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How healthy is your organization's HIPAA compliance?

04.10.18

Over the course of its day-to-day operations, every organization acquires, stores, and transmits Protected Health Information (PHI), including names, email addresses, phone numbers, account numbers, and social security numbers.

Yet the security of each organization’s PHI varies dramatically, as does its need for compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). Organizations that meet the definition of a covered entity or business associate under HIPAA must comply with requirements to protect the privacy and security of health information.

Noncompliance can have devastating consequences for an organization, including:

  • Civil violations, with fines ranging from $100 to $50,000 per violation
  • Criminal penalties, with fines ranging from around $50,000 to $250,000, plus imprisonment

All it takes is just one security or privacy breach. As breaches of all kinds continue to rise, this may be the perfect time to evaluate the health of your organization’s HIPAA compliance. To keep in compliance and minimize your risk of a breach, your organization should have:

  • An up-to-date and comprehensive HIPAA security and privacy plan
  • Comprehensive HIPAA training for employees
  • Staff who are aware of all PHI categories
  • Sufficiently encrypted devices and strong password policies

HIPAA Health Check: A Thorough Diagnosis

If your organization doesn’t have these safeguards in place, it’s time to start preparing for the worst — and undergo a HIPAA health check.

Organizations need to understand what they have in place, and where they need to bolster their practice. Here are a variety of fact-finding methods and tools we recommend, including (but not limited to):

  • Administrative, technical, and physical risk analyses
  • Policy, procedure, and business documentation reviews
  • Staff surveys and interviews
  • IT audits and testing of data security

Once you have diagnosed your organization’s “as-is” status, you need to move your organization toward the “to-be” status — that is, toward HIPAA compliance — by:

  • Prioritizing your HIPAA security and privacy risks
  • Developing tactics to mitigate those risks
  • Providing tools and tactics for security and privacy breach prevention and minimization
  • Creating or updating policies, procedures, and business documents, including a HIPAA security and privacy plan

As each organization is different, there are many factors to consider as you go through these processes, and customize your approach to the HIPAA-compliance needs of your organization.

The Road to Wellness

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Don’t let a security or privacy breach jump-start the compliance process. Reach out to us for a HIPAA health check. Contact us if you have any questions on how to get your organization on the road to wellness.

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Organizational and Governance

Success is slippery and can be evasive, even on the simplest of projects. Grasping it grows harder during lengthier and more complex undertakings, such as enterprise-wide technology projects—and requires incorporating a variety of short- and long-term strategies. Yet focusing only on the technological aspects of these projects is not enough. Here are 10 non-tech strategies for success in tech projects.

1. Gain leadership support.

An enterprise-wide technology project can transform an entire organization. Therefore, the first step toward success is to ensure your leadership makes the project an organizational priority. Projects described as "IT projects” in the past must now be seen as strategic business solutions that meet the needs of the organization, prioritized in sync with goals and objectives of the organization. Executives and management need to be on board and demonstrate solid commitment to the project. This dramatically improves the likelihood of project success, and your team knows that leadership is supporting their efforts.

2. Develop and promote a shared vision.

To start a successful project, members across the organization must understand and embrace a shared vision. One way to encourage this is to hold “vision sessions” where key stakeholders meet to talk about how they see the new technology improving operations. Building consensus early on allows your staff to be fully open to change, in turn helping generate positive and creative ideas.

3. Establish project tenets. 

Project leadership must develop a set of project goals and expectations, or tenets, which help staff understand the rationale for the project. They should be clearly defined, meaningful, and when possible, measurable, so the organization knows what success is—and how to achieve it. Tenet examples include:

We will collect and share information across the organization, subject to appropriate security and privacy compliance.

The use of standard business processes across the organization will minimize variations.

We will not design the new system based on existing workflows, and instead will use industry best practices.

4. Create a governance structure.

Early on in the project, identify a clear decision-making structure for resolving issues that arise and preventing delays. Although the project team should address issues first, having an agreed-upon process for issue escalation to leadership will be valuable when you can’t reach consensus.

5. Set realistic timelines.

Set realistic timelines, communicate them clearly, and refer to them often. An easily accessible visual timeline helps maintain project momentum and enthusiasm. It also helps you manage expectations and prevent scope creep. It’s important for the leadership team to inform staff of any changes that will impact their daily responsibilities or affect the timeline or scope of the project.

6. Engage key stakeholders early and often.

Change—even positive change—is stressful. Change management is an essential cornerstone to project success. Building sustainable collaboration and project buy-in from stakeholders at project onset and maintaining it throughout the project life cycle is critical to meeting deadlines and a successful outcome. In the case of a new system selection or implementation project, your operational leads should design and champion new workflows supported by enabled technology. Staff members need to work in sync with your IT department to translate their operational needs into technology requirements.

7. Develop a comprehensive communication plan.

A comprehensive communication plan is vital to the success of any project. It keeps stakeholders engaged and project teams motivated. It also includes the use of visual graphics, website videos, and/or social media for targeting the right groups with the right message at the right time, and in the right manner.

8. Don’t skimp on resources.

Adequate finances, technical infrastructure, and “people” resources must be committed for the long haul—project success is a journey, not a destination. Give your staff enough time to participate in planning, workflow redesign, and ongoing education. In order to help ensure key staff are available for system design and testing work, identify backfill resources for peak time periods in the project.

9. Practice change management for cultural considerations.

Your organization must prepare, support, and sustain all employees through effective change management in order to effect a culture of change. Pre-planning will help to identify potential roadblocks and areas of resistance, and facilitate embracing change.

Resistance comes from the degree of change required, and when staff members believe new technology is just a passing fad. It will take time—and commitment—for your staff members to learn how to use the new technology efficiently and understand its benefits.

10. Develop an effective and sustainable training plan.

An effective and sustainable training plan can’t be overemphasized. It should identify training resources, including personnel, locations, and equipment. In addition, a comprehensive training plan addresses different learning styles of various staff members and multiple training models, such as face-to-face classroom, virtual labs, and online learning. You can supplement these training models with “just in time” 1:1 role-based scenario trainings as needed. The plan should include the development of various training aides, including playbooks, scripts, quick-tip reference sheets, and FAQs. Finally, the plan should include methods for assessing staff proficiency, such as competency assessments and follow-up incremental trainings after go-live.

Additional strategies for tech project success

Ultimately, 10 is an arbitrary number. There are more non-tech strategies you can deploy to achieve tech project success. And of course, there are some tech-specific approaches you should know. If you would like to discuss these strategies—and the concrete tactics your organization can use to implement them on a day-to-day basis—please reach out to me.

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10 non-tech strategies for tech project success

Some days, social media seems nothing more than a blur of easily forgettable memes. Yet certain memes keep reappearing to the point where we have no choice but to remember them. Remember the one that displays various images of oceans or forests or mountains with the words “Relax. Nothing Is Under Control”? I do.

Wise words, if you’re on vacation and actually relaxing near an ocean, forest, or mountain. Yet they don’t necessarily apply to the day-to-day world of IT administration and management, particularly when undergoing a system implementation or upgrade. IT directors and staff must have at least some control. One of the best ways to do that, and keep IT chaos at bay, is to apply the change control process.

The Core of Change Control
Before we go any further, let’s clarify one thing: Change control is not change management, the general management of change and development within an organization. Change control refers to the systematic approach of handling midstream changes made during the course of an organization’s project, such as during a new system implementation.

In the world of local government, midstream IT project changes occur both suddenly and regularly due to a variety of factors, including new regulations, modifications to project scope, schedule, budget, and funding. Because many government departments use integrated systems to share data, these changes can have unintended downstream effects, including decreased productivity and revenue, and increased frustration and cost — especially if other departments within the organization don’t know what is going on.

At its core, change control helps you communicate and make decisions to avoid midstream project changes being made in a “vacuum.” It also helps ensure approval from all departments affected by the changes.

When to Use the Change Control Process
There are many types of changes that require change control. These include:

  • Billing changes
  • Mandate changes
  • Operational changes
  • Compliance changes
  • System interface changes
  • Quality assurance changes
  • Changes dictated by grants
  • Revenue management changes
  • Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) changes
  • Changes dictated by external agency requests
  • Electronic Health Records (EHR) or Electronic Resource Planning (ERP) program changes

You can also create an expedited process for time-sensitive changes, based on your organization’s unique needs.

How to Use the Change Control Process
The change control process generally consists of three phases:

Change Request: An individual who wants to make a change to an ongoing project completes a Change Control Request Form. The individual should provide the following information to their supervisor or director, who then determines whether or not to consider the change:

  • The due date of the requested change
  • The affected business lead, if known
  • The description of the requested change
  • The justification/benefit of the requested change
  • The impact of not implementing the requested change
  • Individual(s) who need to be notified and/or trained

Change Response: The CCB informs the requestor of its decision. If the request is approved, the requestor completes a Change Control Implementation Plan. Next, the requestor submits the completed Change Implementation Plan to their supervisor or director for review. Once the supervisor or director approves the Change Control Implementation Plan, they email the approval to both the requestor and a representative of the CCB.

Change Review: If the supervisor approves the change, a governing entity (the Change Control Board, or CCB) reviews the Change Control Request Form. The CCB either approves or declines the proposed change.

The Benefits of Change Control
The benefits of change control are many. Change control:

  • Ensures that midstream changes to IT systems and operations are vetted by all stakeholders
  • Provides opportunities for ongoing business process improvement and staff development
  • Improves training and communication
  • Helps avoid unnecessary changes that can disrupt services
  • Improves resource efficiency

Ultimately, each midstream project change — especially an IT project change — is a bit of a journey. With the change control process, the journey can feel more like a walk on the beach. This blog provides a simple summary of the process, as there are many other things to consider when implementing. But relax: It’s all under control!

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Make midstream project changes a walk on the beach: The change control process

Editor’s note: If you are a state government CFO, CIO, project or program manager, this blog is for you.

What is the difference in how government organizations procure agile vs. non-agile information technology (IT) services? (Learn more about agile here).

In each case, they typically follow five stages through the process as shown in Figure A:
 

Figure A: Overview of Procurement Process for Agile vs. Non-Agile IT Services

However, there are differences in how these stages are carried out if procuring agile vs. non-agile IT services. 

Unfortunately, most government organizations are unaware of these differences, which could result in unsuccessful procurements and ultimately not meeting your project’s needs and expectations. 
This blog series will illustrate how to strategically adjust the standard stages outlined in Figure A to successfully procure agile IT services.

Stage 1: Plan project
In Stage 1, you define the scope of the project by identifying what your organization wants, needs, and can achieve within the available timeframe and budget. You then determine the project’s objectives while strategically considering their impact on your organization before developing the RFP. Figure B summarizes the key differences between the impacts of agile vs. non-agile services to consider in this stage.


Figure B: Plan Project for Agile vs. Non-Agile IT Services

The nuances of planning for agile services reflect an organization’s readiness for a culture shift to a continuous process of development and deployment of software and system updates. 

Stage 2: Draft RFP
In Stage 2, as part of RFP drafting, define the necessary enhancements and functionality needed to achieve the project objectives determined in Stage 1. You then translate these enhancements and functionalities into business requirements. Requirement types might include business needs as functionality, services, staffing, deliverables, technology, and performance standards. Figure C summarizes the key differences between drafting the RFP for a project procuring agile vs. non-agile services.


Figure C: Draft RFP for Agile vs. Non-Agile IT Services

In drafting the RFP, the scope of work emphasizes expectations for how your team and the vendor team will work together, the terms of how progress will be monitored, and the description of requirements for agile tools and methods.

Stage 3: Issue RFP
In Stage 3, issue the RFP to the vendor community, answer vendor questions, post amendments, and manage the procurement schedule. Since this stage of the process requires you to comply with your organization’s purchasing and procurement rules, Figure D illustrates very little difference between issuing an RFP for a project procuring agile or non-agile services.


Figure D: Issue RFP for Agile vs. Non-Agile IT Services 

Stage 4: Review proposals
In Stage 4, you evaluate vendor proposals against the RFP’s requirements and project objectives to determine the best proposal response. Figure E summarizes the key differences in reviewing proposals for a project that is procuring agile vs. non-agile services.


Figure E: Reviewing Proposals for Agile vs. Non-Agile IT Services 

Having appropriate evaluation priorities and scoring weights that align with how agile services are delivered should not be under-emphasized. 

Stage 5: Award and implement contract
In Stage 5, you award and implement the contract with the best vendor proposal identified during Stage 4. Figure F summarizes the key differences in awarding and implementing the contract for agile vs. non-agile services.



Figure F:  Award and Implement Contract for Agile vs. Non-Agile Services 

Due to the iterative and interactive requirements of agile, it is necessary to have robust and frequent collaboration among program teams, executives, sponsors, and the vendor to succeed in your agile project delivery.

What’s next?
The blog posts in this series will explain step-by-step how to procure agile services through the five stages, and at the series conclusion, your organization will better understand how to successfully procure and implement agile services. If you have questions or comments, please contact our team.  

Blog
Procuring agile vs. non-agile projects in five stages: An overview

Who has the time or resources to keep tabs on everything that everyone in an organization does? No one. Therefore, you naturally need to trust (at least on a certain level) the actions and motives of various personnel. At the top of your “trust level” are privileged users—such as system and network administrators and developers—who keep vital systems, applications, and hardware up and running. Yet, according to the 2019 Centrify Privileged Access Management in the Modern Threatscape survey, 74% of data breaches occurred using privileged accounts. The survey also revealed that of the organizations responding:

  • 52% do not use password vaulting—password vaulting can help privileged users keep track of long, complex passwords for multiple accounts in an encrypted storage vault.
  • 65% still share the use of root and other privileged access—when the use of root accounts is required, users should invoke commands to inherent the privileges of the account (SUDO) without actually using the account. This ensures “who” used the account can be tracked.
  • Only 21% have implemented multi-factor authentication—the obvious benefit of multi-factor authentication is to enhance the security of authenticating users, but also in many sectors it is becoming a compliance requirement.
  • Only 47% have implemented complete auditing and monitoring—thorough auditing and monitoring is vital to securing privileged accounts.

So how does one even begin to trust privileged accounts in today’s environment? 

1. Start with an inventory

To best manage and monitor your privileged accounts, start by finding and cataloguing all assets (servers, applications, databases, network devices, etc.) within the organization. This will be beneficial in all areas of information security such as asset management, change control and software inventory tracking. Next, inventory all users of each asset and ensure that privileged user accounts:

  • Require privileges granted be based on roles and responsibilities
  • Require strong and complex passwords (exceeding those of normal users)
  • Have passwords that expire often (30 days recommended)
  • Implement multi-factor authentication
  • Are not shared with others and are not used for normal activity (the user of the privileged account should have a separate account for non-privileged or non-administrative activities)

If the account is only required for a service or application, disable the account’s ability to login from the server console and from across the network

2. Monitor—then monitor some more

The next step is to monitor the use of the identified privileged accounts. Enable event logging on all systems and aggregate to a log monitoring system or a Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) system that alerts in real time when privileged accounts are active. Configure the system to alert you when privileged accounts access sensitive data or alter database structure. Report any changes to device configurations, file structure, code, and executable programs. If these changes do not correlate to an approved change request, treat them as incidents and investigate.  

Consider software that analyzes user behavior and identifies deviations from normal activity. Privileged accounts that are accessing data or systems not part of their normal routine could be the indication of malicious activity or a database attack from a compromised privileged account. 

3. Secure the event logs

Finally, ensure that none of your privileged accounts have access to the logs being used for monitoring, nor have the ability to alter or delete those logs. In addition to real time monitoring and alerting, the log management system should have the ability to produce reports for periodic review by information security staff. The reports should also be archived for forensic purposes in the event of a breach or compromise.

Gain further assistance (and peace of mind) 

BerryDunn understands how privileged accounts should be monitored and audited. We can help your organization assess your current event management process and make recommendations if improvements are needed. Contact our team.

Blog
Trusting privileged accounts in the age of data breaches

Not-for-profit board members need to wear many hats for the organization they serve. Every board member begins their term with a different set of skills, often chosen specifically for those unique abilities. As board members, we often assist the organization in raising money and as such, it is important for all members of the board to be fluent in the language of fundraising. Here are some basic definitions you need to know, and the differences between them.

Gifts with donor restriction

While many organizations can use all donations for their operating costs, many donors prefer to specify how―or when―they can use the donation. Gift restrictions come in several forms:

1.    Purpose-restricted gifts are, as their name implies, for a specific use. These can be in response to a request from your organization for that specific purpose or the donor can indicate its purpose when they make the gift. Consider how you solicit gifts from donors to be sure you don’t inadvertently apply restrictions. Not all gifts need to (or even should) be accepted by an organization, so take care in considering if specific restrictions are in line with your mission. 

2.    Time-restricted gifts can come with or without a restricted purpose. You can treat gifts for future periods as revenue today, though the funds would be considered restricted for use until the time restrictions have lapsed. These are often in the form of pledges of gifts for the future, but can also be actual donations provided today for use in coming years.

3.    Some donors prefer the earnings of their gift be available for use, while their actual donation be held in perpetuity. These are often in the form of endowments and specific restrictions may or may not be placed by the donor on the endowment’s earnings. Laws can differ from state-to-state for the treatment of those earnings, but your investment policy should govern the spending from these earnings.

The bottom line? Restricted-purpose gifts must be used for that restricted purpose.

Gifts without restriction are always welcome by organizations. The board has the ability to direct the spending of these gifts, and may designate funds for a future purpose, but unlike gifts with donor restrictions, the board does have the discretion to change their own designations.

Whether raising money or reviewing financial information, understanding fundraising language is key for board members to make the most out of donations. See A CPA’s guide to starting a capital campaign and Accounting 101 for development directors blogs for more information. Have questions or want to learn more? Please contact Emily Parker or Sarah Belliveau.

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The language of fundraising: A primer for NFP board members

Of all the changes that came with the sweeping Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) in late 2017, none has prompted as big a response from our clients as the changes TCJA makes to the qualified parking deduction. Then, last month, the IRS issued its long-waited guidance on this code section in the form of Notice 2018-99

We've taken a look at both the the original provisions, and the new guidance, and have collected the salient points and things we think you need to consider this tax season. For not-for-profit organizations, visit my article here. And for-profit companies can read here.  

Blog
IRS guidance on qualified parking: Our take

As 2018 is about to come to a close, organizations with fiscal year ends after December 15, 2018, are poised to start implementing the new not-for-profit reporting standard. Here are three areas to address before the close of the fiscal year to set your organization up for a smooth and successful transition, and keep in compliance:

  1. Update and approve policies—organizations need to both change certain disclosures and add new ones. The policies in place at the end of the year will be pivotal in creating the framework within which to draft these new disclosures (for example, treatment of board designations, underwater endowments, and liquidity).
  2. Functional expense reporting—if you have not historically reported expenses by natural and functional classification, develop the methodology for cost allocation. If you already have a framework in place, revisit it to determine if this still fits your organization. Finally, determine where you will present this information in the financial statements.
  3. Internal investment costs—be sure you have a methodology to segregate the organization’s internal investment costs such as internal staff time (remember, this is the cost to generate the income, not account for it) and consider the overall disclosure.

While the implementation of the new reporting standard will not be without cost (both internal costs and audit costs), if your organization considers this an opportunity to better tell your story, the end result will be a much more useful financial narrative. Don’t forget to include the BerryDunn implementation whitepaper in your implementation strategy.

We at BerryDunn are helping organizations gain momentum with a personal touch, through our not-for-profit reporting checkup. This checkup includes initial recast of the prior financial statements to the new format, a personalized review of the checklist to identify opportunities for success, and consideration of the footnotes to be updated. Contact me and find out how you can join the list of organizations getting ahead of the new standard.

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Three steps to ace the new not-for-profit reporting standard

IRS Notice 2018-67 Hits the Charts

Last week, in addition to The Eagles Greatest Hits (1971-1975) album becoming the highest selling album of all time, overtaking Michael Jackson’s Thriller, the IRS issued Notice 2018-67its first formal guidance on Internal Revenue Code Section 512(a)(6), one of two major code sections added by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 that directly impacts tax-exempt organizations. Will it too, be a big hit? It remains to be seen.

Section 512(a)(6) specifically deals with the reporting requirements for not-for-profit organizations carrying on multiple unrelated business income (UBI) activities. Here, we will summarize the notice and help you to gain an understanding of the IRS’s thoughts and anticipated approaches to implementing §512(a)(6).

While there have been some (not so quiet) grumblings from the not-for-profit sector about guidance on Code Section 512(a)(7) (aka the parking lot tax), unfortunately we still have not seen anything yet. With Notice 2018-67’s release last week, we’re optimistic that guidance may be on the way and will let you know as soon as we see anything from the IRS.

Before we dive in, it’s important to note last week’s notice is just that?a notice, not a Revenue Procedure or some other substantive legislation. While the notice can, and should be relied upon until we receive further guidance, everything in the notice is open to public comment and/or subject to change. With that, here are some highlights:

No More Netting

512(a)(6) requires the organization to calculate unrelated business taxable income (UBTI), including for purposes of determining any net operating loss (NOL) deduction, separately with respect to each such trade or business. The notice requires this separate reporting (or silo-ing) of activities in order to determine activities with net income from those with net losses.

Under the old rules, if an organization had two UBI activities in a given year, (e.g., one with $1,000 of net income and another with $1,000 net loss, you could simply net the two together on Form 990-T and report $0 UBTI for the year. That is no longer the case. From now on, you can effectively ignore activities with a current year loss, prompting the organization to report $1,000 as taxable UBI, and pay associated federal and state income taxes, while the activity with the $1,000 loss will get “hung-up” as an NOL specific to that activity and carried forward until said activity generates a net income.

Separate Trade or Business

So, how does one distinguish (or silo) a separate trade or business from another? The Treasury Department and IRS intend to propose some regulations in the near future, but for now recommend that organizations use a “reasonable good-faith interpretation”, which for now includes using the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) in order to determine different UBI activities.

For those not familiar, the NAICS categorizes different lines of business with a six-digit code. For example, the NAICS code for renting* out a residential building or dwelling is 531110, while the code for operating a potato farm is 111211. While distinguishing residential rental activities from potato farming activities might be rather straight forward, the waters become muddier if an organization rents both a residential property and a nonresidential property (NAICS code 531120). Does this mean the organization has two separate UBI rental activities, or can both be grouped together as rental activities? The notice does not provide anything definitive, but rather is requesting public comments?we expect to see something more concrete once the public comment period is over.

*In the above example, we’re assuming the rental properties are debt-financed, prompting a portion of the rental activity to be treated as UBI.

UBI from Partnership Investments (Schedule K-1)

Notice 2018-67 does address how to categorize/group unrelated business income for organizations that receive more than one partnership K-1 with UBI reported. In short, if the Schedule K-1s the organization receives can meet either of the tests below, the organization may treat the partnership investments as a single activity/silo for UBI reporting purposes. The notice offers the following:

De Minimis Test

You can aggregate UBI from multiple K-1s together as long as the exempt organization holds directly no more than 2% of the profits interest and no more that 2% of the capital interest. These percentages can be found on the face of the Schedule K-1 from the Partnership and the notice states those percentages as shown can be used for this determination. Additionally, the notice allows organizations to use an average of beginning of year and end of year percentages for this determination.

Ex: If an organization receives a K-1 with UBI reported, and the beginning of year profit & capital percentages are 3%, and the end of year percentages are 1%, the average for the year is 2% (3% + 1% = 4%/2 = 2%). In this example, the K-1 meets the de minimis test.

There is a bit of a caveat here—when determining an exempt organization's partnership interest, the interest of a disqualified person (i.e. officers, directors, trustees, substantial contributors, and family members of any of those listed here), a supporting organization, or a controlled entity in the same partnership will be taken into account. Organizations need to review all K-1s received and inquire with the appropriate person(s) to determine if they meet the terms of the de minimis test.

Control Test

If an organization is not able to pass the de minimis test, you may instead use the control test. An organization meets the requirements of the control test if the exempt organization (i) directly holds no more than 20 percent of the capital interest; and (ii) does not have control or influence over the partnership.

When determining control or influence over the partnership, you need to apply all relevant facts and circumstances. The notice states:

“An exempt organization has control or influence if the exempt organization may require the partnership to perform, or may prevent the partnership from performing, any act that significantly affects the operations of the partnership. An exempt organization also has control or influence over a partnership if any of the exempt organization's officers, directors, trustees, or employees have rights to participate in the management of the partnership or conduct the partnership's business at any time, or if the exempt organization has the power to appoint or remove any of the partnership's officers, directors, trustees, or employees.”

As noted above, we recommend your organization review any K-1s you currently receive. It’s important to take a look at Line I1 and make sure your organization is listed here as “Exempt Organization”. All too often we see not-for-profit organizations listed as “Corporations”, which while usually technically correct, this designation is really for a for-profit corporation and could result in the organization not receiving the necessary information in order to determine what portion, if any, of income/loss is attributable to UBI.

Net Operating Losses

The notice also provides some guidance regarding the use of NOLs. The good news is that any pre-2018 NOLs are grandfathered under the old rules and can be used to offset total UBTI on Form 990-T.

Conversely, any NOLs generated post-2018 are going to be considered silo-specific, with the intent being that the NOL will only be applicable to the activity which gave rise to the loss. There is also a limitation on post-2018 NOLs, allowing you to use only 80% of the NOL for a given activity. Said another way, an activity that has net UBTI in a given year, even with post-2017 NOLs, will still potentially have an associated tax liability for the year.

Obviously, Notice 2018-67 provides a good baseline for general information, but the details will be forthcoming, and we will know then if they have a hit. Hopefully the IRS will not Take It To The Limit in terms of issuing formal guidance in regards to 512(a)(6) & (7). Until they receive further IRS guidance,  folks in the not-for-profit sector will not be able to Take It Easy or have any semblance of a Peaceful Easy Feeling. Stay tuned.

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Tax-exempt organizations: The wait is over, sort of

As we begin the second year of Uniform Guidance, here’s what we’ve learned from year one, and some strategies you can use to approach various challenges, all told from a runner's point of view.

A Runner’s Perspective

As I began writing this article, the parallels between strategies that I use when competing in road races — and the strategies that we have used in navigating the Uniform Guidance — started to emerge. I’ve been running competitively for six years, and one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that implementing real-time adjustments to various challenges that pop up during a race makes all the difference between crossing — or falling short of — the finish line. This lesson also applies to implementing Uniform Guidance. On your mark, get set, go!

Challenge #1: Unclear Documentation

Federal awarding agencies have been unclear in the documentation within original awards, or funding increments, making it hard to know which standards to follow: the previous cost circulars, or the Uniform Guidance?

Racing Strategy: Navigate Decision Points

Take the time to ask for directions. In a long race, if you’re apprehensive about what’s ahead, stop and ask a volunteer at the water station, or anywhere else along the route.

If there is a question about the route you need to take in order to remain compliant with the Uniform Guidance, it’s your responsibility to reach out to the respective agency single audit coordinators or program officials. Unlike in a race, where you have to ask questions on the fly, it’s best to document your Uniform Guidance questions and answers via email, and make sure to retain your documentation.  Taking the time to make sure you’re headed in the right direction will save you energy, and lost time, in the long run.    

Challenge #2: Subrecipient Monitoring

The responsibilities of pass-through entities (PTEs) have significantly increased under the Uniform Guidance with respect to subaward requirements. Under OMB Circular A-133, the guidance was not very explicit on what monitoring procedures needed to be completed with regard to subrecipients. However, it was clear that monitoring to some extent was a requirement.

Racing Strategy: Keep a Healthy Pace

Take the role of “pacer” in your relationships with subrecipients. In a long-distance race, pacers ensure a fast time and avoid excessive tactical racing. By taking on this role, you can more efficiently fulfill your responsibilities under the Uniform Guidance.

Under the Uniform Guidance, a PTE must:

  • Perform risk assessments on its subrecipients to determine where to devote the most time with its monitoring procedures.
  • Provide ongoing monitoring, which includes site visits, provide technical assistance and training as necessary, and arrange for agreed-upon procedures to the extent needed.
  • Verify subrecipients have been audited under Subpart F of the Uniform Guidance, if they meet the threshold.
  • Report and follow up on any noncompliance at the subrecipient level.
  • The time you spend determining the energy you need to expend, and the support you need to lend to your subrecipients will help your team perform at a healthy pace, and reach the finish line together.

Challenge #3: Procurement Standards

The procurement standards within the Uniform Guidance are similar to those under OMB Circular A-102, which applied to state and local governments. They are likely to have a bigger impact on those entities that were subject to OMB Circular A-110, which applied to higher education institutions, hospitals, and other not-for-profit organizations.

Racing Strategy: Choose the Right Equipment

Do your research before procuring goods and services. In the past, serious runners had limited options when it came to buying new shoes and food to boost energy. With the rise of e-commerce, we can now purchase everything faster and cheaper online than we can at our local running store. But is this really an improvement?

Under A-110, we were guided to make prudent decisions, but the requirements were less stringent. Now, under Uniform Guidance, we must follow prescribed guidelines.

Summarized below are some of the differences between A-110 and the Uniform Guidance:

A-110 UNIFORM GUIDANCE
Competition
Procurement transaction shall be conducted in a manner to provide, to the maximum extent practical, open and free competition.
Competition
Procurement transaction must be conducted in a manner providing full and open competition consistent with the standards of this section.
 
Procurement
Organizations must establish written procurement procedures, which avoid purchasing unnecessary items, determine whether lease or purchase is most economical and practical, and in solicitation provide requirements for awards.
Procurement
Organizations must use one of the methods provided in this section:
  1. Procurement by Micro Purchase (<$3,000)
  2. Procurement by Small Purchase Procedures (<$150,000)
  3. Procurement by Sealed Bids
  4. Procurement by Competitive Proposal
  5. Procurement by Noncompetitive Proposal

While the process is more stringent under the Uniform Guidance, you still have the opportunity to choose the vendor or product best suited to the job. Just make sure you have the documentation to back up your decision.

A Final Thought
Obviously, this article is not an all-inclusive list of the changes reflected in the Uniform Guidance. Yet we hope that it does provide direction as you look for new grant awards and revisit internal policies and procedures.

And here’s one last tip: Do you know the most striking parallel that I see between running a race and implementing the Uniform Guidance? The value of knowing yourself.

It’s important to know what your challenges are, and to have the self-awareness to see when and where you will need help. And if you ever need someone to help you navigate, set the pace, or provide an objective perspective on purchasing equipment, let us know. We’re with you all the way to the finish line.

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A runner's guide to uniform guidance, year two

With the most recent overhaul to the Form 990, Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax, the IRS has made clear its intention to increase the transparency of a not-for-profit organization’s mission and activities and to promote active governance. To point, the IRS asks whether a copy has been provided to an organization’s board prior to filing and requires organizations to describe the process, if any, its board undertakes to review the 990.

This lack of ambiguity aside, it is just good governance to have an understanding of the information included in your organization’s Form 990. After all, it is available to anyone who wants a copy. But the volume of information included in a typical return can be daunting.

Where do you even start? Let’s take a look at the key components of a Form 990 that warrant at least a read-through:

  • Income and expense activity (Page 1 and Schedule D) – Does this agree to, or reconcile to, the financial reporting of the organization?
  • Narratives on Page 2 – Does it accurately describe your mission and “tell your story”?
  • Questions in Part VI about governance, management, and disclosures – If any governance or policy questions are answered in the negative, have you given consideration to implementing changes?
  • Part VII – Board information and key employee/contractor compensation – Is the list complete? Does the information agree with compensation set by the board? Does it seem appropriate in light of responsibilities and the organization’s activities

Depending on how questions were answered earlier in the Form 990, several schedules may be required. Key schedules include:

  • Schedule C – Political and lobbying expenditures
  • Schedule F – Foreign transactions and investments reported (alternative investments may have pass-through foreign activity)
  • Schedule J – Detailed compensation reporting for employees whose package exceeds $150,000
  • Schedule L – Transactions with officers, board members, and key employees (conflict-of-interest disclosures)

In addition to the Form 990, an organization may be required to file a Form 990-T, Exempt Organization Business Income Tax Return, if it earns unrelated business income. In general, it’s good practice to review the Form 990 with the organization’s management or tax preparer to be able to ask questions as they arise.

Filing and reviewing the Form 990 can be more than a compliance exercise. It’s an opportunity for a good conversations about your mission, policies, and compensation—a “health check-up” that can benefit more areas than just compliance. Understanding your not-for-profit’s operations and being an engaged and informed board member are essential to effectively fulfilling your fiduciary responsibilities.

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Good governance: Understanding your organization's Form 990

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