The California Lawyers Foundation (the “Foundation”) was formed in April 2019 by the California Lawyers Association (the “Association”) to serve as the charitable arm of the Association.
Background and Key Principles
The Foundation is a tax-exempt organization under Internal Revenue Code (“IRC”) Section 501(c)(3). The Association is recognized as a tax-exempt trade/professional association under IRC Section 501(c)(6)
As the charitable arm of the Association, the Foundation may conduct charitable programs, projects and activities (including continuing legal education (CLE)) that further the Foundation’s and the Association’s common mission of promoting excellence, diversity, and inclusion in the legal profession and fairness in the administration of justice and the rule of law
To protect the 501(c)(3)tax-exempt status of the Foundation, respect its separate corporate existence, not run afoul of IRS, California Franchise Tax Board and California Attorney General charitable trust rules and guidance, and comply with the rules set forth by the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), the following general principles must be observed:
- Decisions with respect to the Foundation must be made by the Foundation’s board and officers. The traditional corporate formalities must be observed with respect to the Foundation to ensure that it acts independently and that the risk of “piercing the corporate veil” does not arise.
- All activities of the Foundation must be charitable1 in nature and consistent with the charitable purposes of the Foundation as set forth in its governing documents (i.e., Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws) and its application for recognition of exemption under IRC Section 501(c)(3) (IRS Form 1023). Any payments made by the Foundation must have a direct nexus to the Foundation’s charitable work. In making decisions about the activities of the Foundation, its board and officers must consider the IRS principles prohibiting private inurement or private benefit—essentially, payments or other benefits to individuals unrelated to the Foundation’s charitable work or unreasonable in amount based on the services provided to the Foundation by the individual.
- To ensure that there is proper documentation of decisions regarding Foundation activities, the Foundation will develop a form for the purpose of assessing activities and documenting their relationship to the Foundation and its work.
Bearing these principles in mind, here are some frequently asked question regarding the Foundation. Please also review the Foundation Co-Sponsorship of Projects, Activities or Educational Programs Policy, the Gift Acceptance Policy and the Co-Sponsorship Request Form
What information do I need to supply on the Co-Sponsorship Request Form?
- The request form asks the following about the program, project or activity:
- What is being proposed?
- How is the event or activity consistent with the Foundation’s mission?
- Who is ultimately responsible for the event or activity? (organization, entity within organization)
- Who is the point of contact if there are questions about the application?
- When and where will the event or activity take place?
- Is funding requested and if so, the amount of the request plus a copy of the budget for the program, project or activity. If the proposal covers an ongoing activity, what period of time is the funding requested from the Foundation expected to cover?
Will the Foundation co-sponsor other activities or project beyond educational programs if no funding is requested?
As noted above, provided the Foundation deems it in the interest and within its charitable mission to do so, co-sponsorship without a financial contribution from the Foundation is possible. The same Co-Sponsorship Request Form is required.
What will a donor receive after making a contribution?
All donors will receive a confirmation letter from the Foundation thanking the donor for their contribution and stating the designation if the donation was made for a designated purpose (i.e. a specific diversity fellowship program). The letter will also note that no goods or services have been received in return for the contribution and that they should retain the letter for their tax purposes.
Related to fellowships or scholarships, are there any tax liabilities for a recipient?
It should be noted that there is a potential tax liability for recipients. Scholarships (and fellowships) are generally tax-free provided certain conditions are satisfied. For example, it is generally acceptable to use scholarship or fellowship funding to cover school related expenses rather than room and board. The fellowship or scholarship funding is not intended to be used for general purposes or to act in place of a salary. If an applicant is selected to receive a scholarship or fellowship, there may circumstances where they will need to pay taxes. The Foundation will provide an information sheet that accompanies the check to any recipient to alert them of the potential tax liability.
Will contributions to the Foundation be tax-deductible to the donor?
As noted in the “Background and key principles” section above, the Foundation is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. Generally, contributions will be tax-deductible by the donor, but this dependent on the donor’s individual tax situation.
A potential donor has asked if the Foundation can accept non-cash gifts. For example, can the Foundation accept stock or artwork?
At this time, the Foundation will only accept gifts of cash, cash equivalents (e.g., credit card payments) and marketable securities.
Who, specifically, at the Foundation will make decisions regarding its activities?
Ultimately, the Foundation’s Board of Directors is responsible for its activities and for safeguarding its tax-exempt status. The Board, however, has delegated to the CEO/Executive Director or their designee certain activities that can be approved without action of the Board.
What about co-sponsorships with third parties completely unrelated to the Foundation or to the Association?
The Foundation will consider such requests on a case-by-case basis using the basic principles described above.
1 For I.R.S. purposes, the term “charitable” encompasses “educational” and for ease of reference, is used throughout.