Starting and Managing a Nonprofit Organization: A Legal Guide

By Bruce R. Hopkins | Go to book overview

Preface

This book was conceived about 25 years ago; the conception remains a vividly memorable experience. Its genesis occurred during a speech before managers of relatively small nonprofit organizations. I had been assigned some esoteric topic on the law of tax-exempt organizations and was about five minutes into my presentation when suddenly—to my chagrin—I realized, from the glazed-over looks, that few people in the audience had even the faintest idea what I was talking about. The remainder of them did not seem to care. Preservation instincts took over. The assignment was hopeless, so I abandoned my intended remarks. (I literally threw my notes on the floor, at least generating—to my relief—a little laughter.) Instead, we talked about what my audience really wanted to hear: some of the basics of the laws affecting nonprofit organizations.

The experience was not a measure of the level of intelligence of that particular audience; rather, it reflects the fact that those who manage nonprofit organizations— particularly the smaller ones—often lack understanding of the basics of the laws that regulate their operations and the legal problems that may be awaiting them in their blissful ignorance. A massive gap exists between the program planning and the legal expertise of many of those responsible for the fate of nonprofit organizations. The law can either help them achieve their goals or prevent them from succeeding.

I was struck by the thought that there was a need for a book providing a basic summary of the laws that affect the operation of nonprofit organizations. The book I envisioned would have no citations or footnotes—just readable text.

I had no shortage of questions from my practice, speeches over the years, and 21 years of teaching a law school course on tax-exempt organizations. I began recalling and noting these questions and was surprised to realize how the same ones are asked again and again. Even though I have practiced law in excess of 40 years, I still find myself asked many of the same basic questions. This book has been written to provide answers to those questions.

The questions are fundamental and important, but they reveal tremendous confusion. The confusion is understandable: The law in this field is confusing—even overwhelming. The ultimate purposes of this book are to decipher the Internal Revenue Code as it affects nonprofit organizations; to translate the intricacies of the law in these areas and try to make them understandable to nonlawyer managers of “nonprofits’’; and otherwise to help to close the gap between goals and knowledge in nonprofit organizations.

The law affecting nonprofit organizations is volatile. Ongoing change in this field of law is a constant, and many regulatory changes lie ahead. I have tried to make the book sufficiently general to withstand most of this change. Yet, once the basics in this field are grasped, some readers may want more detail and more current information. My monthly newsletter, Bruce R. Hopkins’ Nonprofit Counsel (Wiley), is a useful resource for keeping up with legal developments that affect nonprofit organizations.

For some readers, there may be more in the book than they need at this time, particularly if they are just beginning to establish a nonprofit organization or they are

-ix-

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