2018 may have been the year of #MeToo, but sexual and other harassment is a perennial issue for churches, other ministries, and employers. Wagenmaker & Oberly is pleased to recommend Telios Teaches as an excellent resource for these critical areas.
Imagine you have recently joined a nonprofit board. The organization’s bookkeeper, a long-time employee, approaches you and shares her concern that lately she has entered several checks signed by the Treasurer and made out to “Cash.” The Treasurer has provided no explanation except to tell her to assign the expenses to “Office Supplies” and not to worry. What do you do next?
Assess the Whistleblower Problem
First, identify the problem. The bookkeeper has made a “whistleblower” complaint of official misconduct: she has reported apparently unethical and possibly illegal activity by one of the nonprofit’s leaders. The bookkeeper is looking to you for help, as a director entrusted with fiduciary responsibilities to carefully guard the nonprofit’s charitable resources, legal obligations, and reputation. The IRS, the state Attorney General, and donors likewise all hold you and the other directors accountable for the nonprofit’s well-being.
Next, check to make sure the organization has a whistleblower policy. Better yet – do so now, to be fully prepared! It is now standard “best practice” for responsible nonprofits to have a board-approved whistleblower policy in place. Indeed, the IRS Form 990 information return specifically asks whether such policy exists, as a measure of overall good governance. The whistleblower policy should set forth a high standard for ethical conduct among the organization’s leaders and workers, along with a strong prohibition against any retaliation for whistleblowers. The federal Sarbanes-Oxley Act also contains certain whistleblower protections, as do some state laws.
With the new year upon us, our hope is that all of our nonprofit clients will thrive in 2016, fulfilling their organizational mission and impacting their communities. As attorneys, we understand the importance of legal compliance for an organization’s mission, governance, and success. The following is a list of ten critical legal areas that may impact nonprofit organizations in 2016. Resolve to address them throughout the year, especially any deficiencies that warrant further action.
2. Use Social Media Well. Social media is a powerful tool for many nonprofits. Continual improvements can help promote an organization’s mission and nurture its good reputation. Unfortunately, many nonprofits fail to take the time to understand how copyright and trademark laws govern their use of photos, videos, or other media in their posts. In using social media, nonprofits need to teach their workers how to identify and comply with applicable copyright or trademark restrictions, for which a license or other protection may be needed. Nonprofits should also consider individual privacy interests related to posts and obtain consents or provide other disclosures as warranted prior to posting information about beneficiaries, donors, or others. Finally, nonprofits should take steps to protect their reputations by developing a procedure or policy that ensures employees and volunteers refrain from using the organization’s social media for disparaging comments or to express views contrary to the mission.