Managing Money in Your Group

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This training walks through various ways to raise and manage money in your group for things like chapter activities and conference scholarships.

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Managing Money in Your Group is part of the Group Administration series.
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Managing Money Background

CCL groups are typically very creative about finding low cost ways to get the work done. 90% of our groups manage their finances informally and spend less than $1,000 in a year (most spend less than $500). Keeping things simple and informal allows more time to be spent on actions to build political will!

But as chapters grow in size and capacity, they sometimes find it useful to open a bank account and introduce more accountability into their processes. This also lets them take on bigger projects, such as raising funds to help their members go to CCL lobby days in D.C. Should you decide to start local fundraising, please read the material here first so that you can coordinate with our national fundraising. (If you want to raise funds for CCL nationally, we welcome that and see this training. Contact Christopher Anderson at christopher.anderson@citizensclimate.org for more information).

Groups often wonder if they can raise money for their needs through CCL or CCE by having people donate money earmarked for their group. Unfortunately, the complications of managing that for hundreds of groups without jeopardizing our outstanding audit reports (necessary for receiving major grants from foundations) means that the national office is unable to offer this.

Chapter Fundraising Strategies

If you want to begin fundraising for your group, here are some ideas to help you:

First, we have a favor to ask! Unlike many organizations, CCL and CCE only ask for money twice a year, in November/December and in March, because we think it is annoying to send requests for money every week or every day like some groups. We ask that you coordinate with us by only fundraising for your group in the other nine months of the year.

We therefore respectfully request that chapters refrain from fundraising in the months of March, November and December, including communications such as save-the-date notices for upcoming fundraisers.  

Many groups have successfully raised significant funds by:

  • Asking group members, family and members of the community to contribute, whether in person, via email, or through Facebook or other social media platforms. Such efforts are MUCH more effective if followed up by a personal phone call.
  • Throwing themed house party fundraisers with special speakers or guests. Please note that CCL insurance does not include liability for such events.
  • Holding a special event to raise money (and awareness of our work!), such as a climate concert, a potluck or a film screening.

Note: Donations to your CCL chapter won’t be tax deductible but recent changes to the tax code have limited the ability of many people to take charitable deductions for their donations anyway. Even before the tax code changes, most CCL groups have had no problem meeting their fundraising goals without tax deductibility. There is often a lot of untapped goodwill in the community for what you are doing!

How you handle the money matters, so don’t forget the best practices discussed in the Handling Finances section below.

Bank Accounts

Here is an overview of how to request an EIN and file the appropriate tax status with the IRS:

In order to open a bank account in your chapter’s name, it will take a few administrative steps, and a designated “responsible party” who will list their name and SSN on the application and be the Point of Contact (POC) with the IRS.

The responsible party should use their mailing address and be the one who files the annual tax return (if your chapter collects under $50,000 in revenue annually, the form is a simple postcard). Donations to your chapter are NOT tax deductible, however, you do not have to pay taxes on revenue you raise.

  • Chapters that wish to have a bank account will need to get their own federal EIN number. You cannot use national’s EIN number to open a bank account. You may use your chapter name to apply for an EIN. Follow the five step instructions below to apply for your EIN or visit the IRS website directly here. (Note: EIN stands for Employer Identification Number, but it is used by the IRS for all organizations regardless of whether they have employees.)
  • Talk to the bank, credit union or savings and loan where you would like to open your account and ask them if they will open an account for your chapter as an “unincorporated association.” Each financial institution and each state will have their own requirements. We recommend having two signers on the account for greater accountability. If your financial institution asks for an “organizing document,” here is an example of a simple one you can use.
  • After you have received an EIN, you must file Form 8976, which is a simple registration submitted online with a $50 user fee. This is a notice to the IRS that the organization exists and is claiming 501(c)(4) status. It has to be filed within 60 days of creation to avoid any penalties. Here is the link to file (you must create a username and password with the IRS in order to file this form).
  • Contact Olivia Melonas, Chief Financial Officer, at olivia@citizensclimate.org if you run into any unexpected scenarios.
  • We discourage our groups from forming 501(c)(3)s. Please consult Olivia if you are considering this. We request that, if you decide to go ahead, you use a name other than CCL or CCE so it’s clear you are completely separate from our national organizations.
  • We also discourage having an individual open a bank account in their name (and using their social security number) for your chapter as the income is subject to income tax and could be problematic for the individual’s tax situation.
What's the difference between a 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) organization?

Citizens’ Climate Lobby or CCL is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization. 501(c)(4) organizations can engage in unlimited lobbying so long as it pertains to the organization’s mission. Donations made to 501(c)(4) organizations are not deductible, though some businesses who make these contributions often write them off as advertising or business expenses.

Citizens Climate Education or CCE is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. 501(c)(3) organizations are not allowed to endorse or oppose political candidates, or donate money or time to political campaigns, and are permitted to lobby for only a very small percentage of time. Donations made to 501(c)(3) organizations are deductible to the full extent of the law as charitable contributions.

Applying for an EIN

Here is the five step instructions for how to apply online for an EIN:

Step One: Click here for the IRS website

Step Two: Once there, select "View Additional Types"  and click continue

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Step Three: Select "Other Non Profit" and click continue

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Step Four: Select "Banking Purposes" and click continue

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Step Five: Select "Individual" and enter SSN for the responsible party

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This step establishes the person who will file the annual 990N postcard and answers any questions the IRS may have.

Handling Finance

However you raise your money, it’s important to handle the funds with care. We strongly recommend that two or more people always handle the money, both when it comes in and when it goes out. Responsibilities of such co-treasurers may include:

  • Overseeing a chapter checking account
  • Itemizing expenses on a spreadsheet to share with the broader chapter
  • Signing off on expenses before making purchases
  • Reimbursing members for approved expenses

Such practices provide strong transparency, helping to assure donors that their money is being handled well while protecting the persons handling the money.

Raising money for conference scholarship

National and regional conferences offer volunteers in your group a wonderful opportunity to connect with CCL volunteers and staff from around the region or country, to deepen their skills and knowledge, and to return to your group feeling more committed and inspired than ever. But it can be expensive.

For many people, knowing that there is the possibility of some help with travel expenses makes it easier to decide to attend a conference.

The conference fees reflect a subsidy to every registrant by being set well below the cost of the event. Many groups have found it helpful to do some fundraising on their own to help members of their group attend a national or regional conference.

Suggestions for Fundraising for Conference Scholarships

  • Passing the hat. The simplest way to help someone is to informally pass the hat at one of your meetings to collect money for your members who are going. People who can’t go to a conference are often happy to help someone else who can.
  • Hotel and airline points. People who have extra hotel points or airline points can use them to subsidize lodging or transportation for a particular volunteer, by buying the ticket for them using the points.
  • Fundraising events. Some groups hold a community fundraising event and invite everyone they know to help send citizen lobbyists from their community to represent them in D.C. If you do this, it’s important to read the section above on handling chapter money in CCL. These donations will not be tax-exempt, and you’ll need a bank account for handling the money, as well as someone to make decisions about giving out the scholarships.
  • Crowdfunding platforms. Individual volunteers or groups have used crowd fundraising platforms such as GoFundMe to solicit donations to help them with their travel costs. The web platform will deduct a small percentage of each donation but provides an easy way to set up a web campaign. Once the page is created, sharing it on Social Media and emailing it to your friends and family can help you reach a lot of people.
  • Local coordinators. Your group can also help people to decide to go by having someone keep track of who is going. Your local volunteer coordinator makes it easy for people to find roommates and to make plans together by helping people who are going connect with each other.
  • The Conference Room Share Forum makes it easy for people to find roommates and to make travel plans together. The more you can create a team spirit around attending the conference, the more people will go, and your group will gain the benefits that come with empowering more people.
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Category
Training
Topics
Chapter Organizing