52 Tips in 52 Weeks: Take the time to check your list – and check it twice

November 9, 2020

So many lists in this time of year!  Whether I’m planning out my task list for the day, planning for Thanksgiving dinner, or trying to get a jump on my holiday shopping, I find myself sitting down with pen and paper to capture my thoughts.  Some days, I’ve got a plethora of lists and am not sure which list to check out first.

Of course, there are also lists in the nonprofit sector that our leaders and staff members reference when they are working to meet their mission in the best possible ways.  One of the lists that we refer to often is the Standards for Excellence Legal Requirements Checklist.  This comprehensive, detailed list serves as a helpful tool for nonprofits wishing to implement this benchmark in the Standards for Excellence: An Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector:

Nonprofits must be aware of and comply with all applicable federal, state, and local laws. This may include but is not limited to complying with laws and regulations related to IRS filing requirements, governance, human resources, licensing, financial accountability, taxation, valuation of in-kind gifts, unrelated business income, document retention and destruction, related entities, data security, accessibility, fundraising, lobbying, and advocacy.

Additionally, nonprofits should periodically conduct an internal review of the organization’s compliance with known existing legal, regulatory, and financial reporting requirements, and should provide a summary of the results to the board of directors.

We try to follow our own guidance at Maryland Nonprofits, and took the time earlier this year, during the pandemic, to review our organization’s compliance with the Standards for Excellence Legal Requirements Checklist.  It took a few of my colleagues and me a couple of discussions to review all of the aspects of the checklist—which was a bit more complicated in the midst of stay-at-home orders- but it was a fairly straightforward process.  When finished, we provided a report to our board describing our findings.

The checklist includes sections on:

  1. Obtaining Recognition of Federal Tax Exemption/Tax-Exempt Status
  2. Maintaining Federal Tax Exemption/Tax-Exempt Status
  3. State Requirements for Corporations
  4. Solicitation, Fundraising, and Gift Substantiation Requirements
  5. Lobbying Requirements
  6. Requirements Applicable to Accessibility for People with Disabilities
  7. Additional Requirements and Considerations
  8. Requirements of Organizations with Employees
  9. Workplace posters and notices
  10. Hiring-related requirements
  11. Ongoing employment-related filings
  12. Requirements for organizations with independent contractors and consultants
  13. Employee benefits
  14. Retirement plan documents
  15. Template for Requirements Specific to Service Type or Constituents Served
  16. Template for Requirements Mandated by Funders

We encourage you to check out the Standards for Excellence Legal Requirements Checklist, which also includes an addendum further describing compliance issues and related key terms to support your implementation of the checklist.  Having conducted an internal review our own organization against the checklist recently, I can tell you it feels great to know your organization is in compliance.  Now we can check that off the list!

This educational resource packet and the full series of all packets  – including sample policies, tools and model procedures to help nonprofits achieve best practices in their governance and management – can be accessed by contacting a licensed Standards for Excellence replication partner, one of the over 150 Standards for Excellence Licensed Consultants, or by becoming a member of the Standards for Excellence Institute.


Amy Coates Madsen is the Director of Programs for Maryland Nonprofits and the Director of the Standards for Excellence Institute, a national initiative to promote the highest standards of ethics and accountability in nonprofit governance, management, and operations, and to facilitate adherence to standards by all organizations. The Standards for Excellence Institute is a program of the Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations where Amy has served for more than twenty-four years. Amy is responsible for coordinating all aspects of the association’s comprehensive ethics and accountability program and efforts to replicate the program nationally. She serves as a frequent trainer and writer in the areas of board conduct, program evaluation, program replication, fundraising ethics, and nonprofit management. She has taught courses on nonprofit ethics and accountability at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies Certificate Program on Nonprofit Management.

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