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WHAT SHOULD MY PRIVATE FOUNDATION DO FOR THE HOLIDAYS?

First and foremost, let me wish everyone who reads SocEntLaw the safest and happiest of holidays.

Next, I want to share something that, as the Grinch would say, has me “puzzled and puzzled ‘till [my] puzzler [is] sore.”*

Specifically, I cannot figure out why the Brewer Family Foundation’s tax lawyer, Ebenezer Scrooge, is insisting that the Foundation may buy $500,000 of stock in BP or give $500,000 to GreenPeace to celebrate the season, but that the Foundation cannot risk investing the same amount in SunSleigh, Inc. a “social enterprise” developing an affordable solar-powered car. I think old Ebenezer finally has lost it, and the Foundation needs a new tax lawyer.

Let me explain. Although not huge in terms of value, the imaginary Brewer Family Foundation’s mission is nonetheless a big one: to save the world, especially the environment. The Foundation’s endowment is $100 million and as required for tax purposes every year the Foundation distributes to charity at least 5% of the value of the Foundation’s assets. We’ve already met our 5% goal this year, but because our endowment is really well managed and generating an average 10% annual return, we’re feeling more generous than usual this December and have an extra $500,000 to spend. We’ve narrowed down our choices to the following three:

• Buying stock in BP (because we think BP stock is a really good investment right now even though it runs contrary to our mission of protecting the environment); or
• Giving money to GreenPeace expressly because we think GreenPeace hates oil companies and cares about the environment more than any other charity (except, of course, the Foundation); or
• Investing in SunSleigh, a local, privately-held company raising money to develop an affordable solar-powered car.

Personally, I would like the Foundation to invest the extra $500,000 in SunSleigh, but Ebenezer says we can’t.

More background: As I mentioned, SunSleigh is a private “social enterprise” company located here in Atlanta that is developing an affordable solar-powered car. A $500,000 investment in SunSleigh would equate to 1% of the SunSleigh stock. Like the Foundation, the owners of SunSleigh are so committed to the environment that they plan to sell the SunSleigh for as little as possible so long as they can generate a 2% return on invested capital. No doubt the investment will be very risky, and the Foundation might lose all $500,000, but in my well-considered judgment, SunSleigh really could help save the environment if it is successful. In fact, I sincerely and realistically believe that the Foundation might do more to save the planet by investing in SunSleigh than it could ever accomplish through all of its other investments and annual grants to environmental charities like GreenPeace. Moreover, SunSleigh really needs the Foundation’s $500,000 because it has been unable to attract normal investment capital due to SunSleigh’s commitment to keep the car’s costs low and pay only a 2% dividend forever.

So, I called my favorite tax lawyer, Ebenezer Scrooge, just to make sure that I was on solid legal and tax ground if the Brewer Family Foundation invested $500,000 in SunSleigh. After grilling me on all the particulars of the Foundation’s assets, mission, tax filings, annual distributions, and SunSleigh’s ownership, business plan, and stock offering—which, by the way, were all fine and legally compliant as far as Ebenezer was concerned—I was extremely disappointed to hear Ebenezer tell me that if the Foundation invested $500,000 in SunSleigh it could face a $50,000 penalty tax. Even more outrageous, Ebenezer said that I personally might have to pay a $50,000 tax as well. Further, if the Foundation invested in SunSleigh and lost the $500,000, then according to Ebenezer the IRS conceivably could revoke the Brewer Family Foundation’s tax exempt status.

I couldn’t believe my ears! After listening at length to Ebenezer explain in detail the complicated and confusing tax law applicable to private foundations, and after getting more and more frustrated, I finally said somewhat angrily to Ebenezer: “You mean to tell me that, in carrying out the Foundation’s mission to protect the environment, for a mere one-half of one percent of the foundation’s assets the tax law would prefer that I buy stock in BP or give the same amount of money to GreenPeace instead of investing in an idea that could make both BP and GreenPeace obsolete?”

Ebenezer sheepishly said, “Yes, that’s right.”

Then, I exclaimed, “You and the tax law are nuttier than a Christmas fruitcake.” I immediately hung up the phone and poured myself a spiked glass of eggnog to calm my nerves.

Do you know why Ebenezer probably is right? Revisit SocEntLaw in the future for the answer.

* “And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
― Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas

OPENING THE DOOR FOR PROGRAM RELATED INVESTMENTS

The US Treasury and IRS are proposing a rule change involving Program Related Investments. Below is the post from Jonathan Greenblat – Director of the Office of Social Innovation.

Recently, the Obama Administration took a simple but important step that has the potential to do a lot of good in communities across the country – anything from improving education, creating opportunity in low-income communities, or keeping our water and air safe.

Traditionally, foundations have tackled our most vexing problems primarily by making grants to organizations. Foundations are required to make annual charitable contributions of at least five percent of their total assets. These overwhelmingly are done via grants and most stay very close to the five percent minimum. The remaining 95 percent of assets are maintained in an endowment and typically invested in a diversified portfolio in order to preserve or increase value to enable continued giving in the future.  The proposed rule issued by the Treasury Department and IRS would make it easier for philanthropies to make what are called Program Related Investments (PRIs).

PRIs allow foundations to put more of their resources to work to advance their charitable mission through means other than grant-making – like equity investments, loans, loan guarantees, or other investments. Despite their flexibility, PRIs historically have not been used with much frequency because of confusion as to how they work and the high costs associated with them.  For example, many foundations find it necessary to proactively seek legal counsel to confirm that an investment would qualify under the definition of charitable purpose even before using a PRI.

To address these concerns, the Treasury Department and the IRS proposed a rule that includes updated examples of how private foundations may use PRIs to fund charitable activities, which will help foundations make these investments more easily and at a lower cost. The guidelines illustrate that organizations can use PRIs to support groups working on a diverse set of issues from preserving the environment, to furthering education and scientific research, to relieving the poor and distressed.

This important update is the first in 40 years since PRIs were implemented in 1972.

The proposed rule also clarifies how foundations can use different methods such as credit enhancement arrangements to strengthen the capacity of organizations.  This approach can leverage the balance sheets of foundations, enabling “capital activation” and potentially adding significantly to their capacity to drive social impact.  Such methods can serve as an indicator to other institutional investors about the possibilities of deploying capital in creative ways to generate value and strengthen communities.

A PRI is an investment made by a foundation, which, although it may generate income, is made primarily to accomplish charitable purposes.  PRIs are novel for several reasons.  First, they provide foundations with the flexibility to fund activities serving charitable purposes in a variety of ways beyond conventional grants.  Second, such investments can be made to tax-exempt charities but also to social enterprises and conventional businesses.  And third, unlike conventional grants, PRIs can take various forms, including equity investments and low-interest loans.

These guidelines do not cover all the potential scenarios, and public comments on the proposed rule have been requested by July 18.  We hope that the proposed rule will spark a dialogue over the next two months with the philanthropic community.  Through feedback on the guidelines and an exchange of ideas, we hope to update the regulations in a manner that serves the public interest.  This additional guidance is expected to facilitate the ability of foundations to determine whether investment qualifies as a PRI, reducing the transaction costs, conserving a foundation’s resources for additional charitable activity, and increasing capital flows for charities and social enterprises that can create jobs and generate impact.

To comment on the proposed rule for PRIs, please visit the Federal Register.

THREE OBJECTIONS TO L3C’S ANSWERED

Though many sections of the American Bar Association are in favor of L3C legislation, the Nonprofit Organizations Committee and the Limited Liability Companies, Partnerships and Unincorporated Entities Committee of the Business Law Section of the American Bar Association are planning to oppose the L3C legislation based on three primary objections. Below are the objections and the responses by leading nonprofit attorneys excerpted from their letter.

1. L3C’s are no better at receiving PRI’s than an LLC

Your letter indicates that “The L3C is no better than any other business form for receiving program related investment[s] ….”  In our view, an L3C is a better vehicle for accepting program-related investments than a standard LLC. The state-law L3C restrictions will make it easier for private foundation investors to conduct the due diligence necessary in order to complete a
program-related investment and comply with expenditure responsibility. A charitable purpose would necessarily be articulated in the L3C’s operating agreement, helping to ensure that the L3C’s purposes and operations are
aligned with PRI requirements. Persons who form L3Cs are likely to be better informed about the  requirements applicable to private foundations for PRIs and for expenditure responsibility and so draft their operating agreements accordingly.  The L3C designation automatically sets the entity apart from ordinary LLCs that may or may not be structured in  a way compatible with PRI requirements.
We agree, and understand that, L3C is not necessary for an LLC to serve as the vehicle for a program-related investment, and we have represented many foundations that have made PRIs into LLCs, but we believe that in many cases L3C will make it easier for foundation investors to make the findings that they need to make for a proper PRI and for compliance with expenditure responsibility.

Your letter indicates that “The L3C is no better than any other business form for receiving program related investment[s] ….”  In our view, an L3C is a better vehicle for accepting program-related investments than a standard LLC. The state-law L3C restrictions will make it easier for private foundation investors to conduct the due diligence necessary in order to complete a program-related investment and comply with expenditure responsibility. Acharitable purpose would necessarily be articulated in the L3C’s operating agreement, helping to ensure that the L3C’s purposes and operations are aligned with PRI requirements. Persons who form L3Cs are likely to be better informed about the  requirements applicable to private foundations for PRIs and for expenditure responsibility and so draft their operating agreements accordingly.  The L3C designation automatically sets the entity apart from ordinary LLCs that may or may not be structured in  a way compatible with PRI requirements.We agree, and understand that, L3C is not necessary for an LLC to serve as the vehicle for a program-related investment, and we have represented many foundations that have made PRIs into LLCs, but we believe that in many cases L3C will make it easier for foundation investors to make the findings that they need to make for a proper PRI and for compliance with expenditure responsibility.

2. Traunched investment results in private benefit for profit-seeking investors.

Your letter indicates that “tranched investing purposefully uses foundation funds to subsidize (and thereby attract) private, profit-seeking investors” so that such a PRI “almost inevitably results in private benefit.” Tranched financing does not lead to per-se private benefit, as you suggest.  Private benefit depends on all of the  facts and circumstances in a given situation.

In fact, a PRI (other than one made to a charity) always involves some level of private benefit, but rather than a disqualifying private benefit, it is deemed incidental to the accomplishment of charitable purposes. One example in the Treasury regulations involves a foundation making a below-market-rate loan to a “business enterprise which is financially secure and the stock of which is listed and traded on a national exchange,” in order to encourage the enterprise to establish a factory in a depressed urban area. In this example, there is clearly private benefit, since the corporation receives a below-market-rate loan from charity – but the private benefit is incidental. In any PRI investment in a for-profit entity there is private benefit, but the private-benefit doctrine involves a weighing of public good against private benefit.

In any case, there is  nothing in the L3C statutes that requires or even addresses tranched financing anymore than there is in the LLC statutes. L3C is now a creature of the states and American Indian nations that have adopted it, not of some promoters. Just because some promoters of L3C have talked about tranches does not mean that tranched financing is an inherent part of L3C. It is simply not in the L3C legislation

3.  Supposedly “Low Profit” companies could make significant profits.

Your letter also points to a purported “technical error” in the L3C legislation, suggesting that there is some contradiction between the requirement that “no significant purpose of  the company  is the production of income or the appreciation of property” on the one hand and the label “low-profit” and the involvement of for-profit investors on the other. But there is no such contradiction.

L3C requires that the primary purpose of the organization must be charitable, but permits the production of income to be a secondary purpose. As with a tax-exempt charity that must have a charitable purpose by law, yet also must, from an economic standpoint, have sufficient revenue to conduct operations, institutional decisions must be made with the L3C’s overarching charitable purpose in mind, but profit may certainly be the result. The fact that an investment produces significant income or appreciation is not, in the absence of other factors, conclusive evidence of a significant purpose involving the production of income or the appreciation of property.

In fact, an example in the Treasury regulations, in analyzing an investment by foundation “Y,” states that the investment “is a program-related investment even though Y may earn income from the investment in an amount comparable to or higher than earnings from conventional portfolio investments.” When assessing whether a “significant purpose” of a foundation’s proposed investment is the production of income for purposes of the PRI rules, the IRS finds it “relevant whether investors solely engaged in the investment for profit would be likely to make the investment on the same terms as the private foundation.”

Such an investment is less likely to be a PRI to the extent that for-profit investors would enter it on the same terms as a foundation. The clear corollary is that for-profit investors may enter such investments on terms more favorable to them than those under which a foundation is willing to invest. Thus, L3C can bring together foundations’ PRIs and investments on more favorable terms by for-profit investors to accomplish the L3C’s primary charitable purpose through a business that, because of its inherent risk and low likelihood of profit, simply would not be attractive solely to for-profit investors.

photo: Kate Gaensler