Article from Nonprofit Quarterly – Conflicts of Interest, Governance, and Dominate Coalitions; and California Statutory Business Judgment and Fiduciary Duties

Below I have provided a link to a Nonprofit Quarterly article that I believe is useful for nonprofit directors, boards and officers to keep in mind. I am providing this link because the discussions and examples are worthwhile; however, I do not necessarily agree with all of the contents and representations or assertions that are made – in that regard, it is important to keep in mind that each nonprofit, director, board, officer and situation is different and must be evaluated as such.

The article, Conflict of Interest: Recusal Is Not Enough (click on the following link https://nonprofitquarterly.org/conflict-of-interest-recusal-is-not-enough/) provides examples of conflict of interest situations in the nonprofit setting, including situations where a decision maker director or officer will receive a direct or indirect benefit from a transaction or occurrence that is being taken or voted upon. Obviously there should be processes in place, and these situations and possible situations must be carefully (1) identified, and (2) evaluated, including from an appearance of conflict perspective – although an appearance of conflict isn’t necessarily unlawful the possible optics of such nevertheless can be damaging to reputation. These situations and possible situations should also be identified and evaluated within the context of the nonprofit’s bylaws, policies, procedures, and historical precedent. I also note that a few articles in Nonprofit Quarterly have discussed coalitions and dominate coalitions in the context of governance and conflicts. Suffice it to say that all perspectives should be considered.

See also, for example,, California Business and Professions Code Section 17510.8, which nonprofits and their officers, directors, employees, agents and representatives should keep in mind. California Business and Professions Code Section 17510.8 provides as follows (note: I have added some underline emphasis):

Notwithstanding any other provision of this article, there exists a fiduciary relationship between a charity or any person soliciting on behalf of a charity, and the person from whom a charitable contribution is being solicited. The acceptance of charitable contributions by a charity or any person soliciting on behalf of a charity establishes a charitable trust and a duty on the part of the charity and the person soliciting on behalf of the charity to use those charitable contributions for the declared charitable purposes for which they are sought. This section is declarative of existing trust law principles.

In prior posts I have also discussed the business judgment rule and standard of care for corporations and nonprofits – for your ease of reference I have pasted below those statutes as they apply to California nonprofits (note: I have added some underline emphasis).

California Corporations Code Section 5231, for nonprofit public benefit corporations:

(a) A director shall perform the duties of a director, including duties as a member of any committee of the board upon which the director may serve, in good faith, in a manner that director believes to be in the best interests of the corporation and with such care, including reasonable inquiry, as an ordinarily prudent person in a like position would use under similar circumstances.

(b) In performing the duties of a director, a director shall be entitled to rely on information, opinions, reports or statements, including financial statements and other financial data, in each case prepared or presented by:

(1) One or more officers or employees of the corporation whom the director believes to be reliable and competent in the matters presented;

(2) Counsel, independent accountants or other persons as to matters which the director believes to be within that person’s professional or expert competence; or

(3) A committee upon which the director does not serve that is composed exclusively of any or any combination of directors, persons described in paragraph (1), or persons described in paragraph (2), as to matters within the committee’s designated authority, which committee the director believes to merit confidence, so long as, in any case, the director acts in good faith, after reasonable inquiry when the need therefor is indicated by the circumstances and without knowledge that would cause that reliance to be unwarranted.

(c) Except as provided in Section 5233, a person who performs the duties of a director in accordance with subdivisions (a) and (b) shall have no liability based upon any alleged failure to discharge the person’s obligations as a director, including, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, any actions or omissions which exceed or defeat a public or charitable purpose to which a corporation, or assets held by it, are dedicated.

California Corporations Code Section 7231, for nonprofit mutual benefit corporations:

(a) A director shall perform the duties of a director, including duties as a member of any committee of the board upon which the director may serve, in good faith, in a manner such director believes to be in the best interests of the corporation and with such care, including reasonable inquiry, as an ordinarily prudent person in a like position would use under similar circumstances.

(b) In performing the duties of a director, a director shall be entitled to rely on information, opinions, reports or statements, including financial statements and other financial data, in each case prepared or presented by:

(1) One or more officers or employees of the corporation whom the director believes to be reliable and competent in the matters presented;

(2) Counsel, independent accountants or other persons as to matters which the director believes to be within such person’s professional or expert competence; or

(3) A committee upon which the director does not serve that is composed exclusively of any or any combination of directors, persons described in paragraph (1), or persons described in paragraph (2), as to matters within the committee’s designated authority, which committee the director believes to merit confidence, so long as, in any case, the director acts in good faith, after reasonable inquiry when the need therefor is indicated by the circumstances and without knowledge that would cause such reliance to be unwarranted.

(c) A person who performs the duties of a director in accordance with subdivisions (a) and (b) shall have no liability based upon any alleged failure to discharge the person’s obligations as a director, including, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, any actions or omissions which exceed or defeat a public or charitable purpose to which assets held by a corporation are dedicated.

See also Cal. Corp. Code §7231.5:

(a) Except as provided in Section 7233 or 7236, there is no monetary liability on the part of, and no cause of action for damages shall arise against, any volunteer director or volunteer executive officer of a nonprofit corporation subject to this part based upon any alleged failure to discharge the person’s duties as a director or officer if the duties are performed in a manner that meets all of the following criteria:

(1) The duties are performed in good faith.

(2) The duties are performed in a manner such director or officer believes to be in the best interests of the corporation.

(3) The duties are performed with such care, including reasonable inquiry, as an ordinarily prudent person in a like position would use under similar circumstances.

(b) “Volunteer” means the rendering of services without compensation. “Compensation” means remuneration whether by way of salary, fee, or other consideration for services rendered. However, the payment of per diem, mileage, or other reimbursement expenses to a director or executive officer does not affect that person’s status as a volunteer within the meaning of this section.

(c) “Executive officer” means the president, vice president, secretary, or treasurer of a corporation or other individual serving in like capacity who assists in establishing the policy of the corporation.

(d) This section shall apply only to trade, professional, and labor organizations incorporated pursuant to this part which operate exclusively for fraternal, educational, and other nonprofit purposes, and under the provisions of Section 501(c) of the United States Internal Revenue Code.

(e) This section shall not be construed to limit the provisions of Section 7231.

California Corporations Code Section 9241, for nonprofit religious corporations:

(a) A director shall perform the duties of a director, including duties as a member of any committee of the board upon which the director may serve, in good faith, in a manner such director believes to be in the best interests of the corporation and with such care, including reasonable inquiry, as is appropriate under the circumstances.

(b) In performing the duties of a director, a director shall be entitled to rely on information, opinions, reports, or statements, including financial statements and other financial data, in each case prepared or presented by:

(1) One or more officers or employees of the corporation whom the director believes to be reliable and competent in the matters presented;

(2) Counsel, independent accountants, or other persons as to matters which the director believes to be within that person’s professional or expert competence;

(3) A committee upon which the director does not serve that is composed exclusively of any or any combination of directors, persons described in paragraph (1), or persons described in paragraph (2), as to matters within the committee’s designated authority, which committee the director believes to merit confidence; or

(4) Religious authorities and ministers, priests, rabbis, or other persons whose position or duties in the religious organization the director believes justify reliance and confidence and whom the director believes to be reliable and competent in the matters presented, so long as, in any case, the director acts in good faith, after reasonable inquiry when the need therefor is indicated by the circumstances, and without knowledge that would cause that reliance to be unwarranted.

(c) The provisions of this section, and not Section 9243, shall govern any action or omission of a director in regard to the compensation of directors, as directors or officers, or any loan of money or property to or guaranty of the obligation of any director or officer. No obligation, otherwise valid, shall be voidable merely because directors who benefited by a board resolution to pay such compensation or to make such loan or guaranty participated in making such board resolution.

(d) Except as provided in Section 9243, a person who performs the duties of a director in accordance with subdivisions (a) and (b) shall have no liability based upon any alleged failure to discharge his or her obligations as a director, including, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, any actions or omissions which exceed or defeat any purpose to which the corporation, or assets held by it, may be dedicated.

See also Cal. Corp. Code §9240(c):

(c) A director, in making a good faith determination, may consider what the director believes to be:

(1) The religious purposes of the corporation; and

(2) Applicable religious tenets, canons, laws, policies, and authority.

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Remember, every case and situation is different. It is important to obtain and evaluate all of the evidence that is available, and to apply that evidence to the applicable standards and laws. You do need to consult with an attorney and other professionals about your particular situation. This post is not a solicitation for legal or other services inside of or outside of California, and, of course, this post only is a summary of information that changes from time to time, and does not apply to any particular situation or to your specific situation. So . . . you cannot rely on this post for your situation or as legal or other professional advice or representation.

Thank you for reading this post. I ask that you also pass it along to other people who would be interested as it is through collaboration that great things and success occur more quickly. And please also subscribe to this blog and my other blog (see below), and connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Best to you, David Tate, Esq. (and inactive California CPA) – practicing in California only.

I am also the Chair of the Business Law Section of the Bar Association of San Francisco.

Blogs: Trust, estate/probate, power of attorney, conservatorship, elder and dependent adult abuse, nursing home and care, disability, discrimination, personal injury, responsibilities and rights, and other related litigation, and contentious administrations http://californiaestatetrust.com; Business, D&O, board, director, audit committee, shareholder, founder, owner, and investor litigation, governance, responsibilities and rights, compliance, investigations, and risk management  http://auditcommitteeupdate.com

My law practice primarily involves the following areas and issues:

Probate Court Disputes and Litigation

  • Trust and estate disputes and litigation, and contentious administrations representing fiduciaries and beneficiaries; elder abuse; power of attorney disputes; elder care and nursing home abuse; conservatorships; claims to real and personal property; and other related disputes and litigation.

Business and Business-Related Disputes and Litigation: Private, Closely Held, and Family Businesses; Public Companies; and Nonprofit Entities

  • Business v. business disputes including breach of contract; unlawful, unfair and fraudulent business practices; fraud, deceit and misrepresentation; unfair competition; licensing agreements, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing; etc.
  • Misappropriation of trade secrets
  • M&A disputes
  • Founder, officer, director and board, investor, shareholder, creditor, VC, control, governance, decision making, fiduciary duty, conflict of interest, independence, voting, etc., disputes
  • Buy-sell disputes
  • Funding and share dilution disputes
  • Accounting, lost profits, and royalty disputes and damages
  • Access to corporate and business records disputes
  • Employee, employer and workplace disputes and processes, discrimination, whistleblower and retaliation, harassment, defamation, etc.

Investigations and Governance

  • Corporate and business internal investigations
  • Board, audit committee and special committee governance and processes, disputes, conflicts of interest, independence, culture, ethics, etc.

The following are copies of the tables of contents of three of the more formal materials that I have written over the years about accounting/auditing, audit committees, and related legal topics – Accounting and Its Legal Implications was my first formal effort, which resulted in a published book that had more of an accounting and auditing focus; Chapter 5A, Audit Committee Functions and Responsibilities, for the California Continuing Education of the Bar has a more legal focus; and the most recent Tate’s Excellent Audit Committee Guide (February 2017) also has a more legal focus:

Accounting and Its Legal Implications

Chapter 5A, Audit Committee Functions and Responsibilities, CEB Advising and Defending Corporate Directors and Officers

Tate’s Excellent Audit Committee Guide

The following are other summary materials that you might find useful:

OVERVIEW OF A RISK MANAGEMENT PROCESS THAT YOU CAN USE 03162018

Audit Committee 5 Lines of Success, Diligence, and Defense - David Tate, Esq, 05052018

COSO Enterprise Risk Management Framework ERM Components and Principles

From a prior blog post which you can find at https://wp.me/p75iWX-dk if the below scan is too difficult to read:

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Forwarding a post by Eugene Fram – Nonprofit & Business Directors Must Be Vigilant – Board Liability Costs Could be $2.2 Million!

Below I have provided a link to a blog post by Eugene Fram. Eugene writes good materials for nonprofits. There have been rumblings for some time now about the possibility that a couple of states might start more actively overseeing nonprofits and their operations. And a few of the big players in the nonprofit community have suggested that more robust nonprofit governance might be beneficial. I ask that you click on the link below to Eugene’s post – although state action is unusual, the example situations that Eugene describes are less unusual. I am also updating my materials for nonprofit audit committees, which I will post soon.

Here is the link to Eugene’s post:  https://non-profit-management-dr-fram.com/2019/01/27/nonprofit-business-directors-must-be-vigilant-board-liability-costs-could-be-2-2-million-3/

Thanks for reading this post. If you have found value in this post, I ask that you also pass it along to other people who would be interested as it is through collaboration that great things and success occur more quickly. And please also subscribe to this blog and my other blog (see below), and connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Every case situation is different. You do need to consult with professionals about your particular situation. This post is not a solicitation for services inside of or outside of California, and, of course, this post only is a summary of information that changes from time to time, and does not apply to any particular situation or to your specific situation. So . . . you cannot rely on this post for your situation.

Best to you, David Tate, Esq. (and inactive California CPA) – practicing in California only

Blogs: California trust, estate, and elder abuse litigation and contentious administrations http://californiaestatetrust.com; D&O, audit committee, governance and risk management http://auditcommitteeupdate.com