The Key Role Of Compliance And Infrastructure In Philanthropy

Theodora Lee Joseph, CFA

4 mins

The Key Role Of Compliance And Infrastructure In Philanthropy

So you've sorted out your philanthropic mission and how you're going to make a difference, great. But you also need to think about compliance and infrastructure. Sure, it’s not the most thrilling part of your philanthropic journey, but it's essential for the long haul. Let's break it down.

Why compliance and infrastructure matter

Compliance is all about adhering to various regional and geographic requirements, including state bylaws, tax exemptions, public disclosure demands, and a whole bunch more besides. Infrastructure, on the other hand, covers the nuts and bolts you need to turn your philanthropic vision into reality – that includes having the right people, technology, and facilities in place. Generally, the more complex your philanthropic setup, the more compliance and infrastructure you'll need.

Let's put this into perspective. Say you want to start a foundation to provide scholarships to underprivileged students. Compliance means you need to navigate the legal and tax requirements of running a nonprofit organization. Infrastructure is setting up your office, hiring staff, and implementing a scholarship management system.

Granted, it doesn’t sound glamorous but putting in the effort now to get your compliance and infrastructure in order will pay off in the long run.

Five ways to master compliance

If you follow these five best practices, you'll be in great shape to navigate the compliance maze and make a real impact with your philanthropy.

1. Establish a board: Depending on where you're operating, having a board might be a requirement for your philanthropic setup. Even if it's not mandatory, consider creating one. Say you're running a foundation to support healthcare initiatives: a diverse board of medical professionals, administrators, and community leaders can bring in different perspectives, ensuring your efforts align with real-world needs.

2. Craft a mission statement: A crystal-clear mission statement is your North Star. It guides your philanthropic work and sets the direction. For instance, if your mission is to promote environmental conservation, your statement could be something like "Preserving Nature for Future Generations". Keep it up to date by refreshing it – like your trusty hiking map – every three to five years.

3. Create a five-year projection: Projections are your roadmap for planning both your giving and tax strategies. They help you spread out grants over time, ensuring you meet your annual philanthropic goals or statutory requirements.

4. Do due diligence: Before you start writing those checks, do your homework on the nonprofits you're supporting. It could be as simple as checking their tax-exempt status or doing a quick online search. For a deeper dive, consider site visits or interviews to gauge their organizational health.

5. Set a documentation policy: The burden of proof falls on you, so having a solid policy on how you record and retain paperwork is crucial. It not only substantiates your grants but also helps with financial statements and tax returns.

Getting the right support

Infrastructure is everything that supports your philanthropic goals. This includes having the right people with legal, tax, and accounting expertise, suitable office facilities, technology systems, and experts in your area of focus.

Now, you have a choice here: you can either build your infrastructure in-house or outsource it. The decision depends on factors like your available capital, the scope of your giving, and how long you plan to pursue your goals. For example, if you have the cash, you might hire your own veterinarians and set up your shelter. On the other hand, if your resources are limited, you might partner with existing animal welfare organizations instead.

If your philanthropic vision is grand and you're in it for the long haul, setting up your infrastructure in-house might be the way to go. Similarly, if you have substantial upfront capital and aren't cash-strapped, investing in in-house infrastructure can make sense.

But remember, infrastructure isn't just about physical things. Investing in the right people who share your vision can be the most valuable infrastructure of all.

In a nutshell, compliance and infrastructure are the unsung heroes of your philanthropic journey. They may not steal the spotlight, but they ensure that your philanthropic goals are met efficiently and effectively. So, while they might not be the flashiest part of your mission, they're absolutely essential for making a lasting impact.



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