Why having an attorney is crucial for nonprofits of any size
From Phil Stolberg, Chief Operating Officer
You lead a nonprofit organization. You have dedicated your passion, enthusiasm and energy to follow your calling – to fulfill your organization’s mission. You wish only to make a powerful difference, to impact the lives of those you serve and for your organization to thrive.
But, in the midst of performing your good work, your senior staff and board leadership must also be focused on a sometimes overwhelming maze of complicated legal issues.
You must understand and comply with a wide array of often confusing local, state and federal regulations. These time-consuming – and often costly regulations – impact not just large nonprofits, but all nonprofit organizations. For these reasons, and many more, nonprofits need to hire good legal counsel to help them navigate these issues in order to fulfill their mission.
Nonprofits must meet compliance requirements
Your organization’s leadership and board have the authority and responsibility for guiding and protecting your organization from costly legal risks. There’s no question that legal compliance rigors are almost always distracting and exhausting.
Recently, at my church, I helped draft campus rental contracts that defined usage by those who are not members of the congregation. These agreements addressed the types of groups and functions that would, and would not, be authorized to rent the church facilities. At the beginning, this assignment appeared to be fairly straightforward. But we soon discovered that counsel from our insurance brokers and a legal review was required to ensure that our agreements complied with current local and state laws.
As I mentioned before, legal compliance requirements do not discriminate by size of organization… or budget… or tenure. Quite often, the nonprofits organizations that are most impacted are those whose well-intentioned leadership believe that their good and worthy work exempts them from all sorts of legal compliance regulations. That is simply not the case.
There are many areas where hiring good legal counsel will serve your nonprofit:
- Financial record keeping
- Registration requirements
- Risk management
- Labor laws (including harassment compliance)
- Protection of brands & trademarks
- Fundraising laws
- Privacy protecting staff, donors & those served by your organization
These are all key areas governed by legal regulations – and every nonprofit benefits greatly from the help of an attorney who has a deeper, more nuanced understanding of the issues at hand to help guide you through the process.
Resources for Nonprofits on Hiring Legal Counsel
Fortunately, there are numerous resources available for identifying risks and offering assistance to navigate the many tricky and complicated legal regulations. I suggest that you check out:
“The Top 10 Legal Risks Facing Nonprofit Boards” by Melanie Lockwood Herman, Executive Director of the Nonprofit Risk Management Center. This article, published a decade ago, still offers practical and contemporary tips for addressing the most significant risks nonprofit leaders face.
The BoardSource (boardsource.org) is a recognized, go-to resource that provides constructive counsel for nonprofit leadership. The BoardSource offers a wide array of tools and conferences targeted at strengthening each leader’s effectiveness and impact.
The BoardEffect (boardeffect.com) offers guidance to keep you up-to-date on the latest issues, trends and best practices in board management and governance. They offer webinars, helpful resources and an online portal so your board members can collaborate and make informed decisions.
Copilevitz, Lam & Raney (clrkc.com) is a full-service legal firm with extensive experience and in-depth understanding of the complex legal issues facing nonprofit organizations. They are arguably the largest and most experienced firm focused exclusively on the nonprofit world. Their partners have even argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.
By hiring good legal counsel to provide informed guidance on any issue that may arise, you’ll not only be protecting your organization, but also benefiting from their legal insights and experience.
At BDI, we have often sought counsel, intelligence and aid from these and other resources. We aspire to make a difference, and to do so, must stay focused by dedicating the necessary time and effort to comply with and address the legal issues that confront us every day.
The importance of hiring good counsel to protect your nonprofit cannot be overstated. If you haven’t already done so, we encourage you to find a trusted partner today to protect your organization so you can continue to do what you do best… transforming lives and strengthening your communities.
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