A Sister’s Death Inspires the Birth of a Nonprofit Group

  • By Betsy Stephens
  • March 08, 2013

holding hands

holding hands

My sister Ella Moore always wanted to make a difference. When she died of cancer at the age of 42, I decided to help her fulfill her wish.

I could have started a cancer-related organization, but that didn’t say “Ella” to me. Her life was about, well, making life better for other people—by being kinder.

Ella was a master of cultivating compassion, even in the nastiest of situations.

That’s the idea behind Moore Love, a nonprofit organization I started a year after her death. It creates a system of incentives and rewards to make kindness contagious.

Schools purchase a Moore Love kit that contains numbered cards. The cards say, “Kindness is catching. Pass it on.” Children are encouraged to help someone, and then pass their card along to that person.

One little boy shoveled snow from a neighbor’s walkway, for example, and then his neighbor gave a $20 gift card for food to a homeless man.

Once they’ve done a good deed, they enter their card number and whatever action they took on the Moore Love website. Kids can see how kindness begets kindness by tracking how far their card goes.

It sounds complicated, but setting up that whole system was nothing compared to obtaining 501(c)3 status—the IRS category that deems an organization an official nonprofit. This classification excuses my organization from paying federal taxes on donations received and allows donors to write off their contributions.

Although we could run Moore Love without 501c3 status, having the ability to get donations will help us grow beyond the four towns in New Jersey, where the program is operating now.

There’s a lot of good information out there, including this five-step guide from the Council of Nonprofits and several how-to articles here. I anticipated it would take about a month or so to get all the paperwork underway. But here it is, eight months since I started Moore Love, and I’m just getting the 501c3 status finalized.

The process was a lot less clearcut than I thought: You get your nonprofit tax number right away, as soon as you file it with the state. But then you have 27 months to get all the paperwork in to get the nonprofit status approved.

First, you need to recruit board members. The IRS requires a minimum of three. Fortunately, Andrew Grumet, who practices law in New York City and focuses solely on nonprofits, says the only requirement for board members is that they be involved and attentive.

Then, once you have your board, you’re supposed to have an organizational meeting to vote to do the following: Register your organization as a nonprofit corporation in your state, register for an Employer Identification Number (even if you don’t have employees), open a bank account and approve by-laws.

I say “supposed to” because I did all of this before ever having an organizational meeting, but I don’t feel I’m that much worse for the wear.

Once you have completed all of the state filings, you are finally ready to file your 501(c)3 paperwork. I thought I could do this myself—until I got to page 12 of the 26-page application. That’s when I realized I needed help, and I hired a tax attorney recommended by one of our board members.

The attorney quickly cashed my $2,500 check, then did next to nothing for six months. (Grumet recommends asking to pay only a portion upfront and the rest after the job is complete.) The other mistake I made, Grumet says, is not choosing an attorney who specializes in nonprofits. He likened it to visiting a podiatrist when you’re actually having chest pain.

After that painful experience—I’m still waiting for that attorney to send me my $2,500 back, minus fees, of course—I signed up for Kids Non Profits USA, a 501(c)3 that offers non profit incorporation and tax exempt services.

Calling an internet service may not work for everyone—in fact, Grumet advises against them. But so far, the service has worked well for me. I like the $399 price tag, and I was assigned an attorney who has been helpful in finally getting me close to my goal.

I don’t have 501c3 status yet, but I’m within striking distance. Meanwhile, Moore Love is up and running in four New Jersey schools. Pretty soon, we’ll be able to throw a serious fundraiser and get the money we need to get even more schools and more kids involved. Ella would be proud.

Tagged in: Taxes, Charity