Tuesday, November 29, 2011

IRS Tax-Exempt Ruling Letter

Whether or not a church should obtain its own 501(c)(3)ruling letter from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is a question with some confusion. It is a simple question with a multi-layered answer so here is my take on this issue.

1.      The IRS considers, by definition, all churches to be exempt from federal income taxes. Thus, just because you are a church, the IRS will not tax the organization for income tax purposes.


2.      Most churches that belong to denominational bodies fall under an umbrella that covers all churches in the regional, state or national organization. For instance, the local Episcopal diocese has a letter with the IRS which covers all churches in the Richmond diocese. That way, churches do not have to obtain their own ruling letter from the IRS.


3.      Times are changing and church finances are getting more complicated every day. In 2008, some churches have intentionally sought to violate the IRS requirement that churches not endorse a political candidate. In 2004, the IRS revoked the non-profit status of 56 churches (albeit temporarily while there was an investigation).


4.      Because some churches are getting involved in national politics, I am of the opinion that each church should control its own destiny as regards the IRS. I would hate for an umbrella letter (covering hundreds of churches) to be revoked because a few churches in that group decided to flaunt the IRS. My worst case scenario would be that the IRS would revoke the tax-exempt status of the entire umbrella while there is an investigation. In the end everything will work out fine, but in the meantime there can be some heartache because of the actions of other churches. So, my recommendation is that each church obtain its own ruling letter from the IRS. Yes, it is a pain to fill out the forms, get things approved, write a check for a few hundred dollars, and wait on the IRS for a few months, but think about the headache and hassle it could save the church later. Again, I feel it is important to control your own destiny and not potentially suffer because of the actions of other churches.

I hope that helps you and the decision by your church. I’ll be happy to talk with anyone about this. In January I’m going to launch a new career of consulting with churches in the area of finances; if I can help you and your church, please contact me.

Lead On!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Advice for Young Leaders

A good friend of mine recently became the CEO of a non-profit he's worked at for several years. He asked me for advice on what he should do in his first few days and months. This is what I suggested to him and to anyone who finds themselves in the lonely position at the top of an organization.

·        MBWA – management by walking around
o   This is the single greatest act management can ever do – get out on the floor where things are happening. Don’t hide in your office. Wander around, have coffee, do idle chit chat, talk about football games, be visible and approachable. “The Boss” is scary enough – decrease the fear factor.
o   MBWA is absolutely critical and huge. You get to see how clean (or not) the building is, who is in the office, who isn’t in the office (because of vacation or sick), what offices look like, what the grounds look like, what the morale is like, etc. MBWA  is a great way to get feedback in a non-threatening manner.
o   Administrative assistants will make or break a leader. Keep them informed and find out what’s going on from them. Work the grapevine – make it your friend and put stuff on the grapevine as you need to. When it comes to office equipment, let the administrative assistants be the ones that make the decision about which copier to get (within budget boundaries), etc. Empower them – they are the ones that are going to use it more than anyone else.
·        Find a mentor/coach
o   The leader needs someone to vent to, to seek guidance and wisdom from, and to bounce ideas off of before sharing the ideas with those whom the leader is leading. Find someone you trust and meet with him/her regularly (should be a person of the same gender).
o   This should be one person – some form of sage and whose input does not need to be publicly acknowledged (that person is not in it for the credit).
·        Ask for staff input
o   Within the first 90 days, meet with each person and find out what is one thing they wish would happen or that they need to do their job. Then see if you can make that happen within the next 90-180 days. It shows the leader is listening, cares, and is willing to make things happen if it is within his power (and budget).
o   Meet weekly with the executive staff. Meet monthly with each level of staff, including having a monthly meeting with the secretarial/support staff. Listen to your staff and remind them at least monthly of the big picture vision and strategy for achieving that vision.
o   Always let your staff know what you expect from them and how they’re doing (“One Minute Manager” stuff). When the annual personnel evaluation comes along, you will have met so often with your staff that they will know exactly where they stand with you, so the eval should take about 15-20 minutes (enough time to fill out the paperwork and have a prayer).
o   Consult regularly with your staff and ask them sincerely for insight/input and then act on it. Ask your staff for ideas on how to reach the vision (tactical moves to achieve the strategic goals) - they'll appreciate being heard. Don't kill ideas before they're hatched - let some ideas develop more fully before you either kill them or invest substantial resources in them.
o   If someone gives a great idea that is implemented, give credit to that person, publicly. It’s a great morale booster and costs you nothing, but you gain lots of capital.
·        Read together
o   Get some GREAT books on business leadership and read them together. Personally I prefer business leadership over “Christian leadership” books – I find them more practical and less preachy.
o   Suggestions: “Me, myself and Bob” by Phil Vischer (of Veggie Tales – this is one of the absolute best business books I’ve ever read and funny as heck, too), “In Search of Excellence” by Tom Peters (or other Tom Peters’ books), “The Best Question Ever” by Andy Stanley (Visioneering is also very good but TBQE is one of the best books I’ve ever, ever read). Andy Stanley likes “The E-Myth Revisited” by Michael Gerber and used it to guide his church to what it is today.
o   Discuss the books, learn from the books, critique them, implement what they say, move on to the next book.
o   Go through 2-3 books a year on leadership.
·        Have fun
o   Each quarter (or more often) have the staff do something fun, not professional. You’ll learn more about each other outside the office than sitting in your workplace.
o   For instance: bowling, painting pottery, ropes course, canoeing, ballgame, go to a movie, etc. This is not sitting in a restaurant but doing something together – essentially, making memories from an experience together.
o   Divide the staff and ask them (not your executive assistant) to plan the day and give them a budget (maybe $250 each quarter) for them to plan something fun in an afternoon (or even a whole day). This will help the staff to keep things light when life/work gets very tense.
o   I can’t stress enough how important it is for the staff to get out of the office and do things together and even have events when the staff families are invited to join in.
·        Know the numbers
o   Keep up with all of your financial data. Each month ask the CFO to meet with you (and the treasurer of the board) to review the past month’s financials and to forecast future expenses and revenues. Ask your CFO what numbers are of my interest to others (the ones he/she cites) and be able to repeat those key numbers to outsiders with ease (and understand what you’re saying).
o   Bring your CFO to key meetings and get him to speak to the finer points (the geek-speak detail).
o   Hire me as your financial consultant/coach or your CFO (just checking to see if you’re reading this).
·        Cultivate your top 25 donors
o   Learn who they are.
o   Meet one for coffee each week or every other week (make it a regular part of your schedule to meet with a top donor).
o   In your meetings, share with them your vision for the future of the organization. Ask them for input and insight – they’ll be honored to give it and appreciate your asking.
o   Don’t ask them for money – that’s what they’re expecting. After a few meetings, they’ll ask you how they can help – if they’ve truly bought into the vision. Be able to cite financial figures – they’ll be impressed.
o   Never be afraid to talk money with the wealthy – they’re over it. Non-wealthy types like us are the ones with a problem in talking about money. See “Robbing the Rich” in my blog. The wealthy want to give money away – give them a compelling reason to give it to you – one that they’ll tell others about and feel good about.

Lead On!