[Board] Non profit support - follow up summary

Tyler Mitchell (OSGeo) tmitchell at osgeo.org
Mon Mar 8 20:58:42 PST 2010

Hi all,
I had a good phone meeting with an attorney in the US, to get some help
on a few things, namely the 501c3 application but also some general
guidance.  It was our first meeting and he gave a good critique of a few
items.  He has vast experience starting/supporting nonprofits so gave
some good comments on our current response answers.  Here are a few
things we talked about, that either he noticed/flagged for me or that I
had had on my mind to ask...

* IRS seems to have struggled recently through the challenge of
understanding the kinds of "content" that software-related organisations
* We chose to represent ourselves as both an educational and charitable
organisation.  That relates to our teaching (FOSS4G and Education
Committee, etc.) plus our free software and how it is used.
* We need to clearly show a couple purpose-related aspects of OSGeo more
-- What kinds of tasks/abilities do we actually teach to people?    What
specifically are they learning from us?
-- He suggests we provide a representative sample of educational
material (education)
-- What do people use our software for, that would be in the public
interest?  (charity)
-- "Charitable" needs to be tied to some way that our activities "help"
the public.  e.g. other orgs might focus on protecting environment,
pollution, etc.  Don't tie it back to say it's charitable because it's
-- Suggest along lines of: "What we do is in the public interest because
what we do allows the following activities to take place and they
provide this clear benefit..."

* There was a question about whether 501c6 was more applicable to us,
but he disagreed and hadn't seen groups like ours falling into the
category of 'trade associations' in particular because we do not have a
"shared common economic activity" and aren't promoting some commercial

* As part of a 501c3 we need to show ongoing public support, on a
financial basis.  The question I had was how did corporate donations fit
 into requirement.  Corporate donations should actually qualify as
"public support" in the regulations.  There is another approach that may
be taken to show this, by including "earned income" from something like
FOSS4G.  I will get more info on that, but it looks like we have two
different, solid, ways of showing public support.

* Tax filings requirements during the 501c3 application process are not
crystal clear.  He advised that we should be submitting a Form 990 - the
"long form" since we have more than the threshold amount of donations.

* I was wondering about an potential issues with operating my office out
of Canada or from non-US addresses - there should be no issues at all.
Some US registered non profits are set up for sole operation in a
foreign place.

* Got some clarification on what it means to "operate" out of another
country (e.g. Canada office, FOSS4G events)

* A monthly board meeting is a good sign of ongoing commitment to the
organisation, e.g. that it won't die off or spin out of control.  Some
other nonprofits are encouraged to have directors sign a statement of
commitment to show this.

* Briefly discussed insurance and the question of how does our foreign
aspect affect it.  US-based orgs are most likely to be sued in the
location they are registered or operate in.  Or also in location that a
particular event-related accident occurs - e.g. if FOSS4G didn't have
its own insurance.  He mentioned considering having a liability waiver
for either attendees of events, volunteers or presenters.  Can't recall
which exactly but waiving the right to sue is common.

* I'm updating our responses this week and will flash them past him
again for another critique.  Response is due by March 19th.  Your input
would be welcome too, considering the above.

* His costs are less than $200 / hour and he seems efficient, so this
round of support will likely cost $500-600, though I hope to have him on
retainer for other questions that might come up.

* They also provide board training!  He's in Oregon State, but able to
travel to us, or even to a small group of our directors if desired.  A
conference call would be valuable too if you are interested.  Some
directors haven't been on a board before and might benefit from some
encouraging training.  I can coordinate something along with FOSS4G if
interested (either this guy or someone else locally in Barcelona for

Anyone else interested in getting started on the Form 990 tax filing
while I'm working on the 501c3? :-)

Hope that's interesting to you and fills some gaps in our knowledge.

Talk to you later,

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