Some Guidance On Researching Open Meeting & Records Laws In Your State

In response to my post last week about the surge of people seeking my advice regarding the open meeting and open records laws of their states based on a 2016 ArtsHacker post I had written, ArtsHacker editor-in-chief suggested I write another post listing some of the resources I had found.

I responded that given every state had its own laws, there really wasn’t any centralized source(s) of information I could point to that a person could reference.

Much to my chagrin, there is still apparently a lot one can say on the matter as I managed to hammer out more than 1000 words of advice regarding how to research open meeting and records laws in your state.

One of the interesting things I have come to realize is that in some states, it appears that technically the members of the board of directors may not have the right to review the records of the organization they govern. There may be more to write on this topic in the future…

 

More About Open Meeting Laws & Non-Profits

Why The Sudden Interest In Non-Profit Record Access?

Three years ago I wrote an article for ArtsHacker.com about being aware of the open meeting requirements your state imposes on non-profits.

I basically pointed out that while pretty much every state requires a non-profit organization receiving state funds to comply with open meeting laws, every state is different when it comes to defining at what degree of state support an organization needs to begin complying.

In some states, the existence of your non-profit pretty much needs to be established by an act of the legislature, while in other states being provided with a meeting space in a state owned building is all that is required to make your organization subject to the state open meetings and records laws.

I am not sure what has happened in the last year or so, but pretty much once a month now someone leaves a comment asking if an organization in their state is subject to open meetings or open records laws.  I pretty much end up saying, “You should really consult a lawyer on this subject, but here is what I found online about the laws in your state.”

I have yet to find a state that doesn’t have the rules governing non-profits posted online somewhere, pretty clearly labeled. So if you are curious about your state, I encourage you to check online first because that is all I am going to do. (Check both the sections on open meetings and retention and access to records.)

Some states have some pretty good guides created to answer questions about open meetings and non-profits. It is good to have your secretary of state telling you clearly what the state laws do and don’t require.

I call attention to all this because I am wondering why there is a surge in questions on the post.  There are far more comments on that post than anything else I have written on the site. Have search engines started giving it better placement in results?  Are people seeking greater transparency from the organizations with which they are involved and don’t know where to find answers? (Or perhaps, the closure of so many local newspapers means a lack of people to help them find answers)

If anyone has theories, please share.

I should note, I am not sure any of the queries have come from people involved with arts and culture organizations.  Only about half provide any details that identify what sort of organization they are working with and none of them have been arts related.

Is Your Non-Profit Subject To Open Meeting Laws?

You Can Have All The Charity Golf Tournaments You Want When You Own The Courses

Generous donations to a non-profit can often become more of a burden than a blessing which is why it is important to have a good donation policy and properly evaluate the impact of the donation upon the organization.

According to a story in Non Profit Quarterly, this is exactly the challenge being faced by the Great American Songbook Foundation in Carmel, IN.  The organization with a budget of less than $1 million was approached with a non-strings attached donation of an estate valued at $30 million.

….includes a couple of golf courses, a pool, a fully furnished 50,000-square-foot main house, and a clubhouse—all set on 107 acres. There are no conditions on the contribution.

The upkeep alone could easily eat up the entire current budget of the organization, what with the nine staff required to maintain the property, and it should be pretty darn clear to any manager or board who have taken a trip or two around the block that such a gift could potentially ruin the organization.

[…]

This isn’t the first time the Simons have tried to move the property, which has covenants that disallow certain kinds of development. In fact, the property has been on the market since 2014 at $25 million with no takers. Additionally, a previous attempt to contribute the property to the Indiana University Foundation in 2008 fell through.

The Songbook Foundation Board is going to take three years to study the use of the estate which is probably a wise course of action. The NPQ article notes that since they accepted the donation of the estate, they will bear the costs associated with maintaining the estate during that time.

There are a number of options available to the Songbook Foundation according to another article.

The foundation could decide to use the main house as a museum and center of operations, subject to a rezone. The golf course land could be sold in a plan similar to Estridge’s but with lot sizes that meet the covenants. That money could be used to support operation of the museum.

The entire property, including the main house, could be sold to a developer. That money could be used to support the foundation or build the Great American Songbook Museum closer to The Palladium, possibly next to the soon-to-be-built luxury hotel, The Carmichael.

[…]

“It’s a very generous gift,” Brainard said. “It’s an asset that could be used by the Foundation to leverage for future donations. It’s very important to include neighbors in any conversation about any use and then proceed in such a way that enhance’s property values in the area.”

…He [McDermott] said charity events could be held on the golf course and added that a donation this size is a signal to other potential donors who were thinking of writing a check.

I have to admit, given the number of fundraisers that occur on golf courses, I was amused by the thought that these guys may be the only non-profit to own part of their “supply chain.”

If they decide to keep the properties, they will almost definitely need to set up a separate administrative body to keep themselves from getting bogged down in the business of overseeing the estates. Not to mention there might be issues that conflict with their non-profit status. The unrelated business incomes from the estates could potentially be 25+ times greater than that of the non-profit. It will be really interesting to see what they decide to do.

I made a post on the ArtsHacker site about two years ago that included lists and links to various resources one can use to create a gift acceptance policy and to evaluate the suitability of accepting gifts when donors approach the organization.

Sending Love To Those Calling Attention To Important Theater Issues

Gotta give a shout out to Non-Profit Quarterly for putting up two theatre related articles yesterday. I wanted to call attention to it to show appreciation for to them for covering arts concerns.

(n/b – slight mistake -during editing I noticed Ross Jackson’s article was published on Jan 29, 2016, though it appeared in my social media feed today.)

The first piece by Ross Jackson on Blackness in Nonprofit Theater reinforces a lot of the conversations that have been occurring lately about the recognition and opportunities afforded people of color.

It’s publication is timely just as we move into February when many arts organizations offer their Black History Month programming. Jackson rightly criticizes this approach, (or having any sort of “ethnic slot”), as tokenism. I think many more arts organizations recognize this than had 10-15 years ago and have taken steps to remedy this.

Jackson goes on to point out some less obvious, but equally problematic choices that are made in casting and programming decisions.

More troubling is that the lone black cast member is usually male. Black women are often cast only when the script calls for them or to fill promiscuous and degenerate roles…for example, auditioning a black actor who has the talent to play Rosalind, the witty, courageous leading lady of the court from Shakespeare’s As You Like It, whom the audience is made to feel deserves love, and casting her instead as Phebe, the entitled, arrogant, shepherdess who is criticized for having too many lovers. Rosalind stays white.

[…]

Furthermore, when casting black actors in nonspecific roles, it is not at all necessary to reimagine or reconceptualize the production by placing it in the inner city or adding what a middle-aged white male thinks of as a “Hip-Hop influence,” in order to “excuse” the decision to have black bodies present onstage. We don’t all walk around with a bassline underscoring our every action; there is no reality to that, so do not try to insert it for us.

He goes to provide other examples which place black actors in the status of otherness. He proposes ways in which organizations can examine their choices and processes.

The other mention of theater on Non-Profit Quarterly was about how theaters are becoming more effective at cultivating individual donors to support their work as corporate support wanes. The piece draws from an article in American Theater.

The American Theater article is worth reading because it goes into greater detail than the NPQ piece. However, Eileen Cunniffe does a good job summarizing on NPQ. The reason why many theaters have become more effective is because they are using predictive analytic tools and engaging in one-on-one relationship building to a much greater degree than in the past. That isn’t necessarily good news for every theater company who lack the resources to keep up.

…the newer approaches to donor cultivation that have been successful for nonprofit theater companies are also more labor-intensive—sometimes requiring additional development staff, other times requiring more flexibility from development staffers in terms of when they work, adding more evening and weekend hours to woo donors—again, including board members—before and during theater performances. He also notes that fundraisers must pay more attention than ever to generational differences among individual donors.

Finally, these approaches are likely to bear more fruit for larger theater companies that can afford to invest more in fundraising; they may be unnecessary for the smaller companies, which already know most of their individual donors quite well; and the better they work for the larger companies, the more they may disadvantage midsized companies, which may not be able to invest in additional staff or bells and whistles like predictive modeling.

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