We have dealt with a number of issues for our clients that were the result of “do-it yourself,” “robo-forms,” or “lawyer-in-a-box” type of documents. Here is some information on why these forms are inadequate, specifically in the nonprofit sector.
These documents can be very helpful when dealing with basic contracts or a will leaving all of your assets to a single person. These forms help meet the needs of those who cannot afford an attorney and for that reason, do provide a useful service. But, even in some of the simpler cases these forms are not quite good enough. The forms can only be as good as the information given by the user. If the person filling out the form does not have the necessary information or the information is incorrect, then the “robo-form” will just include inaccurate information because it is unable to catch mistakes like this. “Robo-forms” cannot make up for the potential lack of information that the person using might have.
In the nonprofit sector, this is even more true due to the complicated nature of the laws and regulations that pertain to what nonprofits can and cannot do. For example, much of the information required on Form 1023, the form necessary to register with the IRS and receive tax-exempt status, is actually contained in the organization’s Articles, Bylaws, or Conflict of Interest policy. These “robo-forms,” as we will call them, cannot adequately provide nonprofit organizations with the appropriate provisions in these corporate documents to be able to satisfy the requirements of the IRS. This is the problem with the “robo-forms.” One size fits all does not work for nonprofits. There are simply too many specific rules, exceptions to those rules, regulations, etc. that apply for a “robo-form” to be able to provide the necessary support.
The next time you may be considering using one of these “Do It Yourself Legal Forms”, make sure you have all of the necessary information to fill them out correctly for your organization. If you are unsure, reach out to us for assistance. It is far less expensive to use competent legal counsel at the front end than to pay the cleanup price later.
Attorney Zac Kester provides generalist and strategic nonprofit legal and consulting services. He holds a Master of Laws, a post-law school advanced degree, in which he studied the unique needs of tax-exempt nonprofit organizations. His legal and consulting career has focused on nonprofit organizations.
With highly experienced legal and training personnel, Charitable Allies provides all manner of legal and educational services for boards, officers, management and staff of myriad charities throughout the sector. From basic one-time questions about a single matter to training for boards and officers to complex reorganization or merger of activities, Charitable Allies is your go-to cost-effective provider of legal services to nonprofit organizations.