Legal Traps to Avoid in a Nonprofit’s Newsletter

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Nonprofits are under constant pressure to keep their brand in front of their constituents. From staying in touch with donors to getting the word out about the nonprofit’s services and campaigns, a newsletter can be a great promotional tool. When crafting a newsletter it’s always a good idea to ensure that it will not end up creating unexpected problems. Here are a few tips for avoiding legal mistakes in your organization’s newsletter.

  • Practice consistent and thorough oversight.

Even if the production of a newsletter is a single person’s responsibility, it is important for the organization to have a process in place for the leadership team to review and comment on the newsletter before it is released. The review ensures that the newsletter is completely on-message and does not, among other things, disclose confidential information before the time is right.

  • Be sure all the content is used with permission.

Copyright law is quite complicated, but when it comes to newsletter content the simplest rule to follow is that anything that goes into the newsletter should be the organization’s own work or under the permission of the copyright owner. Grabbing a photo from a website might seem like a good way to save time, but if the photo is not public domain its owner could complain or even threaten to sue. At best, this situation creates bad optics, and at worst it can cost money and time.

  • Understand the tax traps.

A nonprofit can get into significant trouble if it fails to adhere to the obligations that come with having a federal income tax exemption. The specific rules vary depending on the type of organization involved. For example, a 501(c)(3) should be careful about placing politically partisan content in its newsletters. Beyond compliance, every nonprofit should avoid giving donors tax advice by making promises about how donors’ gifts can be characterized on donors’ tax returns.

The Church Law Center of California helps religious and secular nonprofits get organized and operate more effectively. We can help your organization examine its branding practices and policies to ensure that it is not creating unwanted risks. Call us at (949) 689-0437 or reach out to us through our contact page.

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