Resources for US Nonprofits

Compliance, Risk Management, and Pro Bono Assistance

U.S. Nonprofit Compliance and Risk Management Resources - cityscape header graphic

Many resources are available to U.S. nonprofits that deal with compliance with federal and state law and risk management.

A good place to begin is the paper Hardening the Target: Nonprofits under Fire, written by Adler & Colvin, a law firm that specializes in nonprofit law. The memo flags issues that nonprofits can consider when assessing their compliance with applicable laws and broader risks to their organizations, particularly if they work on politically sensitive topics.

Legal & Financial Compliance

Nonprofits in the United States must navigate many legal and financial compliance requirements. The links to resources below help guide them.

General Resources

These resources are a good place to begin when looking for information about legal and financial compliance issues related to U.S. nonprofits.

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 state law, links to state agencies, local legal resources, and local management and technical assistance providers.

The National Association of State Charity Officials (NASCO)

NASCO’s resources page offers links to national and state resources for charities, including each state’s charity regulator.

National Council of Nonprofits

The National Council of Nonprofits website includes a tools and resources page with resources for nonprofits produced or curated by the council. Some of these resources help ensure that nonprofits are in compliance with the law, while others present best practices or discussions of relevant issues. Topics include advocacy, boards and governance, employment, ethics and accountability, financial management, fundraising, and leadership.

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

Council on Foundations

While primarily tailored for foundations, the Council on Foundations’ resources page has toolkits and links to information that is useful to many other nonprofits. Information dealing with legal compliance covers such topics 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 such as 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 for nonprofits. The resources were collected to benefit California nonprofits, but many have more general applicability. They include model legal documents related to corporate governance, volunteers, chapter creation, procurement, and the delivery of certain types of services and programs.

IRS and Tax Exempt Status

Internal Revenue Service (IRS)

The IRS website provides useful information for charities and other nonprofits, including answers to frequently asked questions about the U.S. federal government’s requirements for nonprofits.

The IRS Stay Exempt webpage provides guidance for 501(c)(3) organizations on applying for and maintaining tax-exempt status, including information on required disclosures, unrelated business income, political activities, and charitable contributions.

Foundation Center

The Foundation Center’s GrantSpace website provides materials to help nonprofits understand how to maintain their tax exempt status and common ways in which it is lost.

GrantSpace also provides resources concerning the “public support test,” which is used in determining whether a nonprofit is a public charity or a private foundation.

Board and Governance

BoardSource

BoardSource provides information and other support to nonprofit organizations on legal issues related to the roles and responsibilities of boards of directors.

Among its resources is Top 10 Ways to Get Investigated by a State Regulator, a 2017 guide designed to help boards of directors understand the regulatory vulnerabilities of their organizations.

National Council of Nonprofits

The National Council of Nonprofits 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 offering services to nonprofit organizations, provides an overview of some 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 nonprofit organizations related to the rules of advocacy under federal and state law. The site includess resources on electoral activity, efforts to influence legislation, ballot measures, and litigation.

Bolder Advocacy also provides materials to use in assessing whether to create a 501(c)(4) organization, including a strategy and discussion guide.

National Council of Nonprofits

The National Council of Nonprofits offers an extensive collection of resources related to advocacy and legal compliance.

Among other materials, the council provides a primer on 501(h) election, a means of measuring whether lobbying is a substantial part of an organization’s activities.

Charitable Solicitation

Harbor Compliance

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

Simple Charity Registration

Simple Charity Registration is a for-profit company that offers a paid automated service for registering charities in compliance with individual state laws. The company was created in partnership with GuideStar, the National Council of Nonprofits, BizFilings, and Perlman & Perlman Attorneys at law.

Foreign Assistance: The Mexico City Policy

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.” The Mexico City policy only applies to U.S. nonprofits accepting U.S. government funding for foreign assistance programs.

For more general information on foreign assistance, see our Philanthropy Law Report series, Global Grantmaking Country Notes, and information on cross-border funding.

USAID and Global Health Learning Center

The U.S. Agency for International Development provides an overview of the Mexico City policy and links to relevant rules.

In conjunction with Global Health Learning Center, USAID has developed a short online course to ensure that nonprofits that receive U.S. foreign assistance funding are in compliance with the policy.

Kaiser Family Foundation

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

Risk Management

Nonprofits can face a variety of risks, including harassment of employees, surveillance, and intimidation lawsuits by opponents. This section provides links to resources that may be useful for organizations as they seek to identify and mitigate risks.

General Resources

Nonprofit Risk Management Center (NRMC)

The Nonprofit Risk Management Center has collected an extensive library of resources on nonprofit risk management, including articles, infographics, tutorials, and webinars. Areas of focus include reputation, legal compliance, fiscal oversight and fraud protection, workplace safety, volunteer management, employment practices, and governance.

Roadmap Consulting

In 2017, Roadmap Consulting produced a report entitled Weathering the Storms: A Toolkit on Protecting Your Organization Against Opposition Attacks to help nonprofits prepare for potential attacks by opponents, such as allegations of partisan political activity, intimidation lawsuits, harassment and violence, and infiltration, surveillance, and entrapment.

Charity & Security Network (CSN)

The Charity and Security Network has a Know Your Rights page with resources, information, and training that nonprofits can use to protect themselves against government audits, seizure of assets, or designation of their organizations, directors, or employees as terrorist groups.

To help nonprofits develop response plans when faced with government scrutiny, CSN produced a report in 2017 entitled Rapid Response Plans for NPOs: Political Attacks and Government Investigations.

New York Lawyers for the Public Interest

New York Lawyers for the Public Interest produced a helpful brochure in 2017 entitled Guidance to Nonprofits Regarding Immigration Enforcement, which outlines the rights of nonprofits to protect their immigrant clients and provides information on establishing best practices.

Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)

EFF’s Surveillance Self-Defensewebpage provides tips, tools, and strategies for safer online communications, especially by activists.

Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs)

Protect the Protest

A number of organizations have faced or been threatened with strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPPs. SLAPPS threaten the free speech of nonprofits, community organizers, journalists, and others by forcing them to spend large sums of money on legal costs to defend themselves against baseless legal claims. Protect the Protest has created a Know Your Rights Page for victims of SLAPPs, which includes links to information on the avoidance of SLAPPs.

Nonprofit Insurance

Nonprofit Risk Management Center (NRMC)

The Nonprofit Risk Management Center provides a number of resources on navigating insurance products for nonprofit organizations. The page includes a primer on insurance fundamentals.

Nonprofit Insurance Alliance Group

The Nonprofits Insurance Alliance Group is four nonprofits that provide insurance to thousands of nonprofits across the country. The group also offers useful resources to help nonprofits understand and mitigate risk.

Public Counsel

Public Counsel’s 2015 guide, A Nonprofit’s Guide to Risk Management and Insurance, produced in cooperation with the District of Columbia Bar’s Pro Bono Program, provides a brief overview of insurance products available to nonprofit organizations.

Pro Bono Assistance

The navigation of complex legal and financial compliance requirements can be difficult. A variety of law and consulting firms provide legal advice tailored to nonprofits. Pro bono legal services are also available to some nonprofits, and many local bar associations operate pro bono helplines. Links to some pro bono resources are below.

General Resources

Foundation Center

The interactive map on the Foundation Center’s GrantSpacewebsite provides links to state resources for nonprofit organizations, includes organizations that provide pro bono assistance.

GrantSpace also provides answers to frequently asked questions about finding pro bono assistance.

Community Action Program Legal Services (CAP Law)

Community Action Program Legal Services, or CAPLAW, offers a list of local providers that help nonprofit organizations find pro bono legal assistance in more than twenty states.

Lawyers Alliance for New York

The Lawyers Alliance for New York suggests general resources for nonprofits, including pro bono legal providers in more than one 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: The content on this webpage is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal or tax advice given by ICNL. While ICNL believes the resources linked to 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 linked pages is complete, accurate, or up to date.