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.
If your top executive were to step down tomorrow, would your not-for-profit know how to make a smooth leadership transition or would your boat suddenly be rudderless? Research by the nonprofit BoardSource has found that only 27% of charitable organizations have written succession plans. Most nonprofits, therefore, face an uncertain future — one that could include lost funding, program disruption and even an early demise.
Fortunately, creating a succession plan isn’t as difficult as you might think. An experienced advisor can guide you through the process. But there are several points for you and your board to keep in mind as you establish policies for replacing leaders.
Don’t make assumptions
Ideally, any succession will be planned and allow for time to identify and recruit a successor and move that person into the job. If you don’t already, start developing employees who can move up the ladder when an executive director or other senior manager leaves.
However, promoting from within can be difficult for some organizations, particularly smaller ones with limited “bench strength.” What’s more, your nonprofit may require an executive director who’s already experienced in running a nonprofit or comes with specific skills. So you can’t rule out hiring an outsider.
Indeed, don’t assume that your next executive needs to be as similar as possible to the outgoing one. Your nonprofit and its constituencies may change over time. Succession planning provides a great opportunity to reevaluate your strategies and identify new qualities that will be important going forward.
Another thing to keep in mind: Not all successions are planned. A sudden departure due to illness or death can be particularly challenging for the staff and other stakeholders left behind. Outline policies for communicating with donors, clients and the press if a leadership emergency arises, as well as steps your board should take to put in place a temporary leader and find a permanent replacement.
Start with a strong organization
Your succession plan will only be as effective as the organization that makes it. Among other things, you need a functional board, dependable funding sources, well-run programs and a dedicated staff that can handle change. Solid systems and well-documented procedures can help you leverage organizational knowledge and keep your nonprofit running smoothly during leadership transitions. Contact us for help planning for succession and to strengthen your current operations.
Don’t let the holiday rush keep you from taking some important steps to reduce your 2019 tax liability. You still have time to execute a few strategies, including:
1. Buying assets. Thinking about purchasing new or used heavy vehicles, heavy equipment, machinery or office equipment in the new year? Buy it and place it in service by December 31, and you can deduct 100% of the cost as bonus depreciation.
Although “qualified improvement property” (QIP) — generally, interior improvements to nonresidential real property — doesn’t qualify for bonus depreciation, it’s eligible for Sec. 179 immediate expensing. And QIP now includes roofs, HVAC, fire protection systems, alarm systems and security systems placed in service after the building was placed in service.
You can deduct as much as $1.02 million for QIP and other qualified assets placed in service before January 1, not to exceed your amount of taxable income from business activity. Once you place in service more than $2.55 million in qualifying property, the Sec. 179 deduction begins phasing out on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Additional limitations may apply.
2. Making the most of retirement plans. If you don’t already have a retirement plan, you still have time to establish a new plan, such as a SEP IRA, 401(k) or profit-sharing plans (the deadline for setting up a SIMPLE IRA to make contributions for 2019 tax purposes was October 1, unless your business started after that date). If your circumstances, such as your number of employees, have changed significantly, you also should consider starting a new plan before January 1.
Although retirement plans generally must be started before year-end, you usually can deduct any contributions you make for yourself and your employees until the due date of your tax return. You also might qualify for a tax credit to offset the costs of starting a plan.
3. Timing deductions and income. If your business operates on a cash basis, you can significantly affect your amount of taxable income by accelerating your deductions into 2019 and deferring income into 2020 (assuming you expect to be taxed at the same or a lower rate next year).
For example, you could put recurring expenses normally paid early in the year on your credit card before January 1 — that way, you can claim the deduction for 2019 even though you don’t pay the credit card bill until 2020. In certain circumstances, you also can prepay some expenses, such as rent or insurance and claim them in 2019.
As for income, wait until close to year-end to send out invoices to customers with reliable payment histories. Accrual-basis businesses can take a similar approach, holding off on the delivery of goods and services until next year.
Proceed with caution
Bear in mind that some of these tactics could adversely impact other factors affecting your tax liability, such as the qualified business income deduction. Contact us to make the most of your tax planning opportunities.
State law typically specifies the minimum number of directors a not-for-profit must have on its board. But so long as organizations fulfill that requirement, it’s up to them to determine how many total board members they need. Several guidelines can help you arrive at the right number.
Small vs. large
Both small and large boards come with perks and drawbacks. For example, smaller boards allow for easier communication and greater cohesiveness among the members. Scheduling is less complicated, and meetings tend to be shorter and more focused.
Several studies have indicated that group decision making is most effective when the group size is five to eight people. But boards on the small side of this range may lack the experience or diversity necessary to facilitate healthy deliberation and debate. What’s more, members may feel overworked and burn out easily.
Burnout is less likely with a large board where each member shoulders a smaller burden, including when it comes to fundraising. Large boards may include more perspectives and a broader base of professional expertise — for example, financial advisors, community leaders and former clients.
On the other hand, larger boards can lead to disengagement because the members may not feel they have sufficient responsibilities or a voice in discussions and decisions. Larger boards also require more staff support.
What you should weigh
If you’re assembling a board or thinking about resizing, consider:
Downsizing harder than upsizing
If you decide a larger board is in order, recruit new members. Trimming your board is a trickier proposition. For starters, you might need to change your bylaws. Generally, it’s best to set a range for board size in the bylaws, rather than a precise number.
Your bylaws already might call for staggered terms, which makes paring down simpler. As terms end, don’t replace members. Or establish an automatic removal process in which members are removed for missing a specified number of meetings.
An engaging experience
To successfully recruit and retain committed board members, you need to offer an engaging experience. Maintaining an appropriately sized board that makes the most of their talents is the first step.
Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the first quarter of 2020. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 47% of companies offer a community volunteer program for employees. Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose has found that large companies are even more likely to sponsor volunteer activities: 61% offer paid-release time volunteer programs or a structured corporate volunteer program.
If your not-for-profit suffers from a chronic volunteer shortage or has had to put off large projects for lack of helping hands, such corporate volunteer partnerships can be a boon. Teaming up with a well-known company can also raise your nonprofit’s profile with potential donors and the media. And employees who participate may decide to become permanent volunteers or financial supporters.
Finding a match
The best volunteer partnerships generally are those where the nonprofit’s mission and the company’s core business correlate. For example, an athletic clothing manufacturer is a perfect match for an afterschool soccer league.
Many businesses seek one-day volunteer opportunities that can accommodate all of their employees. If your organization is painting the walls of schools, serving free meals to the needy or setting up for a fundraising event, short-term assistance from an army of volunteers can be a lifesaver.
However, you shouldn’t create work where it doesn’t exist, particularly if coming up with activities or managing volunteers will put a strain on staff resources. Also be wary when companies offer volunteers on short notice. To be successful, corporate volunteer days take planning. For example, you may need to arrange such logistical details as meals or prepare training instructions and educational materials.
If you must turn down an eager corporate volunteer, do so carefully. Explain how the offer may, in fact, cost your nonprofit time and money. Then propose other volunteer opportunities.
Group volunteer days aren’t the only way to take advantage of employees who want to help. Many companies provide paid time for staff to volunteer for the charity of their choice. Other companies make financial contributions to organizations where employees volunteer.
To find companies with volunteer programs, check with the Points of Light Foundation (pointsoflight.org), VolunteerMatch (volunteermatch.org) or regional groups. Once you have a corporate partner, make sure you dedicate time to building the relationship. Think beyond a one-day volunteer event and try to gain an ongoing commitment, such as quarterly — and possibly some financial support, too.
With Thanksgiving behind us, the holiday season is in full swing. At this time of year, your business may want to show its gratitude to employees and customers by giving them gifts or hosting holiday parties. It’s a good idea to understand the tax rules associated with these expenses. Are they tax deductible by your business and is the value taxable to the recipients?
Customer and client gifts
If you make gifts to customers and clients, the gifts are deductible up to $25 per recipient per year. For purposes of the $25 limit, you don’t need to include “incidental” costs that don’t substantially add to the gift’s value, such as engraving, gift wrapping, packaging or shipping. Also excluded from the $25 limit is branded marketing collateral — such as small items imprinted with your company’s name and logo — provided they’re widely distributed and cost less than $4.
The $25 limit is for gifts to individuals. There’s no set limit on gifts to a company (for example, a gift basket for all team members of a customer to share) as long as they’re “reasonable.”
In general, anything of value that you transfer to an employee is included in his or her taxable income (and, therefore, subject to income and payroll taxes) and deductible by your business. But there’s an exception for noncash gifts that constitute a “de minimis” fringe benefit.
These are items small in value and given infrequently that are administratively impracticable to account for. Common examples include holiday turkeys or hams, gift baskets, occasional sports or theater tickets (but not season tickets), and other low-cost merchandise.
De minimis fringe benefits aren’t included in your employee’s taxable income yet they’re still deductible by your business. Unlike gifts to customers, there’s no specific dollar threshold for de minimis gifts. However, many businesses use an informal cutoff of $75.
Important: Cash gifts — as well as cash equivalents, such as gift cards — are included in an employee’s income and subject to payroll tax withholding regardless of how small and infrequent.
Throwing a holiday party
Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, certain deductions for business-related meals were reduced and the deduction for business entertainment was eliminated. However, there’s an exception for certain recreational activities, including holiday parties.
Holiday parties are fully deductible (and excludible from recipients’ income) so long as they’re primarily for the benefit of non-highly-compensated employees and their families. If customers, and others also attend, holiday parties may be partially deductible.
Spread good cheer
Contact us if you have questions about giving holiday gifts to employees or customers or throwing a holiday party. We can explain the tax rules.