Thursday, June 14, 2012

It Seemed So Simple - part 3

Non Profit in the (Non) Making-

How hard can it be to do something good?  Let me tell you.

So, I am deluding myself into thinking I can start a non-profit organization.  Original start up costs are definitely an issue, but, if I host a fund raiser (It seemed so simple - part 2), I can raise the money needed to get started, and then, I can host several fundraisers throughout the year.  Simple fundraisers, such as reserving times at local restaurants, who then make donations to your organization simply by having guests bring in a flyer.  Sort of like, you bring in customers, and they pay you for it.

So, I start poking around the internet.  I google "How To Start a Non Profit".  Basically, in theory, it's not that hard.  Search for name availability, reserve name, file with the state, file for non profit tax exemption, build a board, have a meeting.  In theory, very doable.

In reality, it's very, very difficult.  In reality, it looks like this:

Reserve name with the state  $10.00.  This money, I had, and this step I did.

File Articles of Incorporation with the State.  Articles must state certain, very legal claims about the name of the organization, what type of non profit it is (Public Benefit Corp.), the reason you are forming.  You must state that no funds will be used for the personal benefit of any officer (and it took a week to find out whether an officer could ever get paid - yes).  You must state that any funds will be donated to another charity, if you dissolve, and where you expect to get your funds.  Fee $35.  This money, I have if I use my summer funds and can pay it back at fundraiser.

Immediately upon being granted incorporation status, your "company" becomes liable for minimum of $800 yearly state taxes.  MINIMUM!  Unless you qualify for tax exemption.

So, I continue on.

I start making phone calls, looking for pro bono attorneys.  I have heard about them, but in my case, they are a myth.  I look for discount aid, deferred payment options, all myths.  I do find one woman, who works for a firm that incorporated a company I know of, who says I can start the non-profit paperwork and can practice "in good faith" for 27 months, while all the steps are processed.  I speak to a gentleman at another law firm, who says I am wasting my time, because I can not practice "in good faith", that no donations can be deducted, that I will have to pay back all donations, if I do not get approved.  He quotes me several thousand dollars, just to help start me up.  He informs me that I most probably will not receive IRS approval, unless I have a corporate sponsor.  Huh?  Would that be the corporate sponsor I am not allowed to solicit, until I am a legal entity?

I poke around the computer some more, and it does look like I can, in fact, proceed "in good faith" for those 27 months, but I am worried about what to do with donations, if I do not ever fill out my forms correctly enough to qualify.  But, we will see.  And...I need to file for a gaming permit, before I can have a raffle, and 90% of that income must go toward charitable works.  Not to fundraiser costs, and I still don't know if it can be used for general costs or must be used as actual donations out.

After filing my articles with the state, I must file for an EIN with the State Board of Equalization.  EIN = my tax ID#.  Free, and even I can afford that.

Then, I can host my fundraiser, so long as I send in for my state permit (and any local fees, which I have not even bothered to check, yet).  But, before I can solicit prizes, and before my donors can write off their donations, I must file a 29 page form with the IRS (I guess donations are tax deductible until I am not approved??).

Do I understand all of the form?  No.  I am supposed to include my business plans, actual plans on what I am doing (not planning - actually working on), how much I expect to make, where I will make it, what exactly, I will do with what portion of the money.  I have to say, I know what I want to do with the money, but I certainly can not portion it out, when so far, I have zero.  Well, negative $10, because I have reserved my name.

Oops- did I mention I have to have a board in place?  I have three people, all related to me.  I can think of one or two more, but not all get along, so there goes that idea.  I have to have a meeting and send in minutes, which I can do, because I will simply take minutes on this first fundraiser plans.  But, that is not even enough. The directions suggest newspaper notices, paperwork that shows what you've done in previous years.  (Which years would those be?).  Too many forms to remember and list, here.  Fee $375, if I plan on making less than $10,000 per year, and $700, if I plan on making more (whether or not, I get approved).  How would I even know that TODAY?  And, if I don't get approved for that tax exemption, I am still looking at the minimum $800 yearly tax.

Remember, I can not even pay my personal bills.

So, as I am moving from one website to another, and book marking so many, I would not be able to locate them, anyway, I come across a page that says my board must change every couple years.  But, I think, what happens if I can't find new board members?  I have called the local hospital, and they are not allowed to affiliate with any one entity (hence, the lack of information for those of us, who reach stage IV level).  If I can't find anyone to join the board, or replace an existing member, do I need to dissolve?  Who knows, at this point.

You know the saying, "It takes money to make money"?  Well, sadly, that applies, even if you are trying to make money to help others.  If I had money, if I had a sponsor, I could move ahead.  I could have my forms filled out for me.  I could hire a book keeper to log every single penny that comes in or out (which I could log, I just could not file correctly on the 990 form I just learned about).

Every time I log onto my computer, I find a new form that must be filled out.  I do not find them on one page.    I find them here and there, by chance.  Sometimes, the website containing one form will link me to a different website with the next form.  But, some of these forms, I have just been lucky to find.  What if I do all I know of, only to be denied, because there is still another form I have not yet found?

Oh, let me add the fact that, there can not be competing non-profit entities.  I find that  touch confusing, seeing how very many non-profit organizations that focus on breast cancer, but I certainly am not going to spend my money (and especially the money of those who would be generous), only to find out I have been denied, because I am in "competition" with another non-profit organization.

I read an article about a mother who took two years, and fought long and hard, to form a non-profit in her son's memory.  The difference between her and myself, is that, in two years, I will be 1/2 way through my life timeline.  I know.  I may be one of the lucky ones.  My cancer seems to be contained for now.  But, I know there are no guarantees.  I may be changing chemos, as early as next month, after my June scans.  It may take another year.  I don't know when, but I do know if.  I do know, that at some point in the fairly close future, I will be on meds that will make me sick, again.  I know I will suffer severe bouts of fatigue.  I know my feet will hurt worse.  I know I will have to work through all that.  Would I be able to include all the efforts of starting this non-profit organization?  If I thought there were a way, I would expend that effort.  I truly would.  And, what if I become so sick I die, before I can even get government approval.  What have I accomplished then. other than stealing time away from my family, for a nice idea that never worked out?

And all this while, I sit in my still very messy house, having spent the majority of the last two weeks researching on the computer.  I pass the three hampers full of dirty clothes, boxes of household items I have cleared from shelves but don't know what to do with.  I would really like to not die in a filthy home.  But, again, if I could make the non-profit organization work, I would.  I just don't see how I can, when I don't have any money.  Any money, at all.

So, I'm watching another dream die.

Sometimes, I think, it's better not to want things......but, of course, I do want things.  That is the never ending dilemma. Especially when  the thing I want seems important.

It Seemed So Simple - part 2

I had such good intentions.  I really did.  The problem is, I am naive.  I feel good, right now.  I have high energy, low nausea, bearable pain (some of the time).  I have free time.

And so, I thought I would do something beneficial, while I could.  My first thought was a public service announcement about metastatic breast cancer (which I WILL do!).  Then, I thought, maybe, I could get a full documentary done (apx $100, 000 - so, maybe not).  Then, I thought I would host a fund raiser, which morphed into thoughts of a non-profit organization.  And, I have spent the last two weeks working toward that goal, sometimes with great hope, and sometimes with great discouragement.

I started with a phone call to a local hotel to see about reserving a room for October 13, 2012.  As October 13th is National Metastatic Breast Cancer Remembrance Day, it is the perfect date for the fundraiser.  The catering rep gave me a price of $26.28 per person.  That means, I must charge $27.00 per person.  I'm not sure about the rest of the population, but I do know that I can not afford that.  Especially, with a family of five.  Well, six, if you count my (almost) son-in law.  My older brother can not afford his family of four.  My younger brother can not afford his family of four.  So, right off the bat, I have to comp something like 10 people at $27.00 each, because, of course, I want my family there.

I have to make a $500 deposit to reserve the date.  The rep said she would split that in 1/2 and allow me to pay $250 now, and $250 later.  Now, in my case, that involves using money from my last paycheck of the school year (which pays my bills during the summer, until I receive my first paycheck of the next school year, in October).  On a yearly basis, my husband must pitch in to pay my "summer" bills, so you can see what a frightening prospect this is.

Now, if I use my summer money to put down $250, and ten paying guests reply to my invitation, I can pay myself back.  If I get twenty paying guests, I can put down the rest of the deposit.  If not, I can cancel, without paying the second $250, but would then, have to refund my guests, and I would simply lose the original 1/2 deposit of $250.  I'm pretty sure I know twenty people who love me enough to spend $27 to have breakfast with me (and for me).  But, can I get the 300 the room holds?  Can I even get enough to make a fundraiser actually raise funds?  When I know I will not be able to pay my bills for two entire months, is it worth it, to risk my money?

Before I can legally host a fundraiser, I have to incorporate as a non-profit organization (It Seemed So Easy - part 3).  I can not ask for any corporate donations (for prizes and such), or free services (photographer, perhaps) until I am a recognized non-profit organization.

I can not have a raffle, because that is considered gaming (gambling).  I can have door prizes (which I can solicit, if I incorporate, or must buy, if I don't), so long as nobody pays.  If I have to purchase my door prizes, and can not charge for raffle tickets, that eats into the profits I don't even know I will make.

Did you know....?  Before I can host a fund raiser, I have to apply for a permit?  That is $20 more (on top of  deposit, incorporation fee - in part 3, and misc costs).

So, I'm thinking....

I can pay the 1/2 deposit.  Send out invitations to friends and family, with the request that they pass the invitation along to their friends.  Hopefully, get enough to pay the full deposit and even fill the room.  Not knowing, but hoping.  I can buy a few door prizes (spending money I don't know I'll make) to sweeten the deal, so to speak, make my fundraiser worth attending.  And then, I can ask my guests to make separate donations, based upon their personal financial positions.  I can then, use the raised funds to pay all my incorporation costs.

The problems with this plan are these:  If I don't become tax exempt first, donations are not tax deductible, which I assume will affect donation amounts.  If I don't make enough to incorporate, do I refund the money?  How can I ask for money for a specific purpose, and then not use it as such - which by the way, is "misleading" and illegal.  What if I don't get enough guests, and basically end out having dinner with twenty of my closest friends and family (well, actually it would have to be thirty to cover my freebie guests), and it is costing them $27 per person to benefit nothing?

So, now I'm thinking....

What am I thinking?!

It Seemed So Simple - part 1

What are the things I wish I had money for?  Let me list just the few that weigh on me today.

1.     Yard Work
Since moving into my (rented) home fourteen years ago, I have been the "keeper of the back yard".  I was the one that trimmed the trees & did the weeding.  I planted the flowers each Spring, prettied up the patio table for BBQ's, and painted the fence in two different greens...two dark, one light, four dark, two light, staggered like that all across the back of the yard.  I used to love my yard.  Since 2007,  I have been unable to keep up with the back yard.  It started with losing the strength of my left arm, after lumpectomy and lymphectomy, followed by mastectomy and six or seven other surgeries related to my cancer.  It continued with chemo fatigue and various side effect related pains.  And, this summer, sore but feeling ok, I look at my yard and realize that it will never recover from my cancer.

Several trees have grown very large.  I truly love them.  They give me shade and privacy.  But, they need more help than I can provide.  They knocked down most of my beautiful green fence years ago, which still lays on the ground, rotting and covered with ivy, which has traveled over from an unknown neighbor's yard, and is in the process of taking over my yard, inch by inch, foot by foot.  Believe it or not, the neighbor behind me thinks the ivy has originated with me, and has suggested that I help with clearing out his yard.

One of my trees, is shifting the fence between me and my next door neighbor (who we are very friendly with).  My husband and I are trying to figure out how to trim our tree without losing it, dig up some roots (or truly cut the tree down, if needed- and it is very large), AFTER removing two pieces of his fence, which will then need to be replaced.  We are trying to "not involve the landlord", because, if he starts spending money on this house, there is the very real possibility he will raise the rent (which we can't afford), or decide to "start fresh", leaving us homeless, because we also can't afford to pay a first and last month and security deposit, for a new place.

My "lawn" is dirt and weeds.

My patio is filled with storage tubs, tvs, and other possessions we took from our cabin two years ago, when we lost it to the economy.  We don't eat at the patio table, anymore.
We can neither afford to hire a crew to clean it up, or pay for the several dumpsters it would take to do it ourselves - if I had the strength to trim the tree.  If my husband's back would not cripple him for a week, afterward.

2.     A Vacuum  
It has been apx. four months, since my house has had a good vacuum.  And, you can tell.  The vacuum cleaners I purchase (always based on the best sale price), tend to last apx. two years, at my house, followed by a vacuum drought, while my husband and I waste money on new bags and belts, thinking it might work "one more time", if we only replace what appears to be the problem.  The problem with that is, the bags and belts never seem to be the problem.  So, we have been talking about a new vacuum for several, several weeks, while spending our money on school tutors, and summer "required reading" books, and a BOAT project for physics class, and groceries for the child who moved out, and yes, fast food, because sometimes, dinner just does not happen the way I think it will.

The things we don't even have money for, that would come before a vacuum are yearbooks (this is the second year they are not happening at my house), summer clothes shopping for my kids (one who has grown apx. 4" since last summer), more tutors (who said public school was free?).

3.     A Vacation.
I'm not talking about the ULTIMATE vacation.  Just a long weekend away, at a decent place, with decent things to do.  As it is, I can not afford an overnighter at the hotel down the street.  I can not afford to rent a motor home.  I can not afford a plane ticket - or bus or train - let alone five, so my family can vacation with me.  I can not afford tickets to Disneyland, Sea World, Universal Studios.  I can not afford gas to drive to those places. I can not afford to get to destinations that are supposed to be "free vacations"  I can not even afford to take my whole family to the movies at the same time.

4.     A Family Portrait
This may seem like a small item, but after being diagnosed with metastatic disease, all I wanted was a family portrait, so my family would have it once I was "gone".  All I wanted was a nice portrait to display, one day, at my funeral.

5.     A Bed
We bought our current mattress apx. 12 years ago.  At the time, we were told to flip the mattress after three weeks.  Those three weeks were the last time my husband slept through night for more than two nights in a row. Because of his bad back, he is up (and in pain) several hours each night.  We bought the mattress specifically for that purpose.  So, he could sleep.  And, he did - for three weeks.  Once we flipped it, it was never the same, even when we tried to flip it right back.  So, my husband wakes up most nights, and lies there, tense and hurting, and hoping he will be able to fall asleep one more time, before he has to get up in the morning.

6.     Health Insurance
Thankfully, my cancer is covered under the BCCPT (Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Program), and my children or covered under Medi-Cal.  But, my husband has not had insurance, has not had a physical, has not sought help for his back in a decade.  Once upon a time, when the cash payer was charged less than the insured patient, he could visit our family doctor for apx. $50.  Now, as a cash patient, his last visit was $200!  For an initial visit.  That is before x-rays, MRI's, or even a prescription for pain meds, none of which he was able to pay for.

There are other things I wish I had money for.  Little things.  Big things.  Things I want, and things I need.  But, these are the most pressing things.  The things that worry me, that force me to fall asleep with an ipod attached to my ear, so my mind can blank out and let me fall asleep.  These are the things that scare me, because when I'm gone, my husband will still not be able to afford most of these things.  And, he will be alone.

Why have I listed my financial woes for anyone to read, even though my husband would hate it, if he knew?
Because, I know that other metastatic cancer patients have things they want and need, too.  I know they lose their jobs, health insurance (after spending every last dime on COBRA), homes, vehicles.  I know they lose their ability to work, run, walk, camp, knit, play the sports they used to love, ride the horses they used to own - some due to finances, others due to illness.

And so, I thought - maybe, I could help. Maybe, I could provide help for others, help with their needs.  Maybe, I could send them on a small vacation, buy them a used car, hire someone to clean their house, have a nice dinner delivered to their home, purchase movie tickets to celebrate their cancerversaries, provide a family portrait, or a personal portrait, so they would have a nice picture at their funerals, whatever THEY might need.  Maybe, I could help ease their burden for just one day, one evening, one moment.

Which leads to It Seemed So Simple - part 2.  And, why I can't.

And, I guess I'll start here by saying - I wish I had money to help.  I wish I had money for this....