My book Charitable Foundations: The Essential Guide to Giving and Compliance was published in May 2015. Since publication, a number of people have asked me what led me to write the book. The Council on Foundations has asked me to address that subject in a blog.
According to published reports there are some 80,000 foundations in the United States. They collectively expend more than $50 billion each year for charitable purposes. The IRS expects foundation managers to be conversant with the statutes and regulations as they discharge their governance and fiduciary obligations. However, the rules are exceedingly complex, resulting in an unrealistic expectation that all too often is not met.
Over my thirty years of work with section 501(c)(3) organizations, I’ve seen countless examples of foundations violating applicable rules and missing opportunities that could have been pursued if the foundation trustees and officers had better understood the rules. Although these violations and lost opportunities were not intentional, they often resulted in foundations falling short of realizing their full potential.
My objective in writing Charitable Foundations: The Essential Guide to Giving and Compliance was to translate the maze of complex and arcane rules into easily understandable English. I designed the book to be an easy-to-access resource for individuals who need a better understanding of foundation rules. I believe that clarity and accessibility will help a greater number of foundations carry out their obligations more effectively.
Foundation trustees and officers do not need to memorize every detail, every nuance, and every exception to the rules. They must, however, have enough of an understanding to be able to identify potential problems and recognize when the foundation needs experienced professional assistance. In the context of legal and regulatory complexities that apply to foundations, staying out of trouble is far less costly and takes far less time than getting out of trouble.
Daniel N. Belin is the president of Belin Consulting. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.