Resources for U.S. Nonprofits: Legal and Financial Compliance, Risk Management, and Pro Bono Assistance

This page, part of ICNL’s U.S. Program, provides links to resources for U.S. nonprofits to help them comply with relevant federal and state law as well as to manage risk.

One good place to begin is a memo written by Adler & Colvin, a law firm specializing in nonprofit law, entitled Hardening the Target: Nonprofits under Fire, that flags significant issues that nonprofits – particularly those working on politically sensitive topics - should consider when assessing both whether they are in compliance with applicable law as well as broader risks to their organization.

Legal and Financial Compliance

Risk Management

Pro Bono Assistance

 


 

Legal and Financial Compliance

General Resources

    Foundation Center

    • The Foundation Center’s Grantspace website provides an interactive map with links to state resources for nonprofit organizations. Each state page contains start-up guides on how nonprofits can incorporate under the state’s law, links to state agencies, local legal resources, and local management/technical assistance providers.

    The National Association of State Charity Officials (NASCO)

    • NASCO’s Resources page has lists of links to national and state-specific resources for charities, including links to the state’s charity regulator.

    National Council of Nonprofits

    • The National Council of Nonprofits website includes a Tools and Resources page containing Council of Nonprofits-produced and curated resources for nonprofits. Some of these resources are directed at ensuring nonprofits are in compliance with the law, while others are best practices or discussions of relevant issues. Topics covered by the website include advocacy, boards and governance, employment, ethics and accountability, financial management, fundraising, and leadership.

    • The Council of Nonprofits website also provides a US map and directory with links to each state’s association of nonprofits, so that users can seek out state-specific legal compliance and other resources.

    Council on Foundations

    • While primarily tailored for foundations, the Council’s resources page contains toolkits and links to information that is useful to many nonprofits, including on legal compliance related to topics such as advocacy and lobbying; boards and governance; financial management; ethics and accountability; self-dealing; tax filing, audits, and public disclosure requirements.

    501 Commons

    • 501 Commons produces and curates extensive tools and best practices for nonprofit organizations. Resources are divided into topics including: advocacy and community engagement, assessment, boards and governance, communications, financial management, and legal resources. A few resources are specific to Washington State, but most are more generally applicable.

    Stanford Law School Organizations and Transactions Clinic

    • Stanford Law School's Organizations and Transactions Clinic provides forms and model legal documents related to nonprofits.  These were designed for California nonprofits, but many have general applicability. These include model legal documents related to corporate governance, volunteers, the creation of chapters, procurement, and for the delivery of certain types of services, such as consulting and program delivery.

The above resources are a good place to begin when looking for information about legal and financial compliance questions related to nonprofits. Below are frequently requested resources that focus on more specific issues of compliance.

IRS and Tax Exempt Status

    Internal Revenue Service (IRS)

    • The IRS website provides useful information for charities and other nonprofits that covers many frequently asked questions about the federal government's requirements for nonprofits.

    • The IRS Stay Exempt webpage provides guides for 501(c)(3) organizations about how to receive and maintain tax-exempt status (including materials on required disclosures, unrelated business income, political activities, and charitable contributions).

    Foundation Center

    • The Foundation Center's Grantspace provides a set of materials to help nonprofits understand how to maintain their tax exempt status and discusses common ways that it is lost.

    • Grantspace also provides resources concerning the “public support test” used when determining whether a nonprofit is a public charity or private foundation.

Board and Governance  

    BoardSource

    • BoardSource provides information and support to nonprofit organizations on legal issues related to boards of directors’ roles, responsibilities, and governance.

    • Among the resources offered is “Top 10 Ways to Get Investigated by a State Regulator,” a 2017 report designed to help those serving on boards’ of directors understand regulatory vulnerabilities of organizations.

    National Council of Nonprofits 

    • The Council of Nonprofits also offers a collection of tools and resources about the roles and responsibilities of nonprofit boards of directors.

    501c3.org

    • 501c3.org, a for-profit company that offers services for nonprofits, provides an overview of some of the situations in which board members may face legal liability for not fulfilling their duties.

Lobbying and Advocacy

    Bolder Advocacy

    • Bolder Advocacy has compiled a wide collection of resources for nonprofits related to the rules of advocacy under federal and state law. Users can find resources related to electoral activity, influencing legislation, ballot measures, litigation, and other topics.

    • Bolder Advocacy also provides specific materials to assess whether or not to create a 501(c)(4) organization, including a strategy and discussion guide on when to set up a 501(c)(4).

    National Council of Nonprofits

    • Council of Nonprofits provides an extensive set of resources related to advocacy, and staying in compliance with existing law.

    • Among other materials, Council of Nonprofits provides a primer on whether or not to take the 501(h) election (which provides a means of measuring if lobbying is a “substantial” part of an organization's activities).

Charitable Solicitation

    Harbor Compliance

    • Most states require nonprofits to register before soliciting donations in the state. Harbor Compliance, which is a for-profit company, provides a Fundraising Compliance Guide, produced in partnership with the Foundation Center, GuideStar, and the National Council of Nonprofits. The guide provides comprehensive information about charitable solicitation compliance, including state-by-state information.

    Simple Charity Registration

    • A for-profit company that provides an automated service to register a charity in compliance with individual state laws for a small fee. Created in partnership with GuideStar, the National Council of Nonprofits, BizFilings, and Perlman & Perlman Attorneys at law.

Compliance with the Mexico City Policy (for U.S. nonprofits involved in foreign assistance only)

    USAID and Global Health Learning Center

    • The “Mexico City Policy” requires non-U.S. nonprofits, including partners of domestic U.S. organizations, to certify that they do not “perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning.” In conjunction with USAID, Global Health Learning Center provides a short online course to ensure that nonprofits that receive U.S. foreign assistance funding are in compliance with this policy.

    • USAID also provides an overview of the Mexico City Policy with links to relevant rules.

    Kaiser Family Foundation

    • The Kaiser Family Foundation provides a useful explainer of the Mexico City policy.

     


 

Risk Management

Nonprofits, depending on their mission and activities, can face a variety of risks. These can range from harassment of employees to surveillance to intimidation lawsuits by opponents. This section provides links to resources that may be useful for organizations in identifying and mitigating those risks.

General Resources

    Nonprofit Risk Management Center (NRMC)

    • NRMC, a consultancy for nonprofits, provides an extensive library of resources on nonprofit risk management topics. Areas of focus include: reputation, legal compliance, fiscal oversight and fraud protection, workplace safety, volunteer management, employment practices, and governance. The library includes articles, infographics, tutorials, and webinars produced by NRMC or others.

    Roadmap Consulting

    Charity & Security Network (CSN)

    • CSN hosts a Know Your Rights page that provides resources, information and training that nonprofits can use to protect themselves and be prepared in the event that the government audits their operations; seizes assets; or designates their organization, director or employees a terrorist group. Information is grouped by topic, including “Steps You Can Take to Protect Yourself,” “What to Do If The Government Knocks On Your Door,” “Permissible Activities,” and “IRS Audits.”

    • To assist nonprofits in creating response plans when faced with government scrutiny CSN has created a report in 2017 entitled Rapid Response Plans for NPOs: Political Attacks and Government Investigations.

    New York Lawyers for the Public Interest

    Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)

    • EFF’s Surveillance Self-Defense webpage provides tips, tools, and strategies for safer online communication, including specific information for activists.

    SLAPPs

    Protect the Protest

    • A number of organizations have faced strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP) or the threat of such lawsuits. These lawsuits are designed to chill the speech of nonprofits, community organizers, members of the media, and others by forcing them to spend large amounts of money on legal costs to defend themselves from baseless legal claims. Protect the Protest has created a Know Your Rights Page for Victims of SLAPP that also has links to resources on how to avoid SLAPPs.

Nonprofit Insurance

    Nonprofit Risk Management Center (NRMC)

    • NRMC provides a number of resources about navigating insurance products that are available to nonprofits, including this primer on insurance fundamentals.

    Nonprofit Insurance Alliance Group

    • The Nonprofits Insurance Alliance Group is comprised of four nonprofits that provide insurance to thousands of nonprofits across the country. The alliance group also provides useful resources for nonprofits to understand and mitigate risk.

    Public Counsel

     


 

Pro Bono Assistance

Navigating legal and financial compliance issues can often be complex. A variety of law firms provide legal services tailored for the needs of nonprofits and consulting firms can help with strategy and risk assessment.

There are pro bono legal services that are available to some nonprofits. Many local bar associations provide pro bono helplines. Links to some relevant pro bono networks are listed below.

    Foundation Center

    • The Foundation Center’s Grantspace website provides an interactive map with links to state resources for nonprofit organizations. For many states the resource page includes links to organizations that provide pro bono assistance to nonprofits in that state.

    • Grantspace also provides a brief FAQ page on finding pro bono assistance.

    CAP Law

    • The Community Action Program Legal Services, Inc., provides a list of local providers that help nonprofit organizations find pro bono legal assistance in over 20 U.S. states.

    Lawyers Alliance for New York

    • The Lawyers Alliance for New York hosts a page of general resources for nonprofits that includes a list of pro bono legal providers for nonprofit organizations in over a dozen states.

    Pro Bono Partnership

    • Pro Bono Partnership connects lawyers who provide pro bono business and transactional legal services to nonprofit organizations in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

     


 

Disclaimer: ICNL provides the information found on this webpage for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute legal or tax advice given by ICNL. While ICNL believes the resources linked to on this page will be helpful to some nonprofits, visitors should use their own judgment in using these resources. ICNL does not promise that the information provided on this page or any of the links are complete, accurate, or up-to-date.