This spring, Lawyers Alliance for New York, the leading provider of business and transactional legal services for nonprofit organizations that are improving the quality of life in New York City neighborhoods, published a new edition of Advising Nonprofits, one of its signature publications. Now in its fifth edition, this 531-page publication provides the most comprehensive road map available for identifying legal issues encountered by New York nonprofit staff, board members, and the attorneys who advise them.
Advising Nonprofits offers insight into key legal issues relating to corporate governance and structuring, contracts, regulatory compliance, fundraising, personnel management, lobbying and political activity, intellectual property, and revenue-generating activities. This new edition includes many legal and practical developments from the past decade. Extensive appendices contain model documents and practical checklists and charts, allowing nonprofits and their attorneys to easily and directly apply these concepts to their operations. The book is designed to help identify areas where more in-depth legal counsel is needed.
To increase the usefulness of the new Fifth Edition of Advising Nonprofits, Lawyers Alliance is offering it in an electronic format for the first time. An Individual Use PDF, for the limited, internal use by individuals or nonprofit organizations with budgets of less than $1 million, sells for $100, and a Site License PDF, for unlimited use by law firms, corporations, law school libraries, and mid- and large-sized nonprofits, is $200. The electronic versions include linked table of contents, index, and websites. The bound printed version of Advising Nonprofits sells for $100.
Lawyers Alliance’s network of pro bono lawyers from corporations and law firms and staff of experienced attorneys collaborate to deliver expert corporate, tax, real estate, employment, intellectual property, and other legal services to community organizations. By connecting lawyers, nonprofits, and communities, Lawyers Alliance helps nonprofits to develop affordable housing, stimulate economic development, promote community arts, strengthen urban health, and operate and advocate for vital programs for children and young people and other low-income New Yorkers. In addition to working with volunteer attorneys to provide direct legal services to nonprofits, Lawyers Alliance offers a variety of important educational resources designed to inform nonprofit managers and their counsel on the legal issues that are critical to achieving their missions.
Advising Nonprofits is part of Lawyers Alliance’s robust educational program designed to help nonprofit managers and their attorneys avoid legal problems. Lawyers Alliance offers a total of 18 publications, researched and written by experienced staff attorneys and volunteers. Bylaws That Work: A Manual for New York Nonprofits is designed to help New York not-for-profit corporations prepare new or revised bylaws. It contains a legal overview of topics commonly covered in bylaws, questionnaires to assist those developing bylaws, and sample documents for not-for-profit corporations with and without members. Getting Organized is a guide for attorneys representing organizations that seek to incorporate and secure recognition of tax-exempt status. It contains step-by-step instructions with legal commentary and sample forms.
Lawyers Alliance staff attorneys also teach approximately 20 workshops and 15 webinars each year. These trainings are open to nonprofits, both clients and non-clients, and cover a wide range of topics from starting a nonprofit to employment and real estate issues, political activity, and commercial co-ventures. In surveys conducted at the conclusion of each training, 83 percent of workshop attendees and 85 percent of webinar attendees said that the training would help them anticipate and avoid legal problems. Sixty-one percent of workshop attendees and 71 percent of webinar attendees reported that their organization’s administration will be more efficient.
In addition, Lawyers Alliance partners with Pfizer Inc. and DLA Piper LLP (US) three times a year for Strategic Legal Thinking Seminars for Nonprofit Executives. These seminars, generally held in New York and broadcast simultaneously to 16 DLA Piper sites across the country, offer a multi-faceted look at legal issues of concern to nonprofit organizations. Lawyers Alliance also provides an annual full-day CLE training, “Current Issues in Advising Nonprofit Organizations.” Periodically, Lawyers Alliance writes and distributes to thousands of nonprofits timely Legal Alerts covering relevant legal developments.
The Disaster Relief Initiative serves as a recent example of the role played by Lawyers Alliance’s educational programs. After the New York area was devastated by Hurricane Sandy, Lawyers Alliance relaunched the Initiative, first created after September 11th, to help nonprofits provide critical social services and emergency funds. The organization provides assistance to nonprofits affected by disasters, and those that are responding to them. In keeping with a strong commitment to educational services as well as legal services, Lawyers Alliance launched a special series of Sandy webinars and wrote and distributed Legal Alerts pertaining to post-storm legal issues. Lawyers Alliance also organized neighborhood legal consultations for nonprofits located in those communities hardest hit by the storm.
Lawyers Alliance’s work assisting nonprofit organizations that have been struggling with the recession serves as another example. Since 2008, many nonprofit organizations have been in a constant state of financial strain. Cash flow has been limited while the need and demand for their services has increased. In response, many nonprofits have made significant changes to their budgets, structures, and services in order to preserve programs and seek stability. The impact of Hurricane Sandy exacerbated the challenges for many New York communities and nonprofits. In late 2012, Lawyers Alliance for New York published Charting the Course: Legal Help for Nonprofits in Troubled Times, a report written in response to the economic downturn and its continued effect on nonprofit organizations.
Charting the Course discusses strategies that nonprofit managers and board members can use to lead their nonprofit organizations through the business and legal challenges posed by the protracted weak economy. Charting the Course points nonprofit managers, board members, and legal advisors to five key factors that are critical to their organization’s success: mission, people, facilities, funds, and relationships. The report shows how, despite a troubling and unpredictable financial environment, nonprofit organizations can pursue strategies in these five areas to sustain and enhance their programs, maximize resources, and better position themselves to accomplish their goals. Free PDF copies of Charting the Course’s 25-page Executive Summary, and $45 hard copies of the 171-page report including the Executive Summary, are available via Lawyers Alliance’s website.
The ways in which Lawyers Alliance’s educational programs help nonprofit managers are both practical and varied. For example, many nonprofits have questions concerning independent contractors and how to properly classify their employees. One organization that offers free and low-cost art classes to children from low-income neighborhoods revamped the format and content of its course offerings and replaced three full-time instructors, who historically have been treated as employees, with six less expensive part-time “consultants,” whom it pays as independent contractors. After obtaining legal guidance from one of Lawyers Alliance’s publications and consulting with counsel, it reclassified five of the six part-time workers as employees; the sixth is a professional artist who sets his own schedule and fees and uses the organization’s website to promote his course. When the New York State DOL inquired about the employment status of these workers, the organization had appropriate records to satisfy the regulators’ concerns and avoid any liability.
In another example, legal information can be a valuable tool to nonprofit organizations as they undertake financial planning. In late 2010, a charity sought to appropriate about five percent of the fair market value of three endowment funds, which all were created three years earlier and were “underwater,” with a fair market value that is less than the amount of the original donations. The board of directors had weighed the alternatives, including shutting down a youth program that would otherwise be financed by this appropriation, and concluded that appropriating funds would be a prudent course of action. After participating in a Lawyers Alliance webinar, and with help from legal counsel, the organization’s managers considered each fund separately, recorded in board minutes its consideration of all the “prudence factor” required by the New York Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act (NYPMIFA), prepared notices to the fifteen donors of the different funds, and refrained from invading the funds during the 90-day NYPMIFA notice period. After 90 days, when the donors either did not respond or responded indicating that the charity may spend as much of the endowment gift as is prudent under NYPMIFA, the charity transferred such funds into an account that paid for staffing for its youth program.
Sean Delany, Lawyers Alliance for New York’s Executive Director, positions the organization among peer institutions, law firms, community-based organizations, and the general public. He works with the organization’s board and staff to carry out all aspects of its operations. He advises nonprofits in the areas of exempt organizations tax law and nonprofit law, and teaches a Business Law Transactions Clinic at New York University School of Law. Elizabeth Perez, Senior Staff Attorney, manages Strengthening Organizational Stability, a program designed to help safety-net organizations fulfill their missions in difficult economic times. She is also responsible for Lawyers Alliance’s new Urban Health initiative, serving nonprofits that are promoting preventative health, food security, healthy aging, and making New York City a greener place.