There is a common assumption that churches and other nonprofits do not make money or need to have a flow of resources. However, that is a misconception. Churches need money to operate just like any other for-profit corporation.
That is why it is crucial for churches to work with an attorney who can provide them with the same level of legal support that a for-profit organization would expect from their legal counsel. From legal fundraising to oversight of 501(c)(3) status, the right law firm can help your church or nonprofit stay out of legal trouble while meeting your goals and serving your community.
As a church or other nonprofit, you probably operate on a small budget. What makes this way of operating more challenging is that you rely solely on donations for your capital. This can make it nearly impossible to plan, as donations can fluctuate wildly.
Having the right law firm supporting you is vitally important to make sure that you avoid legal issues with fundraising. Certain violations could risk your 501(c)(3) status. The attorney you choose must be able to understand your goals and mission while providing you with accurate guidance and support. Your mission of advocating for your beliefs should be matched by your attorney’s ability to advocate for your church.
Your attorney should be able to provide you with many services. From starting your church to routine fundraising efforts, you should be able to trust that your attorney has your church’s best interests at heart.
Creating a nonprofit organization may seem simple. If you have yet to go through this process, you can be excited about what comes after, but ignoring this important step could set you back many months. Your legal team will help you with the following items to create your nonprofit or church:
- Drafting the initial church bylaws.
- Supporting your decision on membership structure.
- Filling out IRS forms.
- Filling out forms to get 501(c)(3) status.
- Analyzing the IRS conflict of interest rules if you choose to have a board of trustees.
- Guiding you in getting sales tax exemption.
- Ongoing support of your religious nonprofit.
Once your church or nonprofit receives your 501(c)(3) status and is set up, there is still a great deal of work to be done to ensure proper internal control and operations. This goes for new and established churches. You should expect your legal counsel to help you with the following:
- Ensuring officers and other church leaders understand their fiduciary duties.
- Ensuring accurate and reasonable compensation for officers and employees.
- Creating legally compliant internal operating procedures, including background checks for employees and volunteers, especially those in close contact with children or finances.
- Staying up-to-date on changing nonprofit regulations to ensure your church stays compliant.
Ongoing operations of a nonprofit are not that much different from a for-profit organization. Just like for-profit companies, your church will encounter transactional legal matters. These may include:
- Complying with federal, state, and local fundraising requirements.
- Negotiating commercial real estate contracts.
- Preserving any of your church’s intellectual property rights.
Legal Rights Advocacy
Another ongoing need for many churches includes legal rights advocacy. As laws evolve, so do the needs of a church. You can expect your attorney to do the following:
- Defend the First Amendment and religious autonomy rights of your church.
- Address any religious land use violations.
- Provide general legal support and defense in and out of court.
- Implement internal procedures.
- · Fundraising Improvement Ideas.
Now that you know what to expect from your attorney, listed below are some ideas on how you can implement more effective and legally compliant fundraising practices. Avoiding legal pitfalls during your fundraising is vital to ensuring that your fundraising is successful and your church continues to operate effectively.
Know Your Audience
When looking to start a new fundraising drive, you need to know your audience. Just like any other for-profit company, your church will need to advertise. You need to figure out your target audience and where they are most likely to see your marketing. This may be on social media, billboards, or flyers. In reality, your marketing will probably include all of these. However, each of these types of marketing has some potential legal landmines.
You need to ensure that your flyers, for example, are not using images that have copyright protections. You need to make sure that your marketing on social media does not have offensive language. Your attorney can review your strategy before you make your marketing available to the public.
Know Your Brand
Along with ensuring you hit your target audience, you also need to give them a coherent, clear, and consistent message. You should think about these questions:
- Who are you?
- Who are you serving?
- Why give to you?
When you can clearly answer these questions, you need to make sure your marketing message includes the answers. However, you also need to make sure your message does not step on another nonprofit’s legal rights. This can happen through copyright and trademark infringement, and your attorney can help you make sure that your brand is unique.
Treat Fundraising as a Necessity
Fundraising is not always easy. Even though tithing is important, some people may see it as an option and cut it down or out during hard financial times. However, for your church, fundraising is how you operate and how you serve your community.
Many churches do not focus on fundraising as much as they should. They neglect the importance of working to get money flowing. Unfortunately, that can leave even well off churches and nonprofit organizations tightening their belts and having to reduce the services they provide to their communities.
Your mission is important, and without incoming cash, you cannot complete your mission or reach your goals. That is why it is important to have the right people in your organization doing the necessary outreach to attract adequate fundraising.
Depending on the size of your church, you may even need a team of fundraising and marketing experts to help you reach your audience, which helps you generate more cash flow. Ultimately, this helps you meet your goals. Building a robust fundraising team will not be easy. You will need to hire the right people, give them adequate initial and ongoing training, and continue to support them as both the needs of your church and community change.
Your attorney can help you develop the processes to ensure that you are hiring and paying in accordance with the nonprofit bylaws and regulations. They can also help you ensure that your training program meets all standards and you do not have any discriminatory practices. Above all, your legal counsel can help you continue serving your community and reaching your goals.
A successful church or nonprofit has to fundraise, but fundraising also comes with potential legal implications. Avoiding legal pitfalls will not only keep your church up and running while serving your community, it will also keep the flow of money coming your way. Our church law attorneys at Anchor Legal Group, PLLC can help you navigate a complex legal situation involving your church. Call us at 757-LAW-0000 or contact us online to schedule an initial consultation. Located in Virginia Beach, we serve clients throughout Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Norfolk, Suffolk, Portsmouth, Newport News, Hampton, and Eastern Shore. We also serve our clients throughout the United States through our network of associated attorneys.