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Compensation Scrutiny – Protect Your Charity

September 20, 2010

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Recently, the IRS, state Attorney Generals, and charity watchdog groups have raised concerns regarding the payment of excessive compensation to charity executives.  For example, the redesigned Form 990 includes numerous questions regarding compensation and related practices.  The IRS has sent compensation questionnaires to thousands of hospitals and universities.  Recently, Protect the Hershey’s Children sent a letter to the IRS Commissioner, Senate Finance Committee, and Pennsylvania Department of Banking alleging board compensation abuses at the Milton Hershey Trust School and Milton Hershey School. 

I believe it is likely that charities will continue to experience heightened scrutiny of executive compensation from the public, IRS, and Attorney Generals, especially in light of the additional compensation data that is now available on the Form 990.  In addition to negative publicity, payment of excessive executive compensation may result in loss of the charity’s exempt status (private inurement), the imposition of excise taxes on the executive who received and the directors

IRS Should Adopt a Notice Procedure for Activity Changes

September 15, 2010

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As we discussed in a prior post, a charity must notify the IRS of material changes in activities on its next Form 990.  This process is beneficial to the IRS and the public.  As I also discussed, in addition to the Form 990, a charity may (in its discretion) notify the IRS of material changes in activities through the Correspondence Unit (also referred to as the Adjustments Unit). 

In the past, when it seemed appropriate (e.g., where the activities were in a gray area or the charity was very conservative), we would submit a letter explaining the changes in activities to the Correspondence Unit and request an updated determination letter from the IRS that the charity was still exempt taking into consideration the new activities. On several occasions, the Correspondence Unit issued such an updated determination letter, which was of great benefit to the charity, providing assurance and comfort that the charity’s new activities were exempt. 

Recently, we

Made a Charitable Pledge? Consider Satisfaction with Your IRA

September 13, 2010

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When charitable pledges come do, some donors scramble to find ways to satisfy the pledge without a negative impact to current cash flow.   A donor’s use of a private foundation to satisfy the pledge is often unattractive since such a transfer could result in self-dealing to the extent the donor’s pledge is considered a legally binding obligation under applicable state law.  However, a transfer from the donor’s IRA in satisfaction of the pledge may represent a viable alternative.  In an Information Letter released August 20, 2010, to Harvey Dale (a well-known tax professor), the IRS concluded that a taxpayer who satisfies a pledge by making a qualified charitable distribution from his or her IRA directly to a charitable organization would not include the distribution in gross income (citing Rev. Rul. 55-410, which provides that the satisfaction of a pledge by means of a donation of appreciated or depreciated property does not give rise to a taxable gain

Percentage or Commission-Based Compensation

Often times a charity cannot afford to hire a professional fundraiser.  In addition, many fundraisers desire to be paid a commission based on a percentage of the revenues that they raise.  Therefore, offering a commission for fundraising services is often perceived as a “win-win” situation.  Before entering into any arrangement, however, a charity must consider certain limitations on so-called percentage or commission-based compensation under the federal income tax laws, including the private inurement, private benefit, and excess benefit / intermediate sanctions rules.  To avoid application of these rules, the commission, as well as the fundraiser’s total compensation (including the commission and any other compensation) must be reasonable.  For example, commissions must be paid for services actually rendered and commensurate with the services rendered.  The IRS has also suggested that a ceiling or cap on the maximum amount of compensation is an important factor to ensure that commission-based compensation is reasonable.  Commission-based compensation based on the achievement of charitable objectives or established to serve a

IRS Releases Form to Help Tax-Exempts Claim New Health Care Tax Credit

September 8, 2010

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The IRS today released a draft version of the form that tax-exempt organizations will use to calculate the small business health care tax credit when they file income tax returns next year. The IRS also announced how eligible tax-exempt organizations –– which do not generally file income tax returns –– will claim the credit during the 2011 filing season.   Tax-exempt organizations will claim the small business health care tax credit on a revised Form 990-T. The Form 990-T is currently used to report and pay the tax on unrelated business income. Form 990-T will be revised for the 2011 filing season to enable eligible tax-exempt organizations –– even those that owe no tax on unrelated business income –– also to claim the small business health care tax credit.  For more information, please click here.

Charities and Life Insurance – A Growing Trend?

Life insurance has always been an important part of charitable giving.  Although there are legitimate uses, over the years the IRS has identified certain abuses regarding the use of life insurance in charitable planning.  In our practice, we have seen a recent surge in charitable planning techniques involving life insurance.  Before your charity accepts a gift of life insurance, you should consider several issues, including the following:  (1) the application of Section 170(f)(10), the so-called “charitable split-dollar rules” (which, if applicable, impose an excise tax on the charity equal to 100% of the premium payments), (2) applicable state insurable interest laws, (3) private inurement, private benefit, and excess benefit rules, (4) unrelated business income rules (and debt-financed income rules, to the extent the life insurance was acquired with borrowed funds), (5) the partial interest rules (impacting both the income and gift tax deduction of the donor), (6) I.R.C. § 4944, the jeopardizing investment rules, and I.R.C. §

Don’t Forget to Maintain Donation Records

September 2, 2010

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In order to be entitled to a charitable deduction for cash donations, a donor must maintain records providing evidence of the donation.  For example, for tax years after August 17, 2006, a donor must maintain a bank record or a written receipt from the donee showing the name of the donee organization, the date of the contribution, and the amount of the contribution in order to deduct any contribution of cash, check, or other monetary gift (additional rules apply for donations of $250 or more).

The Tax Court re-emphasized the strictness of this requirement in a recent case.  In Fessey v. Comm., T.C. Memo. 2010-191 (Aug. 30, 2010), the taxpayer alleged that he donated $920 in cash in 2004 to a church by way of $20 weekly cash donations made to the church’s offering plate.  The taxpayer provided the Court with a computer printout listing the date, amount, and recipient of his donations.  However, the taxpayer did not produce a receipt or any form

FAQs for Delinquent Form 990 Filers

August 30, 2010

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FAQs for Delinquent Form 990 Filers

August 30, 2010

Authored by: Keith Kehrer

The IRS just released “Frequently Asked Questions” regarding its one-time relief for charities that face automatic revocation of tax-exempt status for failure to file Form 990, Form 990-EZ, or Form 990-N. As we discussed in our July 26 post, the IRS is providing limited relief to small charities that failed to file Form 990-EZ or Form 990-N for the past three years. The IRS estimates more than 300,000 charities may lose their tax-exempt status but is giving charities until October 15, 2010 to file the delinquent Form 990-EZ or Form 990-N and maintain tax-exempt status. The IRS released the Frequently Asked Questions, which may be accessed by clicking here, to provide additional information regarding this one time relief.

Change Your Activities? Don’t Forget to Tell the IRS

August 27, 2010

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When a charity significantly expands or changes its activities, it must inform the IRS by disclosing the activities on its next filed Form 990.  The Form 990 includes questions regarding whether the filing charity has undertaken any significant activities not listed on a prior Form 990, whether the charity ceased conducting, or made significant changes in how it conducts any activities, and requires the charity to describe the changes in an attached schedule. The Form 990 also asks whether the charity made any significant changes to its articles or bylaws, and requires such documents be included with the Form 990.  Although disclosing the changes on the next Form 990 satisfies a charity’s obligation to update the IRS, it does not provide any comfort that the new activities do not jeopardize the charity’s exempt status because there is no guaranty any IRS agent will review (or approve) such changes.  

In addition to Form

Facing Late Filing Penalties – Don’t Despair (At Least Not Right Away)

August 22, 2010

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Many small and medium sized charities are run almost entirely by volunteers and have little or no paid staff. It is not unusual for such charities to inadvertently fail to timely file Form 990 or Form 990-EZ. The IRS imposes a penalty of $20 a day for failure to timely file Form 990 or Form 990-EZ. The IRS will send a penalty letter to late-filing charities imposing the penalty with interest. Where the charity can show reasonable cause, however, we have had success convincing the IRS to abate and refund the late-filing penalty. For example, if the charity has a history of compliance, is run by volunteers (or has little or no paid staff), and puts procedures in place to ensure future compliance, the IRS has been willing to abate and refund the penalty. Although there can be no guaranty, if your charity is faced with a late filing penalty, contact your