According to the Center for Effective Philanthropy, practically all not-for-profits in the United States solicit feedback from their clients when designing programs and services. However, resource constraints — lack of adequate staffing, funding and sophisticated technology — may mean that they don’t collect data as often as they’d like or use it as well as they could. If you’d like to collect more, and more meaningful, feedback from the beneficiaries of your nonprofit’s services, here are five suggestions:
Use every opportunity.
Each encounter with a client is an opportunity to solicit feedback. So include online surveys with your email newsletters, request feedback on your website and pull aside clients when working in the field. When you receive verbal feedback, follow up in writing so you have a record of the conversation and can easily share it with others in your organization.
Take full advantage of social media.
Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are free, easily accessible and frequent destinations for many of your clients. Use any available survey tools, regularly invite viewers to leave comments about your posts — or even ask them to recommend or write a review of your nonprofit. Also provide an email address or SMS number for texts so that clients can contact you directly.
Don’t neglect the “off-liners.”
Depending on the population you serve (for example, lower income or elderly people), not all clients may have easy internet access or social media accounts. Keep paper surveys, and even an old-fashioned suggestion box, handy in your office.
Show your appreciation.
Let your clients know that you’re listening. Thank them for every communication and, when possible, let them know how you’re using their feedback to address shortcomings and make improvements. In some cases, you may want to schedule one-on-one meetings or focus groups where you can discuss plans in greater detail and let clients know how valuable they are to the decision-making process.
If budgetary limitations are preventing you from seeking client feedback, look for financing. For example, the Fund for Shared Insight matches nonprofits seeking to improve client feedback loops with foundations giving grants for such research.
This year, the optional standard mileage rate used to calculate the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business decreased by one-half cent, to 57.5 cents per mile. As a result, you might claim a lower deduction for vehicle-related expense for 2020 than you can for 2019.
Calculating your deduction
Businesses can generally deduct the actual expenses attributable to business use of vehicles. This includes gas, oil, tires, insurance, repairs, licenses and vehicle registration fees. In addition, you can claim a depreciation allowance for the vehicle. However, in many cases depreciation write-offs on vehicles are subject to certain limits that don’t apply to other types of business assets.
The cents-per-mile rate comes into play if you don’t want to keep track of actual vehicle-related expenses. With this approach, you don’t have to account for all your actual expenses, although you still must record certain information, such as the mileage for each business trip, the date and the destination. Using the mileage rate is also popular with businesses that reimburse employees for business use of their personal vehicles.
Such reimbursements can help attract and retain employees who drive their personal vehicles extensively for business purposes. Why? Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, employees can no longer deduct unreimbursed employee business expenses, such as business mileage, on their own income tax returns. If you do use the cents-per-mile rate, be aware that you must comply with various rules. If you don’t, the reimbursements could be considered taxable wages to the employees.
The rate for 2020
Beginning on January 1, 2020, the standard mileage rate for the business use of a car (van, pickup or panel truck) is 57.5 cents per mile. It was 58 cents for 2019 and 54.5 cents for 2018. The business cents-per-mile rate is adjusted annually. It’s based on an annual study commissioned by the IRS about the fixed and variable costs of operating a vehicle, such as gas, maintenance, repair and depreciation. Occasionally, if there’s a substantial change in average gas prices, the IRS will change the mileage rate midyear.
Factors to consider
There are some situations when you can’t use the cents-per-mile rate. In some cases, it partly depends on how you’ve claimed deductions for the same vehicle in the past. In other cases, it depends on if the vehicle is new to your business this year or whether you want to take advantage of certain first-year depreciation tax breaks on it.
As you can see, there are many factors to consider in deciding whether to use the mileage rate to deduct vehicle expenses. We can help if you have questions about tracking and claiming such expenses in 2020 — or claiming them on your 2019 income tax return.
Does your not-for-profit organization have a conflict-of-interest policy in place? Do your board members, trustees and key employees understand how the policy affects them? If you answer “no” to either (or both) of these questions, you have some work to do.
Nonprofit board officers, directors, trustees and key employees all must avoid conflicts of interest because it’s their duty to do so. Any direct or indirect financial interest in a transaction or arrangement that might benefit one of these individuals personally could result in bad publicity, the loss of donor and public support, and even the revocation of your organization’s tax-exempt status. This is why nonprofits are required to have a written conflict-of-interest policy. To stress the importance of this requirement, the IRS asks tax-exempt organizations to acknowledge the existence of a policy on their annual Form 990s.
Define and provide procedures
In general, conflict-of-interest policies should define all potential conflicts and provide procedures for avoiding or dealing with them. For example, to prevent a board member from steering a contract to his or her own company, you might mandate that all projects are to be put out for bid, with identical specifications, to multiple vendors. It’s critical to outline the steps you’ll take if a possible conflict of interest arises. For instance, board members with potential conflicts might be asked to present facts to the rest of the board, and then remove themselves from any further discussion of the issue. The board should keep minutes of the meetings where the conflict is discussed. You should note the members present, as well as how they vote, and indicate the final decision reached.
Making it effective
As with any policy, conflict-of-interest policies are only effective if they’re properly communicated and understood. Require board officers, directors, trustees and key employees to annually pledge to disclose interests, relationships and financial holdings that could result in a conflict of interest. Also make sure they know that they’re obliged to speak up if issues arise that could pose a possible conflict. For help crafting a thorough policy, contact us.
As you’ve probably heard, a new law was recently passed with a wide range of retirement plan changes for employers and individuals.
One of the provisions of the SECURE Act involves a new requirement for employers that sponsor tax-favored defined contribution retirement plans that are subject to ERISA. Specifically, the law will require that the benefit statements sent to plan participants include a lifetime income disclosure at least once during any 12-month period. The disclosure will need to illustrate the monthly payments that an employee would receive if the total account balance were used to provide lifetime income streams, including a single life annuity and a qualified joint and survivor annuity for the participant and the participant’s surviving spouse.
Under ERISA, a defined contribution plan administrator is required to provide benefit statements to participants. Depending on the situation, these statements must be provided quarterly, annually or upon written request. In 2013, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking providing rules that would have required benefit statements provided to defined contribution plan participants to include an estimated lifetime income stream of payments based on the participant’s account balance. Some employers began providing this information in these statements — even though it wasn’t required. But in the near future, employers will have to begin providing information to their employees about lifetime income streams.
Fortunately, the effective date of the requirement has been delayed until after the DOL issues guidance. It won’t go into effect until 12 months after the DOL issues a final rule. The law also directs the DOL to develop a model disclosure. Plan fiduciaries, plan sponsors, or others won’t have liability under ERISA solely because they provided the lifetime income stream equivalents, so long as the equivalents are derived in accordance with the assumptions and guidance and that they include the explanations contained in the model disclosure.
Critics of the new rules argue the required disclosures will lead to confusion among participants and they question how employers will arrive at the income projections. For now, employers have to wait for the DOL to act. We’ll update you when that happens. Contact us if you have questions about this requirement or other provisions in the SECURE Act.
Nonprofit capital campaigns aim to raise a specific — usually, a significant — amount of money over a limited time period. Your not-for-profit may undertake a capital campaign to acquire land, buy a new facility, expand an existing facility, purchase major equipment or seed an endowment. Whatever your goal, a capital campaign can be grueling, so you need to ensure stakeholders are on board and ready to do what it takes to reach it.
Appoint a leader
Capital campaigns generally are long-term projects — often lasting three or more years. To carry out yours, you’ll need a champion with vision and stamina. Consider board members or look to leaders in the greater community with a fundraising track record, knowledge of your community, the ability to motivate others, and time to attend meetings and fundraising events.
Your leader will require a small army to achieve capital campaign goals. Volunteers, board members and staffers will be required to raise funds through direct mail, email solicitations, direct solicitations and special events. If you need more help, look to like-minded community groups and clients who have benefited from your services.
The biggest challenge of any capital campaign is securing donations. To this end, identify a large group — say 1,000 individuals — to solicit. Draw your list from past donors, area business owners, board members, volunteers and other likely prospects. Then narrow that list to the 100 largest potential donors and talk to them first.
Traditional fundraising wisdom holds that you shouldn’t go public with your campaign until you’ve secured significant “lead gifts” from major donors. The percentage varies, with an organization commonly waiting until 50% of its fundraising goal is reached before announcing a campaign. Even if you decide not to follow this model, know that it’s generally easier to solicit donations under $1,000 after you’ve already landed several large gifts.
To engage key constituents and ensure that they share your strategies for reaching the campaign’s goals, break down your ultimate target into smaller objectives. Celebrate as you reach each goal. Also regularly report gifts, track your progress toward reaching your ultimate goal and measure the effectiveness of your activities.
Pay attention to how you craft your message. Potential donors must see your organization as capable and strong, but also as the same group they’ve championed for years. Instead of focusing on what donations will do for your nonprofit, show potential donors the impact on their community. And, as always, publicly recognize donors in your newsletter and thank them at public events.
Remember hidden costs
If you’re still trying to decide on your financial goal, keep in mind that it will cost money to execute the campaign. Fundraising events, marketing materials, consultant fees and other expenses can eat into donations. For help determining these and other hidden costs, contact us.
A significant law was recently passed that adds tax breaks and makes changes to employer-provided retirement plans. If your small business has a current plan for employees or if you’re thinking about adding one, you should familiarize yourself with the new rules.
The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act (SECURE Act) was signed into law on December 20, 2019 as part of a larger spending bill. Here are three provisions of interest to small businesses.
These are only some of the retirement plan provisions in the SECURE Act. There have also been changes to the auto enrollment safe harbor cap, nondiscrimination rules, new rules that allow certain part-timers to participate in 401(k) plans, increased penalties for failing to file retirement plan returns and more. Contact us to learn more about your situation.
A much-hated tax on not-for-profit organizations is on the way out. At the end of 2019, Congress repealed a provision of 2017’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) that triggered the unrelated business income tax (UBIT) of 21% on nonprofit employers that provide employees with transportation fringe benefits. Unequipped to handle the additional administrative burdens and compliance costs, thousands of nonprofits had complained — and legislators apparently listened.
Same benefits, new costs
At issue is the TCJA provision saying that nonprofits must count disallowed deduction amounts paid for transportation fringe benefits such as transit passes and parking in their UBIT calculations. UBIT applies to business income that isn’t related to the organization’s tax-exempt function. Thus, simply by continuing to provide some of the same transportation benefits they’ve always provided employees, nonprofits were liable for additional tax.
For example, employers were forced to assign a value to parking spaces provided to employees. Such activities were time-consuming and burdensome, and the additional costs forced nonprofits to divert funds from pursuing their missions. Nonprofit coalition Independent Sector estimates that the transportation tax and related administrative costs set back nonprofits by an average $12,000.
Fortunately, the repeal of the UBIT provision will be retroactive. Although the details haven’t yet been hammered out, nonprofits that paid the tax on applicable transportation benefits in 2018 and 2019 are expected to get their money back.
Repealing the UBIT on certain transportation benefits isn’t the only recent legislation of interest to nonprofits. Last month, Congress also streamlined the foundation excise tax. The current two-tiered tax that many foundations protested will be replaced with a 1.39% revenue-neutral tax.
Congress is likely to address other nonprofit demands — for example, for the introduction of a universal charitable deduction — in future sessions. We can help you stay current with the latest tax developments affecting nonprofits. Contact us.
While you were celebrating the holidays, you may not have noticed that Congress passed a law with a grab bag of provisions that provide tax relief to businesses and employers. The “Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020” was signed into law on December 20, 2019. It makes many changes to the tax code, including an extension (generally through 2020) of more than 30 provisions that were set to expire or already expired.
Two other laws were passed as part of the law (The Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2019 and the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act).
Here are five highlights.
Long-term part-timers can participate in 401(k)s.
Under current law, employers generally can exclude part-time employees (those who work less than 1,000 hours per year) when providing a 401(k) plan to their employees. A qualified retirement plan can generally delay participation in the plan based on an employee attaining a certain age or completing a certain number of years of service but not beyond the later of completion of one year of service (that is, a 12-month period with at least 1,000 hours of service) or reaching age 21.
Qualified retirement plans are subject to various other requirements involving who can participate.
For plan years beginning after December 31, 2020, the new law requires a 401(k) plan to allow an employee to make elective deferrals if the employee has worked with the employer for at least 500 hours per year for at least three consecutive years and has met the age-21 requirement by the end of the three-consecutive-year period. There are a number of other rules involved that will determine whether a part-time employee qualifies to participate in a 401(k) plan.
The employer tax credit for paid family and medical leave is extended.
Tax law provides an employer credit for paid family and medical leave. It permits eligible employers to claim an elective general business credit based on eligible wages paid to qualifying employees with respect to family and medical leave. The credit is equal to 12.5% of eligible wages if the rate of payment is 50% of such wages and is increased by 0.25 percentage points (but not above 25%) for each percentage point that the rate of payment exceeds 50%. The maximum leave amount that can be taken into account for a qualifying employee is 12 weeks per year.
The credit was set to expire on December 31, 2019. The new law extends it through 2020.
The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) is extended.
Under the WOTC, an elective general business credit is provided to employers hiring individuals who are members of one or more of 10 targeted groups. The new law extends this credit through 2020.
The medical device excise tax is repealed.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) contained a provision that required that the sale of a taxable medical device by the manufacturer, producer or importer is subject to a tax equal to 2.3% of the price for which it is sold. This medical device excise tax originally applied to sales of taxable medical devices after December 31, 2012.
The new law repeals the excise tax for sales occurring after December 31, 2019.
The high-cost, employer-sponsored health coverage tax is repealed.
The ACA also added a nondeductible excise tax on insurers when the aggregate value of employer-sponsored health insurance coverage for an employee, former employee, surviving spouse or other primary insured individual exceeded a threshold amount. This tax is commonly referred to as the tax on “Cadillac” plans.
The new law repeals the Cadillac tax for tax years beginning after December 31, 2019.
These are only some of the provisions of the new law. We will be covering them in the coming weeks. If you have questions about your situation, don’t hesitate to contact us.
If you think search engine optimization (SEO) is something only for-profit businesses need to worry about, think again. The Google rankings of your not-for-profit’s website can make a tremendous difference in the donations and other support you receive.
Cracking Google metrics
Google, of course, isn’t the only search engine on the Web. But it accounts for more than 75% of search engine traffic worldwide and an even greater percentage in the United States. Research has found that sites appearing on the first page of Google search results receive more than 90% of search traffic — and that about 60% of traffic goes to the first three results.
Although it’s not easy (or even possible) to crack Google’s search engine metrics and configure your site so that it lands a top spot, monitor trends and adjust your Web strategies accordingly. For example, periodically review the keywords you use in headlines, content, titles, heading tags and meta descriptions. Then check their popularity using Google Trends. If there’s a heavily trafficked news item that relates to your nonprofit’s mission or programs, you might be able to use fresh keywords to tie your site to the story and, thus, increase traffic.
Another thing that can boost your search engine standing are links from other sites. Quality matters when it comes to incoming links. A few links from sources with strong reputations in the relevant areas will be ranked higher than dozens from less credible sources. Know that reputable and popular sites are more likely to link to yours if you provide substantive content that isn’t available elsewhere.
Keeping up with trends
Mobile device traffic has exploded over the past decade — so your site’s content must be mobile-friendly to get the most mileage with search engines. Google has expanded its use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking factor and even offers a Mobile-Friendly Test Tool at http://bit.ly/2DlChHB. Use it to identify mobile usability problems so you can make your site easier for users to navigate and search engines to index.
Social media is the other game-changer of the past 10 years. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other platforms are instrumental in boosting the visibility of your nonprofit’s site and, indirectly, your SEO. Include links to your site in social media posts so the links are shared when readers repost your content. However, keep in mind that links from other sources are rated more highly than links from your own postings.
There’s a lot you can do — even with only a little technical knowledge — to improve your site’s search engine visibility. But if you’re starting from scratch with a newly designed website, consider getting advice from an SEO expert. Some contractors offer lower-fee arrangements for nonprofits. Ask us for recommendations.
In its 2018 decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld South Dakota’s “economic nexus” statute, expanding the power of states to collect sales tax from remote sellers. Today, nearly every state with a sales tax has enacted a similar law, so if your company does business across state lines, it’s a good idea to reexamine your sales tax obligations.
A state is constitutionally prohibited from taxing business activities unless those activities have a substantial “nexus,” or connection, with the state. Before Wayfair, simply selling to customers in a state wasn’t enough to establish nexus. The business also had to have a physical presence in the state, such as offices, retail stores, manufacturing or distribution facilities, or sales reps.
In Wayfair, the Supreme Court ruled that a business could establish nexus through economic or virtual contacts with a state, even if it didn’t have a physical presence. The Court didn’t create a bright-line test for determining whether contacts are “substantial,” but found that the thresholds established by South Dakota’s law are sufficient: Out-of-state businesses must collect and remit South Dakota sales taxes if, in the current or previous calendar year, they have 1) more than $100,000 in gross sales of products or services delivered into the state, or 2) 200 or more separate transactions for the delivery of goods or services into the stat
The vast majority of states now have economic nexus laws, although the specifics vary:Many states adopted the same sales and transaction thresholds accepted in Wayfair, but a number of states apply different thresholds. And some chose not to impose transaction thresholds, which many view as unfair to smaller sellers (an example of a threshold might be 200 sales of $5 each would create nexus).
If your business makes online, telephone or mail-order sales in states where it lacks a physical presence, it’s critical to find out whether those states have economic nexus laws and determine whether your activities are sufficient to trigger them. If you have nexus with a state, you’ll need to register with the state and collect state and applicable local taxes on your taxable sales there. Even if some or all of your sales are tax-exempt, you’ll need to secure exemption certifications for each jurisdiction where you do business. Alternatively, you might decide to reduce or eliminate your activities in a state if the benefits don’t justify the compliance costs.
Note: If you make sales through a “marketplace facilitator,” such as Amazon or Ebay, be aware that an increasing number of states have passed laws that require such providers to collect taxes on sales they facilitate for vendors using their platforms.
If you need assistance in setting up processes to collect sales tax or you have questions about your responsibilities, contact us.