulations against the sale of tobacco to minors to include e-cigarettes. The targeted merchants were selected at random from among the city’s 924 tobacco retailers.

E-cigarettes, which may have as much nicotine as a tobacco cigarette, are widely sold to adults as a safer alternative, and kids seem to be buying it. Two surveys of San Francisco retailers last year found those selling vaping products grew from 357 in January to 458 by mid-August.

The rising popularity of e-cigarettes, which allow users to get a nicotine fix without actually burning tobacco — instead, a battery-operated device ignites a nicotine-laced liquid — has pumped new millions into the always resourceful tobacco industry, and presented new challenges for those seeking to reduce tobacco’s toll on our health.

Last April, San Francisco adopted its Health Code Article 19N, which stipulates that e-cigarettes be treated just like traditional cigarettes in the eyes of the law. 

“The reason the citations are new is because the law is new,” says Derek Smith, health educator at the Tobacco Free Project, which supports a coalition of a dozen community groups working for a smoke-free city since 1990. They’ve spearheaded almost two dozen ordinances related to secondhand smoke, tobacco advertising, permits to sell tobacco, youths’ access to smoke products and, latest, where e-cigarettes may be smoked. Tobacco Free is a fiscally sponsored project of the San Francisco Study Center

The SSFPD citation process for selling to minors is twofold: The store clerk is issued a misdemeanor ticket, which can be adjudicated in community court, but the retailer faces the suspension of its tobacco retail license, typically for 20 days. Retailers can contest their citations at a hearing before the city’s director of Environmental Health and, if  ruled against, take their case to the Board of Appeals.

 “I haven’t heard of anyone else doing this enforcement,” Smith says. “I’m not aware of another community that has worked with the local police or sheriff’s department to do a decoy operation.” Selling e-cigarettes to minors, however, is barred in 42 states.

Of the 15 San Francisco retailers cited for the selling violations, two appealed their license suspensions and were denied, and four are awaiting their Environmental Health hearings. Others have had hearings and are mulling their options.

Five volunteered to quit selling e-cigarettes.

2009 Bus board anti tobacco campaign

A version of this story appeared in the June issue of Study Center’s Central City Extra [http://studycenter.org/test/cce/issues/156/CCX-156-all.pdf], the monthly newspaper that covers the neediest neighborhoods in the heart of San Francisco

Posted July 9, 2015

 


California city gives a damn

By Marjorie Beggs
Senior Writer/Editor

Beaver mudding

Worth A Dam (martinezbeavers.org) has been saving beavers and their Martinez, Calif., habitat for more than eight years. Fiscally sponsored by Inquiring Systems Inc., Worth a Dam was formed by a group of citizens when the beavers of Alhambra Creek were threatened with extermination because their dams caused a flooding hazard merchants didn’t want. The creek runs through downtown Martinez, a city of 37,000 and county seat of Contra Costa County.

Beavers live in lodges they build in the pools they create by damming streams. In Martinez, five residents and two City Council members brought in a consultant who installed a Castor Master, a flow device that subverts the beavers’ damming instinct.

The device consists of flexible tubing that moves the water from upstream to downstream, disguising the source of the leak so the beavers’ instinct to repair their dam isn’t triggered by hearing or sensing water flowing. Moving the water keeps the dam low and reduces the threat of floods. When a hard rain comes, the dam washes out and the beavers return later to rebuild it. Alhambra Creek has had multiple generations of beavers since the project began.

Worth A Dam volunteers and consultants manage habitat replacement, teach kids in classrooms about beaver ecosystems, field requests from other communities about beaver management and host the annual daylong downtown Martinez Beaver Festival. Visitors to this year’s Aug. 1 fest can stay till evening and watch the beavers engage in their engineering feats. Can’t make it? Watch the beavers.

Fiscal sponsor Inquiring Systems Inc. in Sonoma, Calif., has been helping nonprofits and local governments in the Bay Area and internationally manage ecology projects ethically and sustainably since 1978.

Posted May 14, 2015

 

Elegant steps match S.F. vistas

By Marjorie Beggs
Senior Writer/Editor

Lincoln Park steps before and after transformation by San Francisco artist Aileen Barr.

Lincoln Park Steps are ready for their grand re-entrance. Built in 1909 at the northwestern edge of San Francisco, they’re the gateway to the surrounding urban neighborhood, the park’s golf course, playground and two landmarks — the Legion of Honor museum and Lands End Trail. The top of the 57 steps boasts a magnificent view of the Golden Gate Bridge, downtown skyline and East Bay hills.

But residents and visitors rarely climbed to enjoy the view. Decades of neglect had left them and the landings, pillars, benches and retaining walls flanking them seriously damaged, a draw for nighttime loitering, graffiti and dumping. 

So neighbors formed a “friends” group in 2008 to develop a plan to repair and beautify the area with Beaux Arts-inspired tile work. Reconstruction and installation of the tiles proceeded in stages, with structural improvement and tiles for the top bench and retaining wall completed in 2010. The steps, the finale, are ready for a May 28 ribbon cutting.

The Friends were awarded $234,000 in city grants and raised $312,000 in private donations for the seven-year project, which was fiscally sponsored by San Francisco Parks Alliance.

The Parks Alliance helps residents and city government collaborate to improve parks that are deteriorating due to age and inadequate public funding, advocates for park maintenance and makes grants to park groups. It was formed in 2011 when two organizations, Neighborhood Parks Council and San Francisco Parks Trust, joined forces.

Posted May 14, 2015

 


Fractured Atlas honors
cutting-edge arts coast to coast

By Marjorie Beggs
Senior Writer/Editor

The 2015 Arts Entrepreneurship Awards, Fractured Atlas’ annual shout-out to innovators and risk-takers, went to four trailblazers — Ontheboards.tv in Seattle, Groupmuse in Boston, TBVE Films in Los Angeles and Laundromat Project in New York City.

“At Fractured Atlas, we take pride in our own entrepreneurial spirit,” founder and Executive Director Adam Huttler told the Directory. “With these awards, we can formally and publicly celebrate that spirit throughout the arts and bring greater attention to the work of our amazing honorees. These awards are unique in an industry that desperately needs more innovation and experimentation.”

Only Groupmuse is a project of Fractured Atlas, the nation’s largest fiscal sponsor. The winners, announced Feb. 23 and chosen from among 100 nominees, get lifetime memberships to Fractured Atlas services.

Founded in 1998 as a performing arts producer in New York City and supported in part by the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs, Fractured Atlas today is fiscal sponsor of 3,707 and counting projects, all Model C. It reaches more than 250,000 artists and organizations nationwide with its programs and services. (See profile in Fiscal Sponsor Directory.)

“Our focus is on building agile online tools to help artists strengthen the business side of their practice — raising money, managing risk, finding space, selling tickets and tracking their fans,” says Dianne Debicella, senior program director for fiscal sponsorship. “The customized software we’ve created for the fiscal sponsorship program enables our members to work with Fractured Atlas staff in managing donations, crowdfunding campaigns, grants and more.”

More about the Arts Entrepreneurship Awards winners:
Ontheboards.tv, brainchild of artists at the 37-year-old, brick-and-mortar On the Boards theater in Seattle, got its inspiration from the Metropolitan Opera, which broadcast its performances in movie theaters in the 1950s. Ontheboards.tv lets users download high-quality performance films from contemporary international artists to computers, tablets and smartphones.

Ontheboards.tv last year created 38 full-length films, shooting performances in four locations around the country using multiple high-definition cameras. A sampling from its catalog includes multimedia projects by Lagartijas Tiradas al Sol, a Mexico City collective; installation-based performance and live music by Temporary Distortion in New York; performances by Diana Szeinblum, a dancer and choreographer from Buenos Aires; and mobile sculptures, street actions and temporary site-specific installations by SuttonBeresCuller, a trio of Seattle artists.

Films cost $5 to rent or $15 to purchase; a year’s subscription is $50 for unlimited, on-demand streaming of the entire catalog. And the service gives back to the performing artists — 50% of each film sold.

Groupmuse a fiscal sponsored project of Fractured Atlas

Groupmuse’s creator, 24-year-old Sam Bodkin, loved classical music in college but found that many of his peers dismissed it as fusty and uninteresting. His solution: music performed live by young local musicians at concert house parties, all organized via groupmuse.com. There, you sign in to attend a scheduled gathering, or offer to host one or play at one in the future. 

Launched in 2013, Groupmuse now operates in 15 cities including Boston, New York City, Boulder, Atlanta and the Bay Area, with music lovers hosting more than 10 to 20 shows a week. Groupmuse gatherings are always BYOB and may draw 10 people to a living room or 100 to a donated community space. For small sessions, the musicians’ pay comes from audience donations and averages $150 to $500 a night; larger venues are ticketed.

A quick look around the Bay Area in early April found 12 events scheduled, half in San Francisco. For a solo cello concert in a Mission District living room, 8 of the 10 spots already were filled two weeks beforehand. At Heron Arts, a gallery in SoMa, tickets to a mid-April concert cost $10, and 73 of the 100 seats had been sold a week before the event, a quartet performing Schubert’s demanding “Death and the Maiden.”

Getting audiences is easy. Performers, too.

“The experience is so life-affirming for musicians,” Bodkin told Fractured Atlas in a 2013 online interview. “They’re being celebrated like rock stars, so it hasn’t been hard finding really enthusiastic artists.”

“BURN,” a feature-length documentary from TBVE Films, follows Detroit firefighters for a year as they risk injury and death to douse fires, many in the 80,000 abandoned buildings in the city with the nation’s highest arson rate.

That the film got made is a story in itself. Los Angeles filmmakers Tom Putnam and Brenna Sanchez pitched the idea to production companies, studios and cable networks that liked the project but said there was no audience for a firefighter series or film. Once “BURN” was completed, TBVE (that’s Tom and Brenna vs. Everyone) looked for distributors. They praised it, but said it wouldn’t catch on.

“BURN” was entirely grassroots-funded — by sponsors, in-kind goods, gear and services, and donations from $5 to $1,000 pledged on Kickstarter, where 1,758 backers put up $119,547. Putnam and Sanchez got the film into festivals and have arranged screenings in 170 cities. It’s available for rent or purchase, with significant portions of the profits going to the Leary Firefighters Foundation in New York, which provides equipment and other support to underfunded fire departments nationwide.

Laundromat Project’s M.O. is “make art, wash clothes, build community.” Begun in 2005, it brings artists and art into everyday gathering places in New York City, primarily in Harlem, Bedford-Stuyvesant and the South Bronx.

Founder Risë Wilson said in a project video that the idea of offering art to people with down time in laundromats “was just absurd enough to get [their] attention.”

From among the many projects: Poet beluvid ola-jendai recorded Harlem residents telling why they love their neighborhood, produced a CD and held a community listening party.

Sukjong Hong interviewed customers in a Queens hair salon about standards of beauty, then produced “Salon Stories,” a magazine with their narratives. Filmmaker Art Jones recorded Hunts Point residents telling stories rife with anecdotes, jokes, urban legends and histories of their Bronx neighborhood. Photographer Sonia Louise Davis helped participants browse archival Ebony and Jet covers, ads and images, then create collages that she photographed and printed during the session.

Laundromat Project supports its artists through fellowships, residencies, commissions and the cleverly named “Spin Cyle” on its Website that profiles the artists’ professional and community bona fides and inspirations.

Posted April 27, 2015 

 


Short takes on big issues:
Projects and their fiscal sponsors —
Spring 2015

Local First Milwaukee, a project of fiscal sponsor American Independent Business Alliance in Bozeman, Mont., will use its $10,000 matching grant from the Kalio Fund, an investment and philanthropic fund, to continue efforts to preserve the Southeastern Wisconsin economy by keeping dollars local. (Source: urbanmilwaukee.com, Feb. 3, 2015)

Oneota Film Festival, a project of fiscal sponsor Driftless Art Collective in Decorah, Iowa (population 8,089), presented 50 films March 6-8, including “Seeds of Time,” a documentary about the race to maintain seed banks and protect seed diversity in an era of global climate change. (Source: decorahnewspapers.com, Feb. 4, 2015) Still from "Seeds of Time"

… Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency awarded $20,000 to further the work of Kutztown Strong, a citizens’ coalition formed to reduce youth drug use and improve substance abuse treatment in this city of 5,000. Kutztown Community Partnership is fiscal sponsor. (Source; berksmontnews.com, Feb. 20, 2015)

… Having Berkeley-based Earth Island Institute as a fiscal sponsor “is like success through 1,000 helping hands,” says Scott Wolland, executive director of Bay Area Wilderness Training, which gives Bay Area youth a chance to experience wilderness. “[Project Support team] gives extra backend assistance to an under-resourced project so we can focus on achieving our mission.” (Earth Island Journal, Spring 2015)

… “American Hands,” photographs by Sally Wiener Grotta of artisans at work, celebrates the creators of functional items now typically produced by machine — cloth, books, brooms, tin objects and much more. Her photo project, sponsored by New York Foundation for the Arts, has been seen by more than 350,000 people in Pennsyslvania. (Source: PRWeb, Mar. 16, 2015)

… “iwitness,” 8- to 15-foot-tall photographic sculptures wrapped with portraits of survivors of the early 20th century Armenian genocide, are installed at Grand Park in Los Angeles. The project, a temporary exhibition by artists Ara Oshagan and Levon Parian and architect Vahagn Thomasian, is fiscally sponsored by the Lucie Foundation.
Photographic sculptures wrapped with portraits of survivors of the early 20th century Armenian genocide, are installed in Los Angeles (Source: Public Radio of Armenia, March 31, 2015)

. . . Saxapahaw, a community of 1,648 in central North Carolina, celebrated the official launch of residencies — for regional and international artists — in a new project under fiscal sponsor Culture Mill. The daylong March 28, multidiciplinary event featured chamber music, dance and theater performances and classes.
(Source: indyweek.com, April 1, 2015)

… In an effort to reverse gender inequality in the theater — two-thirds of audiences are women but only 20% of productions are authored or coauthored by women — Arizona thespians Brenda Jean Foley and Tracy Liz Miller, New York transplants, launched the Bridge Initiative in 2014. With fiscal sponsorship of Phoenix’s Mesa Encore Theatre, they’ll offer master classes in playwriting for women, networking events and an awards program that will mount a production of its first-place play. (Source: blogs.phoenixnewtimes.com, April 1, 2015)

 

Intersection keeps projects secure during crisis

By Marjorie Beggs
Senior Writer/Editor

Intersection for the Arts turns 50 next year, a venerable age for any nonprofit, especially one that has helped thousands of artists in all disciplines get their art in front of audiences. It’s San Francisco’s oldest alternative arts space — where James Broughton and Allen Ginsberg read poetry, Spalding Gray did monologues and Robin Williams honed his comedy shticks. And, through its Incubator Program that started in 1977, it’s become among the Bay Area’s largest fiscal sponsors of the arts.

But Intersection’s income dropped 54% this year, and it has run out of money to fund new in-house productions, resident artists’ plays and concerts, arts exhibitions and education programs — popular but costly activities.

The good news is that while Intersection struggles to maintain core programs, its 124 fiscally sponsored arts projects are unlikely to be affected, says board Chair Yancy Widmer. Intersection in May blasted an email to its 16,000 followers: “Our financial situation is deeply challenged, and it has become apparent that the current business model is no longer sustainable.” Intersection had a staff of nine, but June 1 it furloughed three key program directors and a communications assistant and stopped producing its own works, except for a handful already in the pipeline.

Two months after the announcement, Widmer told 150 supporters, project staff, board members and funders who convened for “A Community Conversation” about Intersection’s future, “The money we manage for the projects was never in danger. Intersection is fragile right now, but all our fiscal sponsor projects are safe.”

The projects are all Model C (preapproved grant relationship) and in every arts form: Ithuriel's Spear, an independent small press; KIDmob, design education for youth; Embodiment Project, street dance classes and performances; Green Windows, creative writing workshops for young people and adults whose low literacy and low income put them at risk; Ensemble Mik Nawooj, a hip-hop orchestra; Jazz in the Neighborhood, mentoring and performances by professional and student musicians. And more.

As a sponsor of only arts and related projects in the Bay Area, Intersection is one of the largest in the country, on a par with New York Live Arts, whose projects hover between 80 and 130, San Francisco Film Society with 220 Bay Area projects and Springboard for the Arts, which sponsors 215 projects in Minnesota only. It’s outstripped in size by Artspire, a program of the New York Foundation for the Arts and its 500 projects, and the enormous Fractured Atlas — 3,531 projects nationwide in September.

In this directory, arts and culture is the most popular service category — almost 75% of fiscal sponsors have arts projects.

Intersection’s 8% fiscal sponsor fee brings in about $120,000 a year and is the organization’s largest source of unrestricted income, says Randy Rollison, Intersection interim executive director.

That won’t get Intersection through the final months of this fiscal year, which began July 1. Generating or producing any new nonfiscal sponsor projects this year will be impossible. At the July community meeting, Widmer said the cause of the financial problems was “a perfect storm” that blew in last year: “We lacked enough unrestricted income, and, like many small and mid-sized nonprofits, we had few reserves. Funding that we expected and community contributions didn’t come through. And we had a significant leadership change.” Deborah Cullinan, executive director since 1996 who took Intersection to its heights, left in 2013 to lead Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, a high-profile, $11 million art venue right across from SFMOMA on San Francisco’s “museum row.”

Intersection began in 1965 in a dingy coffeehouse, a former bar on the fringe of the Tenderloin, where art, much of it racy, intersected with anti-Vietnam War activism and the socially conscious religion of its founders. It moved several times, expanding along the way, and added fiscal sponsorship services in 1977, making it one of the earliest sponsors in the country.

Sean San José was Intersection’s performing arts program director before the purge as well as director of Campo Santo. The multicultural ensemble has premiered 50 new American plays in 18 years, most recently “Chasing Mehserle” about BART police officer Johannes Mehserle’s New Year’s Day 2009 shooting of transit rider Oscar Grant. Kudos for Campo Santo include the 2004 Glickman Award, a prestigious Bay Area theater prize, for its production of Denis Johnson’s “Soul of a Whore,” a play in verse based in a Huntsville, Texas, Greyhound station.

When Campo Santo started in 1996, with Intersection as its fiscal sponsor. Then it moved into a coveted spot as a resident company, and now, after the cutbacks, is a sponsored project once more.

San José believes there’s no “lack of possibilities” for Intersection to weather the crisis and that his company’s future is secure, but he has deep regrets.

“One of the saddest parts of the recent changes to Intersection,” he says, “is that cutting programming leads to the lessening of gatherings … space for people to gather, to witness, to respond. [Campo Santo] loses a home, a space for people to come and feel welcome, to share stories, to give and grow the voice of the community.”

With help from some friends, Intersection since July has made headway: a $40,000 grant from the Walter and Elise Haas Fund for financial analysis and general support; $50,000 from Forest City, real estate developer of the building complex that houses Intersection, to reinstate an artist-in-residence program at a nearby public school; and likely, but not confirmed, $25,000 from San Francisco’s Arts Commission.

Kary Shulman, executive director of San Francisco’s Grants for the Arts, which has been funding Intersection annually since 1971, says she wants to give Intersection every opportunity to regroup: “Intersection has reinvented itself several times, and there’s a lot of trust in its strength to do it again. Also, among funders, we’re most grateful for its fiscal sponsor program.”

San Francisco’s thriving arts community depends on Intersection and its long, admirable history of sponsoring projects in all art disciplines.

Posted Sept. 24, 2014


PART 3

Judges Are Listening to Abused Projects

By Geoff Link
Executive Director

Following are narratives of three charitable projects that found a fiscal sponsor, Help Is Here, from its profile then posted in Study Center’s directory. Now they claim to have lost thousands of dollars to the management shenanigans of Maggie Lane-Baker, CEO of HIH.

The stonewalling of the projects’ financial information, switching the rules and requirements, and a combative, bullying, unprofessional persona by Lane-Baker are threads that run throughout.

These women feel they’ve been mugged, got kicked around, and now their money’s gone, collectively, $50,000. They’ve yelled for help to every cop around — from the IRS to the California attorney general — and now, finally, through Small Claims and Superior Court, rulings are running in their favor.

Jennifer Gurecki of Zawadisha Fund, which supports projects in Kenya, was first to contact Study Center last year, complaining that Help Is Here was wrongly retaining thousands she had raised for the fund. She won in court at the end of July.

She prevailed in a Placer County Superior Court judgment against Help Is Here, CEO Maggie Lane-Baker and founder Bill Mack, ordering them to return to Gurecki $4,952 plus $275 in court costs.

Judy Rogg of Erik’s Cause has a similar story of success in the courtroom. See the judge’s decision below.

Posted Sept. 7, 2012


Erik’s Cause Wins Suit Against HIH

By Marjorie Beggs

Judy Rogg is the founder of Erik’s Cause, a project she launched after her son Erik, a Santa Monica sixth-grader, died playing the choking game in 2010. Her goal is to educate parents, children and schools about the game’s dangers — the euphoria that accompanies suffocation or strangling, just short of fainting, and can cause brain damage, injury and death.

Rogg signed up with Help Is Here as a fiscal sponsor, she says, because Maggie Lane-Baker seemed so sympathetic to her tragic loss, a “mother-to-mother understanding.”

Following are excerpts from emails Rogg sent the Fiscal Sponsor Directory to help us understand the betrayal she felt during the short time her project was with Help Is Here, especially concerning donations such as a $5,000 grant from Pepsi Co.

Initially we set up the donate button on our Website through Just Gives, which gave us immediate notification about donors so I knew what was coming in. Maggie did not want me to receive immediate notification, but I insisted. In August 2011, I tested it, as did a friend, and it worked.

In early December, a work colleague donated $50 and I received immediate notification. But in late December, another friend told me she had donated $100 — I never received any notification. She sent me her proof, which I immediately sent to Maggie, along with the proof of the $50 donation. Maggie claims she never got either donation.

In January, my nephew tried to donate $50 online but couldn’t get it to work so he gave me a check, which I deposited to the HIH account. I then turned my donate page “private” and asked that only checks be sent, but payable to HIH.

Three months later, Maggie’s consultant told me I had to have an active donate button on my Website or I was out of compliance. She tosses around “out of compliance” the way the Queen of Hearts said “Off with their heads!” but refuses to say how we’re out of compliance or what we need to do to fix it. In the very few cases when she wanted me to fix something and told me what to fix, she refused to disburse the requested funds to do it.

I agreed to reactivate the donation button on my site but only if it gave me immediate notification. I was told that would cost $240. I agreed to put 50% of the money upfront and told the consultant that Maggie had the funds. I submitted the appropriate request for disbursement. Her consultant told me Maggie had authorized the IT work to reactivate the button and she would expedite it. Three weeks later, I discovered she never disbursed the payment or even talked with her IT person about doing the work.

In late 2011, Rogg entered Erik’s Cause in an online voting contest, sponsored by Pepsi, that gave away millions to projects with “great ideas.” Her project came in sixth and was awarded a $5,000 grant.

Pepsi has informed me that even though the $5,000 grant check was mailed to Maggie and deposited by her, I’m legally responsible for either spending the funds or returning the $5,000 to Pepsi by Sept. 30, 2012, because I signed the grant agreement.

The only saving grace is that Pepsi is willing to accept receipts for costs I spent out of my own pocket so I can keep Erik’s Cause from being reported to the IRS. Help Is Here now owes Erik’s Cause $9,637, as opposed to the $4,637 I reported earlier.

Maggie refuses to return the Pepsi grant. She refuses to transfer Erik’s Cause’s remaining funds to another legitimate 501(c)(3) public charity. She refuses to remove the donate button from Erik’s Cause on HIH’s Website — and in that way continues to steal from unsuspecting, well-meaning donors. This, of course, is when the Website is functional — as of early August, it’s been suspended again. (The site was up again as of mid-August.) She refused my letters of termination with HIH sent via certified return receipt, all returned to me unclaimed and unforwardable.

I sent the first 30-day notice to terminate May 18, 2012, and two more after that. In addition to emailing her the three notices, I sent notices to her accountant, her consultant and HIH's agent for service of process via email and certified return receipt. I also sent the final one to her via Facebook messaging. At a later date, she blocked me, which means she has to have seen the notice.

Maggie seems to feel that since she’s refused to acknowledge my notices of termination, Erik’s Cause still belongs to her. She’s holding my project and my good name hostage and can collect funds if someone tries to donate through her site. While I have received an accounting, it is only through January 2012. I have no way to know if she has received any donations.

My official last date with Help Is Here was June 18.

Rogg took Help Is Here to Small Claims Court in Los Angeles County Aug. 24. There, a Superior Court judge ordered HIH, represented by founder Bill Mack, to remove from its Website all photographs, text and active donate buttons for Erik’s Cause; return the $5,000 grant to Pepsi; and send the $4,637 to an interim fiscal sponsor chosen by Rogg, who now plans to set up her own 501(c)3.

According to Rogg, Mack, objecting to the judge’s decision that her three termination notices were valid, told the judge that Erik’s Cause could separate from HIH, “but the project stays with Help Is Here forever. We simply find a new project manager.”

“This is not what the agreement states,” the judge said to Mack. “Are you preying on these projects?”

The judge told Rogg that while he has the authority to sign orders in Small Claims Court, he rarely does. In this case, he felt it was warranted.

Rogg expects HIH to appeal the order.

Posted Sept. 7, 2012


Scholarship fund out $7,900

By Wayne Heuring

Among the projects that complain that Help Is Here took their money is Gregg’s Goals, of San Diego, which provides scholarships for deserving young soccer players, claiming $7,900 lost.

Founder Maryanne Garon said the project was known as Gregg Garon Scholarship Fund, in honor of her late son, when she started working with HIH in spring 2010. That was before CEO Maggie Lane-Baker arrived.

“The first year,” she says, “we selected our scholarship winners, contacted Bill Mack (HIH founder), and he sent us the check.”

The following year, when Garon notified HIH of the scholarship winners, Lane-Baker was in charge. Garon in an email told how the project-sponsor relationship started to go sour: “She told us we could not give checks directly to the scholarship winners; it was against ‘IRS rules’ (of course, they never gave us any guidance of this before, so I checked regulations, and that is not true).”

Garon said she attempted to comply.

“So we contacted our young men, got their student IDs, got the addresses of the Financial Aid offices of the college/university, and sent them to Maggie (forwarded with emails from the Financial Aid people).

“Then, that wasn’t enough. She then wanted official letters on college letterheads sent to her.

“At this point, we realized she had no intention of turning over the scholarship money, and our attorney sent her a letter with a notice that we wanted accounting of our funds, and we were separating.

“We were never given any accounting from her,” Garon says, “though we asked nearly every month.”

Since leaving HIH, Garon’s foundation changed its name to Gregg’s Goals and June 6 obtained its own 501(c)3 status, two months after applying to the IRS. She used an attorney, had a track record of fundraising, and had she known the process was so quick and straightforward, she said, she would have applied from the beginning.

Though Lane-Baker cites violations of the HIH Standard Operating Manual as justification for seizing projects’ funds, Garon says, “The Standard Operating Manual was not provided to us when we signed up. It was something Maggie cooked up later, and she kept changing it to try to ‘get us.’ ”

Garon says HIH has kept around $7,900 of the money raised for the foundation she and her husband, Dennis, set up.

“We realize we won’t ever see our money back (in all probability), and it makes me both sad and angry,” Garon says. “Maggie did not take ‘Maryanne Garon’s money.’ … She took from our donors and our scholarship winners. She risked making us lose our good name, and that of our deceased son, Gregg Garon, in whose name we created this scholarship.

“We only wanted to do some good for young people, in his memory, and now we spend hours that could be spent elsewhere fighting HIH.”

Posted Sept. 7, 2012


$6,400 from 2 Donors Disappears

By Jonathan Newman

Lisa Benitez, fundraiser for a project that she says has lost $6,400 to Help Is Here, teaches ESL at a community college in Madison, Wis. She learned from her students years ago about a charity in Ecuador — Rhumy Wara Foundation — that brought education and health care to the Salasaca, an indigenous tribe in the isolated central Andes that struggles to maintain its native culture.

In 2006, Benitez began to raise money in the United States on behalf of Rhumy Wara. She got a fiscal sponsor in Wisconsin and everything went smoothly for four years. When that sponsor’s board of directors decided to stop offering fiscal sponsorship, Benitez went looking for a new sponsor and found Help Is Here, through Study Center’s fiscalsponsordirectory.org.

In May 2010, she said, she phoned Bill Mack, then CEO of HIH, which she believed was based in Menifee, Calif., where Mack lives. She found him “very helpful.” Mack agreed that HIH would act as the fiscal sponsor for U.S. donations and grants to Rhumy Wara.

Problems for Benitez began in early 2011 when Maggie Lane-Baker became CEO of HIH. Benitez had received a $1,400 donation from the Rotary Club of Madison, deposited it with Help Is Here and soon was having difficulty getting HIH to use it to cover Rhumy Wara expenses.

Benitez recalls a series of excuses from Lane-Baker — broken office computers, monthlong interruptions in office phone and Internet services, loss of HIH accountants due to sickness — all said to be delaying the transfer of Rhumy Wara funds.

Benitez said Lane-Baker told her that the federal government was blocking money transfers to Ecuador in an effort to fight international drug trafficking. So, Lane-Baker said, Rhumy Wara should set up a SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) account, a standard of identifying bank accounts across international borders to facilitate international banking transfers. Benitez arranged for Rhumy Wara to set up such the account. Still, no transfers from HIH.

Next, in a telephone conference call, Benitez said, Lane-Baker, Mack and the HIH attorney told her Help Is Here could be accused of abetting international terrorism if it sent any money outside the United States.

Then Lane-Baker told Benitez to produce a notarized power of attorney from Rhumy Wara before HIH would release any of the project’s funds.

At great expense and with many difficulties, Benitez said, she traveled to Ecuador, obtained a written statement from the head of Rhumy Wara, got it translated and notarized, and sent it to HIH. Nothing happened, Benitez said. She got no response to numerous emails; her phone calls to Lane-Baker, she said, were blocked.

The turnover in accountants kept the books in chaos, Lane-Baker told Benitez, and, until clarification, no money could be released. Finally, Benitez said, she spoke with Mack in California who told her he believed she had done everything required, and didn’t know why Lane-Baker wouldn’t release Rhumy Wara’s money.

On the QT, Benitez said, she heard from former HIH compliance officer Anglie Clitherow who told her that strange things were going on at Help Is Here. Benitez contacted other HIH projects and learned that their funds, too, were being stonewalled. When she did get through to Lane-Baker, Benitez said, Maggie made it a point to accuse other project heads of malfeasance and fraud. No accusations directly to the individual in question, Benitez said, but she always ragged about one project head to another. Others confirmed this observation.

In November, Benitez contacted her congresswoman, Rep. Tammy Baldwin D-Wis., whose office sent her complaint and documentation to the Milwaukee IRS office. The IRS acknowledged receiving the complaint and told Benitez it was investigating it, but, as of September, wouldn’t disclose its status.

Benitez contacted the Wisconsin state authorities as well who, in turn, contacted Lane-Baker. Based on these contacts, the state’s Department of Safety and Professional Services issued a cease-and-desist order Aug. 7 banning Help Is Here from soliciting charitable funds in Wisconsin.

Benitez has managed to extricate Rhumy Wara from HIH, but she doesn’t have the $5,000 donated by the Jack Taylor Trust or the Rotary Club of Madison West’s $1,400 donation. Rotary has told Benitez that it also cannot make a second $1,400 donation to Rhumy Wara planned for 2012 unless the first $1,400 is found and properly disbursed to Rhumy Wara.

Rotary is not holding Benitez responsible for what it calls “fraudulent loss of funds,” said Dean Bowles, local chair of the club’s World Service Committee. “We have no disregard for Lisa, and don’t blame her at all. Our experience with her over the years has been very good.” Bowles is considering alerting the national and international Rotary Club membership of the actions of Help Is Here by placing information on the club’s Website.

“It sounds like Help Is Here has done this before,” he told the Study Center. “It would help people to know about it.”

Posted Sept. 7, 2012


PART 2

Help Is Here CEO Responds

By Geoff Link
Executive Director

Maggie Lane-Baker, chief executive officer of Help Is Here, the Arizona fiscal sponsor accused of keeping: $300,000 from six of its current and former projects’ grants and donations, admits she has funds from five projects, but claims the money belongs to HIH because the project directors didn’t follow her procedures and were “not in compliance” with IRS regulations.

The $250,000 grant from Walmart claimed by a sixth disgruntled project director, Marilyn Parker of National Defensive Training, was never received by Help Is Here, Lane-Baker said, July 24 when she finally responded to requests for comment. It was her phone call, however, to Parker on Sept. 25, 2011, announcing that the Walmart check had arrived, that Parker used to back her claim of a $250,000 loss.

“No way do I have $300,000,” Lane-Baker said. “I’ve been on the phone with Walmart all morning long.” She said she spoke with a “supervisor in Investment Relations” who said she would send a letter stating that Walmart had not awarded the grant, and Lane-Baker agreed to forward a copy of that letter to the Study Center.

Of the approximately $50,000 that five project directors say is tied up at HIH, Lane-Baker said that, yes, she does have that.

“It’s sitting in the (bank) account,” she said. “We have the right to absorb the funds and shut down the projects if they’re not in compliance, if we deem they are not in compliance with IRS regulations.

“We can’t reimburse for expenses we didn’t approve. I have no idea who they are” — people requesting reimbursement from various, especially international, projects.

“I’ve let a lot slide with these ladies,” Lane-Baker said of the complaining project directors.

When asked why she set up a bank account for projects to deposit donations directly instead of having them send the money to Help Is Here, as fiscal sponsors typically do, Lane-Baker said:

“I can do it the most convenient way I see fit.”

Asked why Help Is Here instituted the 24- to 48-hour policy for project directors to document deposits fast or lose the funds to HIH, she said:

“You can’t tell me how to run my business. Nobody can tell me how to run my business.

“I’m doing the best I can,” she said. “I didn’t ask for this job. It was handed to me because Mr. Mack (Bill Mack, listed on the Help Is Here Website as founder) was too old and couldn’t handle it.”

While discussing project Director Marilyn Parker and the Walmart grant, for which Lane-Baker said Parker had submitted the application, Lane-Baker said Parker should not have been talking to Study Center staff or anyone else about their relationship.

“She signed a gag release when she left Help Is Here,” she said. In the release Parker, according to the document, agreed that she “will in no way, make or allude to negative or derogatory implications verbally and/or in written format (ie. Facebook, Twitter, etc.).” The document was dated Sept. 20, 2011.

Parker, however, says it was Lane-Baker who made the application to Walmart “because Maggie said Walmart wouldn’t give it to a project, but would give to Help Is Here because it is established,” and Parker didn’t see the application nor sign off on it before it was submitted.

Regarding the gag release: “It’s trash as far as I’m concerned,” Parker said.

Posted Aug. 2, 2012

 

PART 1

Arizona fiscal sponsor accused of taking $300,000

By Geoff Link
Executive Director

The following story of a rogue fiscal sponsor offers a rare opportunity to detail a fiscal sponsorship that truly did turn into a trap for the unwary.

A fiscal sponsor in Arizona is accused by at least six of its previously 27 listed projects of accepting donations and grants amounting to many thousands of dollars, but refusing to disburse, reimburse or even account for the funds.

The six project directors say that Help Is Here, whose fiscal sponsor profile was posted on this directory, has tied up funds from theirs and other HIH projects that, collectively, amount to around $300,000. Most of that total is a single grant from Walmart that the project director believes was awarded to HIH on her behalf. She cannot prove that, however, because Help Is Here insisted on submitting the grant application for her and excluded her from any contact with Walmart.

Even so, the roughly $50,000 the other five projects claim they lost to HIH is not to be sneezed at — in the nonprofit world or any other.

Rogue fiscal sponsors had been extremely rare until 2012, but this is at least the third case this year. HIH project losses don’t reach the magnitude of the $1 million lost by 40 projects when International Humanities Council shut down in January. Nor the $600,000 that two faith-based projects were out when Christian Community Inc. of Fort Wayne, Ind., went belly up in February.

Those were clear cases of mismanagement so inept that, arguably, they constituted malfeasance.

Project Abuse

Help Is Here may be something different. Incorporated in California but operating in Arizona — currently from a post office box in Queen Creek, hometown of Maggie Lane-Baker, chief operations director — HIH generally started out helpful to new projects, but eventually things soured and the project directors, who couldn’t deal with the erratic behavior and stonewalling on finances, wanted out.

But they didn’t get their money back, and two are still included in Help Is Here’s project roster, which plummeted from 27 July 1 to 15 two weeks later. Help Is Here, still in business, has other presumably functioning projects, though few responded to our emails and phone calls for comment.

The rocky relationship Lane-Baker maintains with the disgruntled projects — amply documented in emails, logged phone calls and Skype messages that they have made available to the Study Center — may reach the level of another form of social abuse, one that perhaps is peculiar to fiscal sponsorship: project abuse. Certainly these projects feel battered by HIH, initially trying to beg and plead for an accounting of their funds, eventually resorting to filing official complaints. Tieing up funds can disable a project, if not kill it; however, none of these projects has shut down.

Projects fight back

The project directors say they have filed complaints with the FBI, IRS, Wisconsin Rep. Tammy Baldwin, Arizona’s Pinal County sheriff and attorneys general in Arizona and California. Two have filed small claims court suits, with one case already settled in favor of the project. Following are the aggrieved projects we know about and their stated losses:

• Julie Call of Hogar de los Suenos, a project she founded in Guatemala, says HIH has $26,500 of its funds that it won’t disburse or reimburse.

• Judy Rogg, director of Erik’s Cause, says her project has lost about $4,600 plus a $5,000 grant from Pepsi Corp.

• Maryanne Garon says her Gregg’s Goals scholarship fund has $7,461 hung up at Help Is Here.

• Lisa Benitez says her Rhumy Wara group in Salasaca, Ecuador, received $5,000 from the Jack Taylor Trust that HIH has not acknowledged; and $1,400 is missing from a Rotary Club donation.

• Jennifer Gurecki says her Zawadisha Fund is out $4,850.

• Marilyn Parker says she believes her National Defensive Training project has a $250,000 grant from Walmart sitting in Help Is Here’s bank account. Lane-Baker told her in a phone call Sept. 25, 2011, that the Walmart check had arrived and she was “transferring it to another project, as she is required by law,” Parker writes in a chronology of project’s relationship with HIH.

Five of these projects contacted Study Center — whose fiscalsponsordirectory.org, they say, led them to Help Is Here — with their complaints, including copies of their emails and other attempts to discuss their situation with CEO Lane-Baker and other HIH staff, pleading for us to remove Help Is Here from the directory, requests we considered carefully.

Investigation Begins

Attempts to contact the other HIH projects to learn their relationship with HIH met with little success. Perhaps many were wary because, in February, Lane-Baker had emailed all the projects, warning they may be contacted by Jennifer Gurecki or Julie Lowe of Zawadisha Fund, and enlisting their aid in her dispute with Zawadisha.

“If you received a phone call please send an affidavit of the conversation,” she wrote. “We are prepping ourselves to move forward with litigation, it is easier to ask you for the info now than to have you subpoena (sic) for court.”

Study Center does not vet the fiscal sponsors who complete our questionnaire to create a profile that prospective projects use to find a sponsor. The directory home page disclaimer clarifies that. Screening the fiscal sponsors is an impossible task.

Our initial contacts with Lane-Baker when Help Is Here joined the directory were more than cordial, very accommodating.

But we had to listen to these projects as their evidence of dysfunction mounted. Early on, I called Lane-Baker, told her of the complaints and asked for an explanation.

The projects didn’t follow procedure, she said, going into detail on how Gurecki’s Zawadisha Fund had erred. I accepted her explanation then.

Finally, it came down to common sense. Any fiscal sponsor with such a cacophony of well-documented complaints is at the very least violating the best practices guidelines of the National Network of Fiscal Sponsors, industry standards for well-managed fiscal sponsorship. Not criminal behavior, but certainly worthy of censure.

“The fiscal sponsor establishes and maintains the means to account for and report on each of its sponsored project’s funds separately, providing regular and timely fund documentation to project leaders for management, stewardship and reporting purposes,” reads the NNFS guidelines for handling Model A projects.

Accounting for a project’s funds is second nature to a fiscal sponsor, and regular financial reports must be provided, whether the project is in compliance with the sponsor’s rules or not. HIH wasn’t meeting that responsibility.

Give ’Em the Ax

So Study Center removed Help Is Here’s profile from the directory.

Persuasive in our decision was the blow-by-blow record of attempts to communicate with Help Is Here by Jennifer Gurecki of Zawadisha Fund, who Lane-Baker had warned the other projects about.

Gurecki counts “67 e-mails since we signed the contract (to become a fiscally sponsored project of HIH) on October 18, 2011.” She says she received nine responses from HIH, but no answers about the status of her funds.

Gurecki documents dates and times for 28 Skype messages and attempted another 20, “with only one call accepted by Maggie on January 12th.” And Gurecki says she made 11 phone calls, and couldn’t get through.

“Maggie said that both phone lines and everyone’s e-mails didn’t work for over a month,” Gurecki’s email reported.

Help Is Here does not directly receive funds designated for its projects. It set up a Bank of America account #457002161972 to accept initial funds, a strange arrangement for a fiscal sponsor. “Scan and e-mail or fax your deposit receipt to Maggie,” reads the instructions.

If documentation of the deposit is tardy, Help Is Here gets the money.

“If a deposit slip is not received within 48 hours of the deposit being made,” HIH says in its “warm welcome” to new projects, “the funds will be considered HIH funds and your account will not be credited.” HIH’s Standard Operating Manual, which piggybacks in its entirety onto the projects’ fiscal sponsor agreement, cuts the documentation requirement to 24 hours.

“I’ve never heard of this practice,” said Jane Levikow, formerly a vice president in charge of fiscal sponsorship at Tides Center, now vice president at Community Initiatives, when she heard about the 48-hour rule. “It’s not a suggested best practice of the National Network of Fiscal Sponsors.”

“I’ve never heard of anything like that,” agreed Prudy Kohler, director of fiscal sponsorship services for Community Initiatives.

I emailed Lane-Baker, asking her why she required such a procedure, and what happens to the funds HIH gets in that manner. A follow-up phone call the next day was not returned either.

Questionable Practices

Help Is Here’s fiscal sponsor agreement contains many necessary and reasonable requirements to assure proper accounting and use of funds for charitable purposes. But it also contains numerous practices that are questionable and worse.

Help Is Here requires projects to sign a three-page fiscal sponsor agreement that tacks on the 27-page Standard Operating Manual, which lists every project’s do’s and don’ts, details procedures for every transaction, and is salted with veins of opportunity to mine additional fees, performing administrative tasks that are taken into account by most fiscal sponsors in their fee of a percentage of a project’s gross revenue.

“HIH Inc. is the responsible legal entity for all project activities,” says the SOM, which is standard language for a Model A fiscal sponsorship. Yet HIH will not employ project staff, or sign leases and other contracts that projects may need to do business, as Model A fiscal sponsors do. Nor will HIH add new projects to its general liability policy as most fiscal sponsors do.

And, the SOM makes clear, transactions take time at Help Is Here. Too much time, the project directors say.

“No project will be able to pull funds until it has raised $5,000.00 and it has matured for 45 days,” it says.

“This (payment request) process may take up to 60 days, so don’t promise something anytime before that time period,” the SOM admonishes the projects.

The capper in the SOM is the punishing procedure for being tardy in documenting donation deposits.

“Remember that if you deposit funds but don’t send a receipt within 24 hours then those funds will be put into HIH general fund.” After this statement is a hint that if you’ll jump through a couple more hoops and complete another bit of paperwork, just maybe you’ll get the funds back.

But these projects did not get their money back.

* * *

Our cautionary tale will continue. How fiscal sponsors relate with their projects is of primary concern to the field and details of dysfunctional relationships are instructive.

Marjorie Beggs, Jonathan Newman and Wayne Heuring contributed to this report.

Posted July 23, 2012.

 

How Veterans Projects Work with Fiscal Sponsors

By Wayne Heuring
Directory.org Reporter

A rich variety of projects and nonprofits serve and honor military veterans, and quite a few of them use fiscal sponsors to enhance their viability and expand their reach to potential donors who will support their work.

The experiences of two groups that help vets express their experiences through writing illustrate how fiscal sponsorship is well suited to everything from a small, local project to one with big ambitions.

Scott Mattoon, a former copy editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, created a series of writing workshops for Northern California veterans as a project of the multimedia news organization New American Media. In 2009 and 2010, New American Media published a dozen essays written by workshop participants on such subjects as experiencing loss, surviving trauma and readjusting to post-combat life.

Mattoon says New American Media's idea was to give vets a forum to express their views on current events, but when he began holding the workshops at vet centers all over the Bay Area, "I discovered what they really wanted to write about was their lives," he said.

In 2010, Mattoon got a grant to launch Another Source (anothersource.org), a nonpartisan online journal "dedicated to giving a voice to those directly impacted by violent conflict." It has been a labor of love for Mattoon.

Another Source's first-person narratives come straight from the heart and make for moving reading. This excerpt is from "Strange Relic From a Day in Iraq," by Jose Osnaya, written seven years after a comrade is grievously wounded.

"A few feet away, a shrill squawk pierces the air. It's from a huge black crow, its beak bloodied, flapping around on the ground. One of its wings seems to be injured — probably hit by the gunman, I think. With each squawk, the bird spits blood and struggles to stand, but manages only to spin in tight circles.

"I stare, but only for a few seconds. My priority isn't some meaningless bird, but my tank driver, my friend.

"I remove my hand from the wound and sling Bayardo's left arm over my shoulders. With a grunt, I pick him up off the ground and carry him back into the building we had just left. Out of the corner of my eye, I see the crow fly away."

"For one-person operations like mine, getting a 501(c)(3) is a pain in the neck," said Mattoon, who turned to the San Francisco Study Center as a fiscal sponsor. Not only was he spared the administrative hours that would divert him from the work he loved, but, Mattoon said, "having the Study Center gave me legitimacy, and it let me feel confident I wasn't doing anything wrong."
More ambitious is the Veterans Writing Project in Washington, D.C., under the fiscal sponsorship of Fractured Atlas (fracturedatlast.org), the big, New York-based nonprofit organization with nationwide reach that is dedicated to supporting artists and arts organizations.

The Veterans Writing Project's founder and director is Ron Capps, a 25-year veteran of the Army and Army Reserve and an Afghanistan combat veteran. A regular contributor to Foreign Policy and to Time Magazine's Battleland blog, Capps has published both literary and nonfiction work and has been a featured speaker on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered," Pacifica Radio and the BBC World Service.

Capps used writing to help him get past his own post-traumatic stress disorder, he says, and a year ago he launched the Veterans Writing Project to extend that benefit to others. The project's no-cost writing workshops and seminars — offered as 12 to 14 sessions stretched over a semester or a short program, compressed into two or three days — help vets and their families tell their own stories.

The project has expanded rapidly, largely because of the support of its biggest sponsor, George Washington University, which is developing it as a permanent program. The project has already obtained its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, and though it operates only on the East Coast now, Capps hopes to take it nationwide and build an organization with permanent staff and regular funding.
Getting to this point would have been tough without Fractured Atlas behind them, Capp says. "Fractured Atlas was needed as a transition. It was the only way I could have gotten all this stuff done."

On the project's Website, veteranswriting.org, Capps answers the question "Why We Do It" simply: "Well, because it needs to be done." Not only that, but "we're the right people to do this. We've been there. We know what returning veterans are going through and we speak their language."
Among other nonprofits and projects that serve veterans and benefit from their relationship with their fiscal sponsors are these:

• The Veterans Farm in Jacksonville, Fla., is a fully handicapped-accessible site that teaches veterans how to grow organic fruits and vegetables in a 14-week fellowship program. When vets complete the program, they get help to start their own farms or find jobs working for larger farming organizations (for information, email info@veteransfarm.com). The project's fiscal sponsor is Work Vessels for Veterans, of Noak, Conn. (http://wvfv.net/Home.php).

• Portraits of the Fallen Memorial operates under the Emerge Fiscal Sponsorship Program of the Pasadena Arts Council in Southern California. In the project, professional artists produce portraits of Californians who have fallen in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Organizers are developing a traveling exhibition to address issues of patriotism and why one volunteers to serve, and to tell these heroes' stories. The long-range hope is to place the portraits in a location as a permanent memorial (portraitsofthefallenmemorial.org)

• Veterans Helping Veterans Now (vhvnow.org) of Boulder, Colo., operates under the fiscal sponsorship of the Colorado Nonprofit Development Center (cndc.org). The project, formed in 2007 by a group of multigenerational vets, offers regular support groups for vets with PTSD/addiction issues, for veteran volunteers, and for women with a military connection; a drop-in center for vets and their family; and acupuncture, massage, mindfulness training and frequent social events. Many of the group's board members are vets or family of vets, and Co-Executive Director Judy Nogg is married to a Vietnam vet. 


• Veterans2Work, based in Mill Valley, Calif., (veterans2work.org) is a national coalition of businesses, public agencies, nonprofits and individuals dedicated to helping disabled and other special-needs vets find and keep meaningful employment. Programs include job search and placement, job training, career development, on-the-job support, disability management and work-from-home programs. Veterans2Work's fiscal sponsor is MarinLink of San Rafael, Calif. (marinlink.org).

Posted February 3, 2012.


How fiscal sponsor works with Occupy Wall Street

By Marjorie Beggs
Senior Writer/Editor
San Francisco Study Center

The explosive growth of the Occupy movement took many by surprise, not least Chuck Kaufman, Alliance for Global Justice national co-coordinator, who helped set up the fiscal sponsor contract between AfGJ and Occupy Wall Street.

“Back in September, I didn’t go to my board right away when a member of Occupy Wall Street’s finance committee approached us to be its sponsor,” Kaufman told fiscalsponsordirectory.org. “I thought it would just be a short-term project that might bring in maybe $20,000.” But within days, the board voted to approve the new project.           

AfGJ’s Website has a daily ticker, charting the online donations to Occupy Wall Street. On Nov. 21, it read $268,275. The real number, Kaufman says, is far greater — $550,000, with many donations in the under-$100 range — because the money is coming in so fast, bank processing can’t keep up with it.           

The movement has followed a similar accelerated trajectory. What started with 1,000 people at a Sept. 17 protest in Manhattan’s Liberty Square (a.k.a. Zucotti Park) skyrocketed by mid-November to 20,705 occupiers in 2,414 cities worldwide, according to Occupy Together, a Website formed to consolidate the daily changes in the movement.

The dismantling of large encampments — Oakland Nov. 12, Portland a day later, and the surprise 1 a.m. eviction of the New York park Nov. 15 — is unlikely to stop the protesters.

“I have confidence that Occupy Wall Street will continue, whether at Liberty Park, somewhere else, or many other places,” Kaufman said in an email to fiscalsponsordirectory.org. “We don’t anticipate that the police repression will have a material effect on our fiscal sponsorship relationship with OWS. In the 24 hours following the eviction, donations shot up to a level we haven’t seen since Oct. 22.”    

AfGJ signed its sponsor agreement with Occupy Wall Street Sept. 28. Since then, Kaufman says he’s fielded more than a dozen requests from Occupy locales nationwide to sponsor them, but he’s turned them all down. “I encouraged them to find a local sponsor, like Tides on the West Coast. The Alliance simply can’t handle any more.”

AfGJ, founded in 1979 as the Nicaragua Network, sponsors 35 projects in addition to Occupy Wall Street; about half of them are international and half national or local. Some, like Occupy Wall Street, lack a titular leader. All reflect the Alliance’s mission — to support grassroots social change and economic justice movements.

AfGJ’s contract with Occupy Wall Street is not unique to that project: AfGJ takes an administrative fee of 7%, completes the federal tax forms, collects credit card donations, and distributes contributions based on receipts. The project agrees to submit receipts and to do nothing to jeopardize AfGJ’s tax-exempt status.

In practice, however, there are big differences with Occupy Wall Street.

“The novelty for us is in the sheer number of donations,” Kaufman says. “Most of our other projects get their support as grants that come in $40,000 hunks.” In October, he told ABC News that AfGJ was processing 400 donations a day, compared with the dozen a week it was used to. Last month, the flurry even touched off a freeze by the credit card company handling its account — “the company freaked out,” Kaufman says — but it was resolved quickly.

AfGJ also doesn’t pay Occupy Wall Street as receipts come in.

“They have a bank account and a hard-working finance committee that includes a lawyer and a CPA,” Kaufman says. “The CPA provides us with profit-and-loss statements and a balance sheet. She keeps the receipts, which she will send to us, and we wire the money to their account in blocks of $50,000, almost like a form of a grant to them.”

Insurance is another element that AfGJ hasn’t dealt with in this contract. The state of New York requires AfGJ to carry a $2 million liability policy, which it uses for all its projects. AfGJ has provided a certificate of insurance for a specific location for some of its projects, say for an event. “So far, Occupy Wall Street hasn’t asked for it, and I’m grateful for that,” says Kaufman.

Occupy Wall Street also collects cash donations wherever it gathers, reportedly more than $121,000 in its first six weeks. Asked if those donations would be a part of AfGJ’s IRS accounting, Kaufman wasn’t sure: “That is a concern to me, but I don’t know if it will be a problem or not. The next 990 we file [the form required of tax-exempt organizations with annual receipts of more than $100,000 or total assets more than $250,000] may tell the tale. Meantime, we just will trust their CPA.”

Oct. 30 the finance committee released the report of its first month’s spending: Of just over $50,000, $19,000 went to communications such as computers and cameras, almost $22,000 paid for food, bedding and laundry, and $10,000 bought tools, generators, other equipment and office supplies.

Kaufman says there was money left over, and the New York occupiers sent 100 tents and some cash to the Oakland encampment, which had just been evicted for the first time. “Occupy Wall Street wants to serve the whole movement when it can. It’s absolutely committed to others, but it also doesn’t want to become their sugar daddy.”

Kaufman’s suggestion to other tax-exempt organizations contemplating a fiscal sponsor relationship with Occupy groups is to first see if trust can be established between the two entities. The occupiers’ level of organization and experience is likely to build as time goes on, as it did with Occupy Wall Street.

“I’ve been impressed from day one with the seriousness of the finance committee members, plus they’re developing incredible business skills,” he says. “They understand that the world we live in requires receipts. I’m confident we could open our books to the IRS and be clean.”

As the Occupy story unfolds, AfGJ remains engaged. Kaufman says his organization is in talks about handling fundraising and logistics for a national social forum for all of the Occupations. Its staff remains at five, where it was before Occupy Wall Street.

“We’ve just become much more rigorous in our record-keeping.”

More Information
Alliance for Global Justice: http://afgj.org/?p=1787
From Gregory Colvin: http://www.nonprofitlawmatters.com/

Posted November 11, 2011.

 

6 Ways to Do It Right author leads COF workshop

By Wayne Heuring
Directory.org reporter

Acting as a fiscal sponsor can be helpful and profitable endeavor for community foundations, and there are various ways to do it. But there are hazards along the way, as dozens of community foundation staffers heard about from the foremost legal expert in the field.

Gregory Colvin, author of Fiscal Sponsorship: 6 Ways to Do It Right, led a workshop at the annual Council on Foundations’ conference for community foundations Sept. 20. He made the point that whichever approach is taken, diligence is needed. There was much nodding of heads as, from a show of hands, only a few had no fiscal sponsorship experience.

Kelly Shipp Simone, COF’s deputy general counsel, legal, said from the crowd that at one time the council published its own guide to fiscal sponsorship, but when Colvin's book came out in 1993, “we stopped publishing our own guide.”

She said that community foundations have increasingly shown interest in fiscal sponsorship in recent years.

Colvin, a partner in the Adler & Colvin law firm in San Francisco, said a community foundation has six basic options with regard to fiscal sponsorship:

  1. Operate a full-scale fiscal sponsorship program. Most foundations already have sufficient resources on hand to do so.

  2. Shoehorn it into donor services, such as donor-advised funds, or supporting organizations.
  1. Spin off a free-standing regional fiscal sponsor organization, which can serve to isolate liability.

  2. Operate a limited fiscal sponsorship program. This can involve a variety of approaches, including limiting the number, duration or size of projects.

  3. Provide back-office finance and administration only, avoiding issues of legal responsibility.

  4. Or, Colvin offers, stay out of fiscal sponsorship, but make smart grants to solid fiscal sponsors for projects they manage.

Colvin cautioned about donor-advised funds (DAFs), a potentially risky situation because those funds are restricted to a particular project or purpose, as opposed to general, or discretionary, funds. Colvin clarified the point later in an email to the directory.

“A fiscally sponsored Model A direct project could be a DAF if all or most of the funding came from a single person, family, or business and that funding source continued to advise the project on its expenditure of project monies,” Colvin wrote. “The 2006 federal tax amendments prohibit the use of DAF money to pay any natural person for anything, which prevents the hiring of employees, engagement of consultants, etc., whether for program management, fundraising, or direct services.  Really, the only safe expenditures from a DAF would be grants to 501(c)(3) public charities, which may cause the fiscal sponsorship to be a useless exercise.”

He also advised that with some projects, such as those involving children, it’s wise to be well-insured. Another is a project that involves any kind of touring. Colvin's advice: “Buy insurance by the truckload.” This includes not only the normal general liability, professional liability and D&O, but also use of private cars, molestation and other types.

Workshop participants shared stories of their experiences in fiscal sponsorship — good and bad. Among the bad was the tale told by Richard Gentsch, executive vice president of the Delaware Community Foundation in Wilmington, Del.

Gentsch told of acting as fiscal sponsor for a project in which a man was raising money to purchase a customized car in honor of his son, who had been killed in an auto accident. The car would be auctioned, presumably at a profit, to raise money to support sports in Delaware.

The man used the foundation’s tax ID number to open a checking account, then took the car to Florida to raise money there. That’s when the foundation heard from the Florida attorney general’s office, telling them they couldn’t raise funds in that state.

It was a messy situation, Gentsch said, but Florida authorities were understanding and allowed the foundation to quickly register, and didn't make it pay a fine.

It’s not the only bad story they’ve had in their 10 years of fiscal sponsorship, either, Gentsch said. On the other hand, he said, their fiscal sponsorship activities have been well worth it:

“It's become our biggest money-maker.”

Posted October, 2012.

 

Annual conference puts fiscal sponsorship in spotlight

By Wayne Heuring

Fiscal sponsorship is a useful tool for community foundations, but there can be pitfalls, and nobody knows what to look out for better than attorney Gregory Colvin, whose presentation on the subject at the 2011 Fall Conference for Community Foundations could help some fiscal sponsors avoid problems.

Colvin, whose book is considered the standard on the subject, will talk about “Fiscal Sponsorship: The Legal Rules” at the Council on Foundations conference, to be held Tuesday, Sept. 20, at the San Francisco Marriott Marquis from 4 to 5:30 p.m.

“Greg is the leading expert on fiscal sponsorship and is best positioned to offer the legal and practical advice needed by our members,” said Janne Gallagher, Council senior vice president and general counsel. “In addition, his book, 'Fiscal Sponsorship: 6 Ways to Do It Right,' is popular among our membership and is one that we often recommend.”

Colvin's session will lay out various fiscal sponsorship models and the legal rules a community foundation should consider before deciding to serve as a fiscal sponsor.

He recalls presenting a session at a 1995 Council on Foundations conference in San Diego.
“It was very well attended,” he said, “because many community foundations were worried about whether their fiscal sponsorship activities were following the rules.

“By the end of the session,” he said, “some people were crying as they became aware they were using a method of sponsorship that was far out of compliance and could expose them to considerable risk, both from the IRS and also from liability to third parties on projects that were not well supervised.”

For example, Colvin explained, community foundations are typically focused on donor services, working more with people who are giving rather than those who get the grants and operate the programs. Donors often want to finance high-impact, high-cost projects that are short-term and don’t really need a 501(c)(3). So, to handle the project administration in-house in order to be cost-effective for the donors, a community foundation may try to shoehorn fiscal sponsorship into its business model, and it might not be a good fit.

Bob Small, associate director of Pike’s Peak Community Foundation in Colorado Springs, an 11-year veteran of fiscal sponsorship with 85 projects, suggests keeping it simple.

“It’s important for our projects to have a good match with our mission,” he said in a phone interview. “We restrict our fiscal sponsorship to projects in our area instead of across country.”

Colvin also says a community foundation might set up its projects as donor-advised funds. This gives donors their tax break, but, because the donation is no longer their money, they can't instruct the community foundation on what to do with it. The necessary separation of roles and responsibilities of community foundations and their donors can be a pitfall if not understood by all.
Colvin says community foundations can get into trouble with ERISA compliance on their pension plan if they don’t treat all their employees the same when it comes to benefits. Fiscal sponsor office staff and the people running the sponsored projects must be treated equally in all respects, or that can result in personnel problems ranging from bad feeling to lawsuits. This is a potential pitfall for other fiscal sponsors as well.

The Council on Foundations says there’s no data on how many community foundations are also fiscal sponsors, but “It is our belief that it is a common practice, particularly by community foundations in smaller and rural communities,” Gallagher said.

Fiscal sponsorship is a cost-effective tool for community foundations that is no doubt underused, Colvin says, but better do it right. His session will lay out the legal rules governing the process.
Colvin is a principal in the law offices of Adler & Colvin, San Francisco.

Wayne Heuring is a former copy desk chief of the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Examiner. Geoff Link, executive director of the Study Center, contributed to this report.

Model C Regranting

San Francisco attorney Greg Colvin, author of "Fiscal Sponsorship: 6 Ways to Do It Right," sheds light on how a Model C project should apply to a foundation for a grant via a fiscal sponsor. He includes suggested language for a cover letter from the sponsor to the funder. For the full text, go to www.fiscalsponsorship.com

Community Initiatives issues annual report for FY10

During FY10 (July 1, 2009, to June 30, 2010), while the nation remained gripped in stubborn economic recession and foundation grant-making budgets continued to decline, Community Initiatives held steady. We added 15 new projects, launched three others into their own 501(c)(3) organizations, and ended the year in the positive. Community Initiatives' annual report paints a picture of its activities, with lists of its projects and funders, in its report, which is accessible by clicking http://www.communityin.org/annual-report.html. For a paper copy, please contact Prudy Kohler at (415) 230-7708.

California nonprofit seeking participants

The producers of the 32-year-old Northern California Nonprofit Compensation and Benefits Survey are inviting California nonprofits to participate in the 2010 survey. The survey helps organizations set fair salaries and benefits, evaluate industry compensation standards for a range of positions, and budget and plan for the cost of adding staff. Formerly administered by the Center for Nonprofit Management, this year’s survey will be produced by Nonprofit Compensation Associates of Oakland, Calif. The survey has been renamed “Fair Pay for Northern California Nonprofits: The 2010 Compensation and Benefits Survey.” To take the survey, visit NCA at www.nonprofitcomp.com or call 510/645-1005.

New info on donor-advised funds

San Francisco attorney Greg Colvin, author of the fiscal sponsorship bible "Fiscal Sponsorship: 6 Ways to Do It Right," has new information on a 2006 tax law change that could affect projects that are also donor-advised funds. Although the IRS has not issued regulations interpreting the new statute, on his Web site Colvin provides his firm's take on the law's relevance to fiscal sponsors. He also provides a detailed definition of a donor-advised fund.

For the full text, go to www.fiscalsponsorship.com and click on "memo."

To be, or not to be — a 501(c)(3)

When should a new program go for its 501(c)(3)? When is it better off choosing a fiscal sponsor?

This is the nonprofit startup’s dilemma.

The answers are on attorney Gregory Colvin’s blog, fiscalsponsorship.com. Colvin is author of the seminal book on the topic, Fiscal Sponsorship: 6 Ways to Do It Right, and partner in Adler & Colvin in San Francisco.

He lays out the advantages of each mode of operation and compares them in a realistic context that can result in pragmatic decisions.

Foundation Center seeking data

The Foundation Center is collecting the most recent data available on U.S. foundation support in response to the economic crisis, offering the first look at how foundations are aiding nonprofits as they struggle with the fallout from the downturn. The Center is making this information publicly available in an interactive map on its Web site, and has already gathered information on more than $56 million in support -- 135 grants and program-related investments (PRIs) of approximately $22 million and $34 million, respectively. The map displays the data by state, county, city, ZIP code, or congressional district. New grants will be added to the map on an ongoing basis to provide the most current picture of foundation giving for programs and issues relating to the downturn. An RSS feed will deliver the latest grants lists to anyone who signs up at the Center's site. Grantmakers are encouraged to send announcements about grants or PRIs related to the economic crisis to Matthew Ross at mr@foundationcenter.org. This mapping resource is part of the Center's broader initiative to provide the latest information, news and research to shed light on the potential impact of the economic climate on the field of philanthropy. Visit "Focus on the Economic Crisis" at http://www.foundationcenter.org/focus/economy

Posted September, 2011.

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