LAW 623

Topics in Non-Profit Law

Over the past several decades, the nonprofit sector has grown dramatically in wealth and prominence. So has controversy over whether the benefits provided by nonprofit organizations justify their special statutory, regulatory, and tax treatment. In this seminar we will look at the legal environment in which American nonprofits operate in order to ask several questions: Who “owns” these organizations and their assets? Are they best characterized as public or private or both? How should they be governed? To whom are they accountable? Why have there been so many nonprofit scandals? In answering these questions we will look broadly at the sector through individual students’ selection and focus on particular organizations and readings designed to provide an overview of important subjects in nonprofit organization law. The course will focus on domestic nonprofits not classified as foundations.  Students will select a nonprofit organization that meets the following criteria: (a) holding assets under $2,000,000; (b) non-foundation public benefit organization (they file a Form 990—not a Form 990 EZ (very small organizations) or Form 990-PF (foundations); (c) ideally make their governing documents, such as bylaws, available on their website or readily when asked. Nonprofits are required to comply with requests for those documents. Only the first two are absolutely required; I realize that it can be difficult to obtain governing documents, despite the legal requirement of production. Charity Navigator or Guidestar provide information through which students can make a choice of organization. There is no mandatory curve applied to this class. There is no final exam. The letter grade for the seminar is based on class participation, a seminar paper, and short papers, which are used in the production of the seminar paper. Class participation includes regular participation that demonstrates having done the reading, one short presentation about a topical issue, and one short presentation of their final paper, focused on key ideas in the paper. There are two options for the paper: production of a seminar paper, and production of a paper that also complies with SAW requirements. Papers intended to meet the SAW requirement must receive prior approval by the instructor. Such a paper will require more investment of time and energy than a paper for the course that does not meet that requirement.

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