HOA Homefront: New Year’s resolutions for HOA service providers

This is the fourth and final installment of this series, which has addressed directors, homeowners and managers.

As the association’s service provider, I resolve to:

NUMBER ONE:

  1. Follow the Golden Rule. [treating others how I want to be treated]

PROPOSALS:

2. Give the association the best proposal I can. If the association’s request for proposal omits important elements of the work, I will add those elements to my proposal and disclose the proposed extra cost now instead of charging it later as an “extra.”

3. Tell them if they really don’t need my services right now.

4. Disclose the less expensive (and possibly less profitable) alternative they didn’t ask about.

5. Explain my recommendations, and never tell them just to “trust me.”

Promise only what I know I can deliver.

Not seek a contract of more than one year in length, unless the work cannot be completed in less than a year.

KNOWLEDGE:

8. Pursue professional designations and attend seminars to keep current.

9. Take CAI’s Educated Business Partner course to ensure my understanding of the unique needs and characteristics of common interest communities.

SERVICE:

10. Promptly answer the board’s or manager’s questions.

11. Explain my company’s charges, taking no offense.

12. Take instruction only from the manager or from the person designated in the contract as my point of contact.

13. Immediately alert management if a homeowner, even a committee chair or director, interferes with the work.

14. Obtain written authorization if any work outside the contract becomes necessary and for which I have in writing quoted a price.

15. Not attempt to perform work outside my expertise and immediately advise the association of the need for other expertise.

COMMUNITY RELATIONS

16. Always be courteous to every resident, aware that my work might be occasionally disruptive to them.

17. Regularly provide updates to the board and management on major projects.

18. Volunteer at no charge to attend occasional “town hall” meetings to update the membership on progress on major projects.

19. Ensure that the work areas are clean and safe for residents at the end of each work day.

20. Not start work each day too early, nor end it too late, to avoid disturbing residents.

ETHICS:

  • Never offer commissions or personal incentives of any kind to directors or managers and promptly refuse and disclose to the board any requests for improper benefits from a manager, director, or committee member.
  • Not give expensive gifts to managers or directors.
  • Never give preferential treatment or free products or services to directors, treating all association members equally.
  • Not advise or assist anyone to keep or attain a board seat and demonstrate complete neutrality regarding board elections, keeping my opinions private on candidates.
  • Not assume that the manager has disclosed any business relationship my company has with the management company and promptly disclose that relationship in writing to the board.

PERFORMANCE:

26. Always carry proof of workers compensation and liability insurance, providing it along with my proposal.

Alert the association as soon as possible in writing if work is requested which my company is not licensed or qualified to perform.

Stand behind my company’s work, promptly conceding and correcting any mistakes.

LAST:

29. Follow the Golden Rule.

Kelly G. Richardson, Esq. is a Fellow of the College of Community Association Lawyers and Partner of Richardson Ober DeNichilo LLP, a California law firm known for community association expertise. Submit questions to Kelly@rodllp.com.

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New year, new mindset: Do you know your net worth?

A new year is here, and, depending on how you look at it, a new decade. New year, new decade, so it’s appropriate time to review your finances and plan for your future.

Many people make some type of New Year’s resolution in January, such as losing weight, exercising or eating healthy food. This year, instead of making a short-lived resolution, take some time to plan and prepare for your financial future.

Do you know your net worth?

Whether your net worth is high or low, you should know what it is. Without understanding where you are financially, how do you plan for your future? Calculating your net worth sounds complicated, but it’s not for most people. Make a list of your assets (what you own) and your liabilities (what you owe). Then, subtract the liabilities from the assets to determine your net worth.

If you have never calculated this, use this year’s statement of net worth as a benchmark going forward. Every January, compare your the net worth balance to prior years. Is the number growing or decreasing? Understand why it has changed. Are you saving more? Has your debt increased? Or it just a question of stock market fluctuations?

The overall goal should be to increase your net worth annually until you retire. During retirement, especially if you don’t have a pension, your net worth may decrease as you spend your assets to sustain your standard of living.

Create a budget

Do you know where you are spending your money? Most people know what they’re spending on mortgages and car payments, but really do not pay attention to how much they spend on dining out, grocery shopping, or trips to big-box stores. Budgeting will help you understand how you’re spending your money. Track all expenses for a minimum of 30 days or, better yet, for the entire year. List your monthly expenses first, then add up the additional spending. You’ll be surprised at how fast the quick trips to Target, Costco, or Denny’s add up. After you’ve done this for a month, think about the following:

  • Where can I reduce my spending?
  • Am I using credit cards monthly because I am short on cash?
  • How can I eliminate my outstanding credit card debt?
  • Am I maximizing my annual contribution and employer match in my retirement plan?
  • How much will I need to have saved to maintain my standard of living in retirement?
  • Am I saving enough to meet my goals?

Plan for big-ticket Items

Are you planning on traveling to Europe, replacing your roof, or paying for college tuition soon? Do you know how much this will cost, and have you thought about how you’re going to pay for it if the money isn’t readily available in a savings account? Pencil out your timeline, break the expense down to a monthly cost and plug it into your budget. To avoid accumulating unwanted debt, what spending changes can you make to save for this goal?

Prepare for the unexpected

Life can change unexpectedly and quickly. Are you prepared for a job loss, illness, disability, natural disaster, or lawsuit? Insurance and savings can protect you against unforeseen events. Do you have an emergency fund with at least six months of expenses in a savings or money market account? Are you adequately insured to meet your risk? Do you have a disaster plan in place and supplies readily available if a natural disaster occurs?

If you’re tech-savvy, consider storing important documents on a portable hard drive. It’s also a good idea to have copies of birth certificates, passports, wills, trust documents, home improvement records and insurance policies in a small, secure evacuation box (the fireproof, waterproof kind you can lock is best) that you can grab in a hurry.

Protect your estate

Without proper beneficiary designations, a trust, a will, and other basic documents, the fates of your assets or minor children may be decided by attorneys and tax agencies. Probate fees, taxes, and attorneys’ fees can erode your estate and delay the distribution of the assets when your heirs may need them the most. If your estate planning documents are not in place, schedule a meeting with an estate planning attorney this year to complete this task.

Make this year your most productive yet financially by growing your net worth. Take this journey, understanding that the decisions you make today regarding your finances will impact your life. Boldly plan for your financial future — then enjoy the feeling of personal empowerment that comes from being in control of your finances.

Teri Parker CFP® is a vice president for CAPTRUST Financial Advisors. She has practiced in the field of financial planning and investment management since 2000.  Reach her via email at Teri.parker@captrustadvisors.com.

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HOA Homefront: New Year’s resolutions for HOA managers

After two previous columns proposing resolutions for directors and HOA members, here are ideas for managers. Next week – service providers.

As an association professional manager, I resolve to:

NUMBER ONE:

1. Follow the Golden Rule.

ATTITUDE CHECK:

2. Remember I am a professional and will give the board the best advice I can. I am not employed to be silent.

3. Strive to give the board the answers it needs to hear, regardless if it is the answer the board hopes for.

4. Avoid reacting defensively to upset homeowners, and will make sure they are informed as to the “whys,” and not only the “whats.”

Confirm in writing my advice to the board if it disregards my advice.

Not attempt to give specialized advice, but will refer the board to the appropriate specialized professional service provider.

Try my best to please all, while knowing that I can’t.

BE KNOWLEDGEABLE:

8. Pursue professional designations and attend seminars to keep me up to date.

9. Be prepared at any board meeting to explain significant deviations from budget or unbudgeted expenses.

10. Understand the Business Judgment Rule, and ensure the board has sufficient information to make each decision.

11. Encourage the board members to join the Community Associations Institute, knowing educated boards are better boards.

BETTER BOARD MEETINGS:

Protect the board from overly long or disorganized meetings.

Create agendas with consent calendars to quickly handle non-controversial items.

Alert the board when an agenda is too ambitious.

Become comfortable with the fundamentals of parliamentary procedure.

Help the board stay on topic and on agenda.

Alert the board if it is handling matters in closed session which should be in open session.

Bring the HOA governing documents, including all rules, to every meeting.

Be prepared to provide a recommended action or recommend hiring the appropriate specialized expertise on each agenda item.

Listen maturely and respectfully when homeowners in open forum criticize my work.

COMMUNITY BUILDING

21. Work to increase meaningful and frequent communication with the members.

22. Focus on the association’s community needs as well as its financial, maintenance, and legal concerns while I advise the board and execute its instructions and policies.

ETHICS

Treat all members the same, regardless of how they treat me.

Communicate to the entire board when answering a director’s question or giving a report.

Remember my client is the HOA, not its board or president.

Not take sides in board elections or recalls, and not assist or advocate for or against any candidate.  My opinions on those matters will remain secret.

27. Reject vendors offering kickbacks, gratuities or commissions and promptly disclose such offers to the board.

28. Not give my employer or a company related to my employer any advantage in bidding on HOA contracts.

VENDORS

29. Advise the board when specialized expertise is needed on a specific issue or project.

Provide the board with two or three candidate service providers to consider, not only one favorite vendor.Suggest the appropriate consultant before the board evaluates major or complicated bids to help them select the best and most complete proposal.

Recommend the best bid, not simply the cheapest.

LAST:

33. Follow the Golden Rule.

Kelly G. Richardson, Esq. is a Fellow of the College of Community Association Lawyers and Partner of Richardson Ober DeNichilo LLP, a California law firm known for community association expertise. Submit questions to Kelly@rodllp.com.

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Live coverage of the 131st Rose Parade in Pasadena on New Year’s Day

Happy New Year!

Today’s 131st Tournament of Roses Parade steps off at 8 a.m. If you’re one of the 700,000 people who plan to watch the parade either along the route in Pasadena or one of the 37 million viewers tuning in from the comfort of your couch, we’re here to help you make the most of it.

Our team of reporters, photographers and editors will be covering the Rose Parade live and you can follow along with all the latest news below:

            

Follow along with Southern California News Group reporters, photographers and editors as we cover the 131st Tournament of Rose live from Pasadena on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020. 
 
Here’s everything you need to know about the Rose Parade: 

Rose Parade 2020 lineup: Your guide to every float, every band, in order

Rose Parade 2020: Here is a sneak peek of the flower-filled floats

5.5 miles of roses in Pasadena: Here is the 2020 Rose Parade route

Mount up for the Rose Parade: Equestrians are ready for New Year’s Day

Rose Parade 2020: These marching bands are always in step

Rose Parade survival guide: How to get the most out of the New Year’s Day experience

Rose Parade grand marshals have the power to inspire

Meet the 2020 Rose Queen: Camille Kennedy

Meet the members of the 2020 Tournament of Roses Court

These Pasadena freeway ramps, streets will close for the Rose Parade

Looking for more Rose Parade coverage, you can find all of our stories and photos here and if you’re looking for Rose Bowl Game coverage, check that out here.

 

You can also read all our coverage here.

Having trouble viewing this on a mobile phone? Click here.

Read more about the Rose Parade:

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Striving toward a more perfect me: Doug McIntyre

The culture wars took an odd turn this year. Rather than the annual assault on Starbucks for serving Pike’s Place in “Happy Holidays” cups instead of “Merry Christmas” containers, Peloton became this season’s corporate villain for airing a TV commercial featuring a rail-thin young woman in spandex receiving a pricey tricked-out Peloton stationary bike from her body-shaming husband. Or something like that. Emotions run high during the holidays.

Now we go forward, boldly into the future! 2020 is upon us. A New Year. A new beginning. That brings its own pressures.

The mall madness is in the rearview mirror. We survived Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the gridlock of get-away day. The packed flights back east arrived safely despite weather delays and caterwauling infants. We stuffed the stockings and before the day was out, our bellies, too. Old family favorites, circulated on special platters used only once a year, Christmas Day.

While a joyous occasion, Christmas is freighted with a melancholy subtext. We feel disappointment if we’ve allowed expectations to get unreasonably high, or perhaps it’s a sense of dread another year has flown by. How many more gatherings will there be? We remember who used to sit in each empty chair with the knowledge someday it will be our chair that sits empty.

Christmas is a retrospective holiday, each year in competition with the memories of Christmases past.

Luckily, New Year’s Day comes one week later. The New Year is a forward-looking holiday made for resolutions and fresh beginnings, where hopes are high even if our heads are throbbing from too much celebrating the night before. However, once you get to my age, ringing in a New Year presents new challenges. Resolutions were so much easier when I was a terrible person.

Every December 31st meant my last cigarette, my last sip of booze or my last double-fudge chocolate chip cookie. Year after year, the turn of the calendar represented one more step towards a better Doug McIntyre as vice after vice fell away like the strands of hair from a balding man’s head.

Now, after decades of personal improvement, I’ve finally reached a state of physical and moral perfection that has left me confronting a new New Year’s dilemma: what do I resolve to do now that I’ve done it all?

I’ve read “War and Peace,” taken art lessons, listened to The Wife’s language tapes, gave to a charity, didn’t call the cops on the neighbor’s loud party, recycled, said hello to a stranger, resisted telling my brother-in-law he’s a lunkhead even though he is, I didn’t bring up impeachment during Christmas dinner and I even washed a dish. In other words, what’s left? What now? Is my only goal the continuation of life as I currently live it? Is that how I can make the world a better place?

Now, if you ask The Wife, she may see things differently. It is possible I may have missed a thing or two I could still work on. Yet, I feel like this is the finished product. I’m no longer a work-in-progress. Of course, if this is true, that makes me one of the least desirable Americans, a man who doesn’t want anything.

I’m not buying a Peloton bike, not even if they throw in the attractive brunette from the commercial. I drink my coffee at home these days, so Starbucks can wish Satan happy birthday for all it matters to me.

We’re staying at home this Christmas, therefore the fearmongering on the evening news about snow in the east, delays and long lines at LAX float in one ear and out the other like a Tom Steyer for president commercial. I buy what I buy and I’m not changing brands or cutting the cord or yearning for 5G. The 2020 campaign can roll on. I already know how I’m voting, don’t you? It’s amazing how fewer pills you have to take when you no longer care.

2020 promises to be my best year yet; the year when I’m okay with who I am. It only took 62 years to get here.

Doug McIntyre’s column appears Sundays. He can be reached at: Doug@DougMcIntyre.com.

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Three 2020 trends for commercial real estate

2020 is upon us! My wife and I joke the time between Labor Day and year’s end just flies by — aided of course by Christmas decorations festooning the stores before Halloween.

But I digress.

By all accounts, 2019 was an amazing year! As the year dawned, I was a bit concerned about the trade tiff with China, downward pressure on our economy and the upward push on interest rates. Would there be a slowdown? Well, we certainly appeared to be heading that direction until mid-year when BOOM! Interest rates took a tumble and activity skyrocketed.

There was a huge uptick in buying and many commercial offices experienced their best months ever. I know our office did. The tepid housing market even caught fire as buyers sensed now is the time to act!

So what’s in store for 2020? Well, they’re just predictions and they’re all mine.

Interest rates

The Fed has encouraged the economy with three rate cuts in 2019. But most of our loan rates are tied to the 10-year Treasury which rests at around 1.9%. This time last year they hovered closer to 3%. Mid-year they touched 1.6%.

“The Federal Reserve signaled that it wants to hold off on further interest rate cuts for a while,” wrote David Payne, staff economist for Kiplinger on Dec. 11. “At its meeting this week, the Fed kept the federal funds rate between 1.5% and 1.75%. Fed Chair Powell expects that the economy has stabilized, but again emphasized that the future path of Fed actions will depend on events.

“The bond market has also been more sanguine, as rates have changed little over the past two months,” Payne said. “The yield curve – the gap between rates on short- and long-term bonds – has maintained its historically normal upward sloping line. This indicates that investors are not worried much about a possible recession occurring next year.”

Overall buying and selling activity

In order for there to be normal transaction volume, we need available spaces coupled with a positive outlook from buyers. In the past three years, our stock of available industrial inventories has steadily declined — bolstered only slightly by a few newly constructed projects.

Currently, empty buildings are at an all-time low. At the same time, buyer sentiment remains robust. In other words, we still have plenty of demand but very little supply from which to transact. To me, this translates to higher prices for those vacancies that do hit the market.

I am, however, paying close attention to large spaces — in excess of 100,000 square feet. These have been the darlings of developers the past few years as they are cheaper to build. Overall, the vacancy on large boxes is double that of smaller offerings. This could spell some softening in big space pricing.

Election year

Yes! The prospect of a new administration or four more years of entertaining tweets is here. The biggest predictor, in recent elections dating back 40 years, on who will be elected has been the health of our economy. Remember the double-digit interest rates of the late 70s that spelled the demise of Jimmy Carter? How about the “read my lips, no new taxes” and S&L fueled recession of the early 1990s? Yep. One term for George H. W. Bush!

Historically, as we approach November, an “I’ll wait to see who’s elected” attitude persists. Uncertainty leads to inaction, which sends a wave of softness through our business. Once we know for sure who will occupy the White House – companies can plan accordingly.

Regardless. One thing is certain. My wish to you, dear readers, is that 2020 be your BEST year ever!

Allen C. Buchanan, SIOR, is a principal with Lee & Associates Commercial Real Estate Services in Orange. He can be reached at abuchanan@lee-associates.com or 714-564-7104.

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Nonprofit boards and your personal liability

In our last two columns you’ve read about some of the responsibilities of a director on a nonprofit’s board. You may now be thinking, “But why? I’m a volunteer!”

And so enters the lawyer to tell you why in two words: personal liability.

When is a board member liable?

While a board member is a volunteer and afforded substantial protection by law, when duties to the organization are violated (whether through acts or omissions), when certain taxes aren’t paid (notably, payroll taxes), or when a board member engages in self-dealing transactions with the organization or allows others to do so, personal liability may arise.

What are their legal duties?

A nonprofit board member, sometimes called a “trustee,” is a fiduciary — a person who must act for the benefit of another. In this case, a board member is charged with acting for the benefit of the public. It is a serious duty, and a breach of the duties can result in both personal liability and the loss of the entity’s tax exemption.

So what are those duties? In general, a board member owes the duties of care and loyalty.

The duty of care

The duty of care requires the following:

  • Exercising proper business judgment based on the best interest of the organization (not its board members and certainly not yourself)
  • Being properly informed on all matters voted on, and attending the meetings
  • Appropriate information flow in and out (you’re obtaining all information you need to make an informed decision), and you’re not disclosing confidential information to anyone
  • Following the organization’s Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws

A board member who violates their duty of care (for example, does not attend meetings, or ask questions about matters they don’t understand, or who, through inaction, allows a behavior detrimental to the organization to continue) can be held personally liable for any damage that occurs. There is a California case where a board, because they couldn’t agree on which investment adviser to hire, allowed a multi-million-dollar gift to sit in a non-interest checking account for two years. This caused the organization to lose significant income, and the board members were held personally liable for that. And, they were removed from the board by the Attorney General.

The duty of loyalty

This requires a board member’s faithful pursuit of the interests of the organization they serve and not the financial or other interests of the director or another person or organization. California law prohibits self-dealing transactions between board members and non-profits.

Serious fines can be imposed against the organization and board members if a transaction is entered into between the organization and an interested director, without steps taken to assure that the corporation did it for its own benefit in a fair and reasonable way that was approved in good faith by a majority of directors then in office (not just those at the meeting where the vote is taken), Did they know material facts? And, prior to approval, did the board consider and determine in good faith after reasonable investigation that they could not have obtained a better deal elsewhere?

Say, for example, the organization needs to paint its building. Director Dave is a long-term board member who happens to own a painting business. Dave offers to paint the building for $X and get it done in the next 48 hours. Board members cannot simply decide Dave is a good guy and deserves some business in return for his years of service, plus, he’s willing to do it quickly so why bother looking elsewhere.

No, the board needs to get bids from other painters and make sure that Dave’s price and quality is the best deal. Does the building need to be painted quickly or does that just to suit Dave’s schedule? Is the price fair? Is Dave properly licensed and bonded?

In other words, board members need to do the same due diligence they would for their selves. If they don’t, they could be liable for the funds lost by the organization. And abstaining from the vote won’t help you — if you don’t feel the board has done its due diligence, you will only be spared personal liability by voting “No.”

The IRS wants a word, too

Board members can also encounter unexpected tax liabilities. The IRS has its own rules against self-dealing (or what it calls “Excess Benefit Transactions”). If a “disqualified person” (someone who in the previous five years was in a position of influence over the organization, such as major donors, board members and executive staff) engages in a transaction with the organization that was to the benefit of the disqualified person, the IRS can exert a penalty against not just the disqualified person, but the entire board, for as much as 200% of the amount of the transaction. If Director Dave had been paid more than the going rate for his painting services, he and the board could face these penalties.

And finally, perhaps most shockingly, board members can be held personally liable for the unpaid payroll tax liabilities of the organization. If payroll taxes are not paid, the IRS will look to all responsible parties — the CEO, the CFO, and often board members — to recover the taxes. This is a very good reason for checks and balances for non-profit financial matters and regular audits.

Emphasis on service

It’s a privilege to serve on a non-profit board. First and foremost it’s a service to the community. To perform that service, always look out for the organization first. And. you should also be certain the organization carries Directors & Officers Liability insurance. It’s the smart thing to do.

Teresa J. Rhyne is an attorney practicing in estate planning and trust administration in Riverside and Paso Robles. She is also the #1 New York Times bestselling author of “The Dog Lived (and So Will I).” You can reach her at Teresa@trlawgroup.net

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What you should know about nonprofit finances

You have accepted an invitation to be on a local nonprofit board of directors, and there’s an initial board meeting next week. Your skill sets closely align with the programs the nonprofit provides to the community it serves. Does that mean the only part of the board meeting you need to be involved in is about the programs? Can you sleep through the rest of the meeting? Definitely not!

The most important responsibility of a board of directors is managing the nonprofit by making good, sound business decisions, which help the nonprofit continue to stay in business and serve its charitable purpose.

These decisions include having a strategic plan to help grow the business, creating procedures and policies to help keep the nonprofit in business, and discussing plans on how to continually fund the nonprofit and serve its community. These important steps need to be presented, discussed and updated with the board regularly. Every board member is responsible for these matters.

One of the basic reports presented to the board at each meeting should be current financial statements showing the results of the nonprofit’s activities. Most new board members have no experience with financial statements and are lost when it comes to the terminology and format of financial statements for a nonprofit.

So, let’s review what you need to know when you serve on a nonprofit board.

Statement of financial position

A for-profit has a balance sheet. For nonprofits, it’s a statement of financial position and it presents many of the same categories as a balance sheet, such as assets and liabilities.

The balance sheet has a classification called owner’s equity which shows what amount would be shared by the owners, if the business closed. Nonprofits are run by its board, officers and staff and do not have owners. This section is called net assets. A board member should be aware of what assets a nonprofit has and whether they are sufficient to meet its needs.

Statement of activities

This statement in a for-profit business is called an income statement and shows the company’s revenues, expenses, gains and losses. Nonprofits list their revenues minus their expenses on a statement of activities. Normally, the revenue and expenses are grouped into classifications called permanently restricted, temporarily restricted or unrestricted.

Revenue for a nonprofit is typically made up of donations and grants, some of which may be restricted in their use. Grants may have a self-contained budget that restricts what the funds can be used for, the amounts that can be used and the time periods in which they can be used.

Cash flows

A nonprofit will use either a cash flow forecast or a budget vs. actual statement to keep track of inflows and outflows of funds. If the nonprofit has restricted funds, those amounts should be separated from the regular cash so the board can tell if it has a cash flow problem.

If restricted funds are not separate, the board might think that the nonprofit has a lot of cash to spend and could make incorrect decisions.

Ask for help

If you are new to the organization, ask for some time with the executive director, treasurer or bookkeeper to learn how to read the financial statements. Look at prior year financials and compare them to this year. Get comfortable with where the money is coming from and where it is going. Ask questions until you are comfortable.

Board meetings

Besides reviewing and asking questions about the numbers on the above financial statements, the board should be looking at fundraising, grant proposals, budgeting, and auditor’s reports, if required.

Red flags to look for

If you are new to a board, there are things you should be looking for. Here are some things that should cause concern about the health of the organization, and how it is being run.

  • Lack of financial statements being presented to the board or statements that are three or four months old. Occasionally that might happen, but it shouldn’t happen every month.
  • Not getting answers on financial questions from the executive director or staff even if the questions are asked repeatedly.
  • Several years of revenue going down. What has been done to address the downturn?
  • Unusual large expenses on the Statement of Activities or miscellaneous items that don’t explicitly tell you what they represent.
  • Financial statements that look like for-profit statements produced from a general accounting program or formulated in excel.

Asking questions can help you decide if you can help the organization grow or if it is time for you to move on because of the red flags you discovered.

Remember that serving on a nonprofit board is not an honor or compliment. It is hard work and you do have potential exposure to litigation. Make sure you understand the financial statements to minimize that risk. Then you can enjoy being of service to your community.

Marcia L. Campbell has worked as a CPA for over 25 years specializing in seniors, trusts, estates, court and trust accountings and probate litigation support. You can reach her at Marcia@MCampbellCPA.com.

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‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ takes on its biggest challenge. Does it succeed?

After 8 previous films in this series, as well as related movies, TV shows, cartoons, theme park attractions and one very special holiday TV special, you could be forgiven for having little hope that George Lucas’ Star Wars saga could be wrapped up in one film.

How could you hope to pull together story lines and fan theories about the original trilogy, loop in the useful parts of the trade-obsessed prequel trilogy, and somehow follow up the divisive “The Last Jedi” — which to some felt like it rejected the core myths and beliefs of the series and its predecessor “The Force Awakens” — with one single film that concludes its own trilogy and caps a trilogy of trilogies?

Well, we once had “A New Hope,” and with J.J. Abrams’ new “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” you could argue we have A Newer Hope.

Like a Tatooine farmboy who quiets the buzzing noise and bursting bombs around him to take an all-but-impossible shot, Abrams, his cast and his collaborators take theirs and succeed, delivering a thoroughly rousing final installment (or “final” until someone decides to do more) for the 42-year-old franchise.

“The Rise of Skywalker” delivers everything you want in a “Star Wars” film: action and adventure, lightsaber duels and blaster shootouts, sneaky spies and daring escapes, space chases and chaste kisses. Even a few long-standing fan gripes get moments of recognition in the film, a sort of “Yes, we heard you out there,” which is probably all most of the fangirls and boys ever wanted. There are some excellent callbacks to earlier films, and a few more forward-looking moments, including a more diverse cast and even some same-sex affection.

So what can we tell you about the story? Well, we will attempt to avoid any spoilers and just give you the basics. Like previous installments, the film starts with a crawl of yellow text that catches you up on the plot, and, if you read carefully, might offer a few hints about what’s to come. (No, we aren’t telling.)

In short, the story picks up with Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren (aka Ben Solo, son of Han Solo and Princess/General Leia) the new Supreme Leader of the First Order. The big emo overlord with the enflamed red lightsaber is conflicted, a fact reflected in his cracked helmet; its glowing scars resembling Japanese kintsugi, an art form that finds beauty in broken things. Ren is either crushing rebels hard or crushing hard on Daisy Ridley’s Rey, with whom he shares a bond that connects them even across distances great and small.

And what of the rest of the good guy crew, which includes old school characters such as Chewbacca and C-3PO and new heroes like Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron, Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose Tico and John Boyega’s Finn? They get up to the kind of intrigue you want in a “Star Wars” film (or even an Indiana Jones one): The word “mission” gets used a lot, there is some sneaking around past patrolling stormtroopers and they occasionally must decide whether to befriend or fight a new acquaintance.

The film is about a war between good and evil, truth and lies, freedom and fascism. The script offers lines and some Churchillian speechifying about not giving up even when you’re afraid and reminds the audience that there are more of “us” — that is, the good guys, the non-fanatics — than there are of the jackbooted extremists. You can make of that what you will.

Abrams’ film not only manages to handle the heavy lifting of reconnecting plotlines and characters and callbacks, but it’s also very funny, much funnier than some other installments and a reminder of how a good wisecrack can make a scene.

So “The Rise of Skywalker” is exciting, fun and finds ways to wrap up multiple story lines — isn’t that enough? — but it’s also fair to say it’s not a perfect movie. It’s a little stiff and unwieldy upon takeoff before it gets warmed up and zooms off into hyperspace.

But given the much harder task of ending a long-running series, Abrams & Co. do a terrific job.

Like all the best finales, there are nods to the past that will appeal to fans of the franchise, and we can only imagine that they will love it.

That should be enough to give anyone hope.

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Serving on a nonprofit board? Watch your own back

When asked to serve on a local nonprofit board, the request is often taken as a compliment, and an answer comes with little thought about the potential personal risk you’re accepting as a board member. Individuals willing to serve as a board member are usually known for their passion and support of vital community programs.

Once you prove yourself as a reliable and committed board member, you’ll be asked repeatedly to serve. Reliable board members are known throughout the community as an asset.

Prior to committing to board service, familiarize yourself with the culture, governance, and finances. Take some time to do your research and ask about the organization. Before you agree to serve, consider the following:

Are you willing to fully commit as a board member?

Never agree to serve without asking questions first. Do you believe in the organization’s cause? Are you willing to put your personal interests aside when voting on the issues brought to the board? Do you have the time and resources to support the nonprofit’s mission? Are you prepared to donate, seek sponsors, and fundraise?

Also, before accepting the opportunity make sure you are serving for the right reason. And if you don’t have the time or desire to fully commit, or you question the integrity of the organization, respectfully decline the invitation.

Have you done your due diligence?

Even if you are fully willing, never commit to serve on a board without spending some time researching the organization. Don’t assume that, because board members are personal friends, that the organization is well-managed. Often board members don’t ask questions, especially when it comes to finances.

Review the bylaws, current financial statements, and recent board meeting minutes, and attend a meeting or two to observe before signing on. Are the meetings run professionally? Do the board members seem engaged and are they asking good questions? Are the financial statements current?

If you are interested in joining the board after observing how the meetings are managed and the data presented, then ask the following:

  • Does the board host an annual board orientation to which new and returning board members are invited?
  • Is there a history of board minutes documenting communications to the board to keep the governing body apprised of programs, major contractual agreements, staffing changes, threatened or ongoing litigation, and finances?
  • Is there an employee handbook and other written employment policies?
  • Are there any prior or pending lawsuits?
  • Does the organization have appropriate annual audit reports?
  • Is the board apprised of the steps in place to protect the nonprofit and its governing team?
  • How are board members held accountable for their commitments?
  • Is the board educated on their responsibility to disclose actual and potential conflicts of interest? Is there a written conflict of interest policy?

Is the organization properly insured?

What risk management practices does the organization have to prevent or minimize exposure to litigation? The organization should carry general and professional liability coverage, and directors’ and officers’ liability insurance. Sometimes a board will carry general liability and professional liability insurance but will not purchase directors’ and officers’ insurance. If you plan on serving on a nonprofit board, always ask if a current D & O policy is in place. Remember, board members have personal exposure. Directors’ and officers’ insurance helps mitigate that risk.

Nonprofit executive directors have many and varied daily responsibilities. In addition to managing their staff, they manage finances, engage donors, and serve those in need. Their focus is naturally on implementing the organization’s mission, so they may not give due attention to managing the risk to which board members are exposed. Know your risk Treat the organization like a business and confirm that the insurance is appropriate and in place.

Serving as a board member for a nonprofit organization can be rewarding when you understand the benefits to your community. Make sure that you have the time, commitment to the cause, and adequate protection against risk so that you can focus on helping fulfill the mission.

Teri Parker CFP is a vice president for CAPTRUST Financial Advisors and has practiced in the field of financial planning and investment management since 2000. Email her at Teri.parker@captrust.com.

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