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An Agricultural Nonprofit Still Has to Make a Profit

Posted: January 6, 2015

A farm can provide benefits to a community that are not always easy to measure in economic terms. A farm can keep land in agricultural production, be used as a teaching tool or be used to grow food for charity. A for-profit farm may not have the capacity or time to focus on these types of educational or charitable activities.

Quiet Creek Herb Farm and School for Country Living in Brookville, PA; Lundale Farm in Kimberton, PA; and The Rodale Institute in Kutztown, PA are a few examples of non-profit agricultural organizations in Pennsylvania.  Quiet Creek Herb Farm and The Rodale Institute focus on agricultural and homesteading education through classes, publications, and research. Lundale Farm preserves farmland by leasing land to farmers.

What is a Nonprofit?

Churches, public schools, public clinics and hospitals, political organizations, research institutes, chambers of commerce, fraternal organizations, private foundations, museums, and public charities are all nonprofits. Nonprofits contribute to society by providing social and educational opportunities that we all enjoy. The most significant differences between a nonprofit organization and a for-profit business is that the non-profit organization does not have to pay property tax, sales tax, or corporate income tax, and they have a charitable mission that drives the organization. The tax code used by nonprofit corporations is 501c3, which you may have heard of already. A typical for-profit business will pay the IRS taxes that amount to between 15-35% of their annual revenue. However, both nonprofits and for-profits have to earn enough revenue to cover their costs in order to function. Just like with any business, the nonprofit must fill a unique niche in order to earn its revenues, and should have a business plan. To determine whether or not your organization would fill a unique niche, research what other nonprofits in Pennsylvania are doing.

The revenue made by a nonprofit organization is used for sustaining the organization and accomplishing its charitable mission, not for distribution to employees or shareholders. The only type of nonprofit organization structure that exists in Pennsylvania is a nonprofit corporation. Corporations have a unique structure that is very different from a sole proprietorship or a partnership. In contrast to sole proprietorships and partnerships, corporations allow business owners to claim the business’s assets instead of the owners’ personal assets if debt or legal issues arise. The state in which the corporation is created assumes some liability for the business and therefore, all finances of the corporation, including salaries, expenditures and revenues must be made publicly accessible. The nonprofit corporation can work with an accountant to keep detailed financial records which they must submit to the IRS and the Department of State every year. These agencies could take away tax exempt status if the nonprofit fails to file these records or if they are generating income that does not relate to their stated mission. In addition to having a sustainable business plan, nonprofit corporations are required to have a board of directors and a fundraising plan.

The Board of Directors

The board of directors must have a protocol for voting on operating procedures for the organization as well as a president, a treasurer, and a secretary. The operating procedures, or bylaws, are voted in and agreed upon by the board. A business attorney can help with the creation of the bylaws. The complexity of the bylaws is up to the organization but they can include rules such as board meeting procedures and roles of employees.  Board directors are either employees of the nonprofit or volunteers who share a passion for the organizations’ mission. The board is responsible for keeping the organization true to its mission, and it ensures that programs and plans are implemented. Although the board of directors is a mandatory part of a nonprofit, offering additional board memberships is optional. Additional members can help to steer the organization, offer diverse skill sets, and help with fundraising by paying membership dues. Board members have to be at least 18 years old and do not have to be residents of Pennsylvania. NOLO offers good advice on forming a non-profit board.

Fundraising

Fundraising is an essential activity for nonprofits to engage in since revenues are low and accomplishing any mission costs money. Fundraising includes soliciting donations and applying for grants. Nonprofit organizations accept donations from businesses and individuals. These donations are tax-deductible for the donor, which is an incentive to donate. Many public and private grants are available for nonprofit organizations. Since fundraising is an important part of a nonprofit organization, there should be a fundraising coordinator or grant writer on staff or on the board. For example, if the goal of your agricultural organization is education, you may need to seek grants that will cover the costs for school children to come to your farm. Penn State Extension offers grant writing workshops.

Although a nonprofit organization is mission driven and tax exempt, it has to be just as competitive as a for-profit business in order to succeed. Critical components of a nonprofit include a well thought out mission statement and business plan, a committed board of directors, a fundraising plan, an attorney and an accountant.

For more information on nonprofit management, The Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations offers workshops, publications, and conferences. Additional questions about forming an agricultural nonprofit in Pennsylvania can be directed to the Penn State Agricultural Law Resource and Reference Center .

Contact Information

Juliette Enfield
  • Extension Educator, Business Management
Email:
Phone: 814-563-9388