How a Lawyer Can Help Your Non-Profit
A lawyer can provide non-profit organizations with strategic advice, good governance training, legal and grant compliance, and many other services that magnify the impact of the non-profit and enhances its ability to fulfill its mission. Non-profits should hire attorneys to help them incorporate, apply for tax status, and establish good governance procedures. Attorneys can also assist non-profits in and applying for and complying with government and private grants. Finally, attorneys can also train non-profits to maximize their longevity and stability through good governance and best practices training.
Incorporation and Anticipating the Future
A non-profit is only as stable as its founding documents, which are the articles of incorporation and bylaws. An attorney can work with a founding board to anticipate problems, propose possible solutions, and develop procedures to encourage debate and minimize dissent. For example, a non-profit may want to enshrine in its bylaws the qualities its directors should possess, i.e., previous volunteer experience, commitment to religious values, experience working with children, a history of donating money or funds, etc. The bylaws can enshrine these qualities and more. A lawyer can help a non-profit develop tailor-made bylaws that ensure it is well-positioned to execute its mission and serve its community.
Diversity of Talent = Stable Organization
Non-profits can be successful on the basis of a single personality, however, for organizations that plan on passing the torch to successive generations require good governance procedures and training. Many non-profits become mired in litigation because members or directors are unable to agree on a strategic vision following the departure of a driving personality. Non-profits that are built on consensus, a governing team and development of new talent last longer than one-off projects dependent on a strong personality.
I have litigated numerous cases that all stem from the same problem – a non-profit became too dependent on a single personality, and when that person retired – the entire organization was thrown into chaos. A lawyer can help your non-profit establish recruitment and training procedures early to ensure that the organization has a broad talent pool on which to draw ideas and succession plans.
Legal and Grant Compliance
Non-profits are special organizations granted tax-exempt status. However, that status must be maintained. Non-profits are required to comply with state and federal authorities. Failure to file even one of these documents can jeopardize non-profit status (and the ability to raise money).
Furthermore, these compliance obligations are even more onerous for grants. Attorneys are trained to interpret and prepare complex documents that comply with arcane procedural rules (you ever tried to file a complaint in unlimited jurisdiction Los Angeles Superior Court, it is a battle with paperwork).