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☛ Who owns a Nonprofit? 8-15-14



By Rick Dennis
Aug. 15, 2014
“Who owns a nonprofit” is a frequently asked question by readers of  Actually, this is an excellent question and driven primarily by the many articles circulating throughout various horse-industry publications concerning nonprofit reorganization, drugs, and horses – mine included, e.g., “Where Is The Horse Industry Headed?” “Horse Doping Segments 1 -4” and “The Mechanical Horse – A Horse Under The Influence of Drugs,” along with Wind River Company LLC educational and training articles.


So exactly who owns a nonprofit? Actually, the answer is quite simple – No One! The Culliane Law Group simply states: A major misconception about nonprofit organizations concerns ownership of a nonprofit. No one person or group of people can own a nonprofit organization.


A perfect example of such a misguided conception is illustrated in Ginger Schmersal’s e-mail to the board of directors of the National Reining Horse Association concerning a proposed rule change to the drug-testing policy of this nonprofit. In her e-mail, she specifically states, “Craig asked that I share this article with you; it will be published later this month, so we ask that you please keep it confidential amongst yourselves until it goes to print. Craig and I hope that you as a board, vote for what is best for the horses. It is time we do what is right for them and NOT CONTINUE OUR SMOKE AND MIRRORS POLICY. We have to STOP WORRYING about public opinion and stand up and OWN our organization.”


Click for Ginger Schmersal’s e-mail to NRHA directors>>


Ownership is the major difference between a for-profit business and a nonprofit organization. For-profit businesses can be privately owned and can distribute earnings to employees or shareholders. But nonprofit organizations do not have private owners and they do not issue stock or pay dividends. And while nonprofit organizations can earn a surplus, that income must be reinvested in the nonprofit organization — possibly to benefit or expand programs according to the charitable mission. But that income cannot be distributed to persons.


If there is no owner, who manages and controls a nonprofit?
Once incorporated, the newly created nonprofit organization is a separate legal entity from its incorporators, directors, officers and employees. The nonprofit corporation owns assets of the business and is entitled to receive the revenue from its operation.


Many nonprofits are managed by boards; others may be managed by voting members. When a nonprofit first begins operating, the board members, along with the founder(s), may perform many of the tasks of the organization. As the nonprofit grows, the board may begin hiring staff members to develop and lead programs as the board and/or voting members continue to oversee the organization.


But none of these individuals or groups has any ownership rights in the organization. And while they don’t own the nonprofit, they do have significant legal and ethical duties that cannot be delegated to others.


Click for nonprofit law basics>>


Another interesting question emanating from the ownership of a nonprofit involved the liability of its members, officers, employees, and directors, e.g., “As a director or officer of a nonprofit, do I have any personal liability?”


The American Bar Association answers as follows: Nonprofit organizations are big business. Because of this and because of their unparalleled growth, nonprofits are receiving attention like they never have before, both from Congress and, because of this, from the Internal Revenue Service. Another more disturbing reason is the spate of highly publicized scandals involving individuals profiting at a charity’s expense.


Under these circumstances, anyone who participates in the oversight of a nonprofit organization would be well advised to pay close attention to its operations. One standard I would recommend be used to evaluate every activity of the nonprofit is: “How will this look on the front page of the local newspaper?”


What a Director Does/Does Not Do.
Directors are responsible for planning and directing the management of the nonprofit’s business and affairs. Directors have no individual power as a director to bind the corporation. Instead, directors take action as a body and those decisions are documented by Board resolutions. Directors who are also officers may be authorized by Board resolution to act on the corporation’s behalf in their capacity as officers, but the Board acts as a unit.


Nevertheless, each director is individually accountable to the corporation’s members and, in the case of directors of charitable organizations, to the state and federal regulatory authorities (primarily the IRS, the state taxing authority and, in many states, the Attorney General) who seek to protect the public’s interests in the charity.


Because it is so essential to the organization’s tax exempt status that it abide by its stated purposes, one of the principal duties of a director is to be aware of the nature and extent of the nonprofit’s exempt purposes and to assure that those purposes are properly pursued. The purpose of every act and decision of the director should be to advance the nonprofit’s purpose. If the personal aims of the individual are not the same as the aims of the organization, then the individual should not serve as a director.


Role of Corporate Officers and Agents.
Officers and agents of a nonprofit organization normally implement the decisions and policies established by the Board of Directors. Typically, the Chief Executive Officer of a charity (often designated as its “Executive Director”) and sometimes the Chief Financial Officer (typically called the “Treasurer”) answer directly to the Board. Most other employees, agents and contractors answer to the Executive Director or other senior management duly authorized by the Board.


Although a director of a nonprofit corporation, as a director, they should not be involved in the day-to-day operations and activities of corporate management any more than a director of a business corporation, this rule is often ignored in practice. For many nonprofit organizations, particularly small entities operating with limited financial resources, the directors may be the only active participants within the organization.


It is also typical for the directors and the officers to be one and the same individuals, particularly in smaller nonprofits. Nevertheless, it is important, from a liability standpoint, for the individuals serving in dual director/management positions to carefully document in the corporate record the capacity in which they are acting.


The liability exposures of nonprofit board members
The board of directors of a nonprofit organization can be exposed to a variety of lawsuits, ranging from allegations of wrongful acts to financial mismanagement to errors in judgment and negligence. Claims against directors and officers tend to be costly and disruptive to an organization. Perhaps even worse, if found guilty of misconduct, board members could be personally liable, placing their individual assets at stake. For this reason, directors and officers liability insurance (D&O) is an essential part of any board risk management program, providing financial resources for defense costs and any possible settlement.


The primary objective of a nonprofit board of directors is to provide oversight and direction to the organization so that it can successfully fulfill its mission. Although nonprofit boards are typically not subject to the same level of scrutiny as those in the for-profit sector, they nonetheless owe fiduciary duties to the nonprofit organization and its grantees and donors.


Any perceived breach of these fiduciary responsibilities can lead to legal action. A D&O claim can be brought against a nonprofit and its directors and officers for countless reasons and practices.

Click for liability exposures in nonprofits>>

Who can sue a non-profit board>>


Therefore, It is imperative that a nonprofit Board of Directors understands the risks involved as volunteers for the organization, their responsibilities as board members and how to protect themselves from personal liability.


Each nonprofit corporation is guided by a set of bylaws.  Bylaws are the written rules for conduct of a corporation, association, partnership or any organization. They should not be confused with the Articles of Incorporation, which only state the basic outline of the company, including stock structure. Bylaws generally provide for meetings, elections of a board of directors and officers, filling vacancies, notices, types and duties of officers, committees, assessments and other routine conduct. Bylaws are, in effect a contract among members, and must be formally adopted and/or amended.


Control of a nonprofit
Since no individual or group of individuals can own a nonprofit, the only way to control a nonprofit is for more than one person to be in a position of authority to influence a voting majority in their favor. Historically, reviews of various equine nonprofit’s powers-that-be revealed the same individuals remaining in power over extended time periods – including years, and in some instances decades, with particular nonprofit’s.


The only way to resolve this power grab and control is to either vote the individuals out of office or institute legitimate term limits, for a specific designated time period, without the benefit of being re-elected once this designated time period has expired. Another way to limit control is to designate representatives of the most powerful and influential committees from across the spectrum of a nonprofit, without catering to one particular group or stereotype and limiting one individual from each division.


The constant rotation of personnel will prevent those in power from becoming enthralled with the ideology that their tenure of service to the nonprofit entitles them to ownership of a nonprofit when in fact it’s just an illusion on their part and nothing more!


“Until Next Time, Keep ‘Em Between The Bridles”!


Copyright 2014, all rights reserved.



Richard E. “Rick” Dennis

Managing Member

Office/Mobile: (985) 630-3500


Web Site:

Wind River Security, Consultation & Risk Analysis

Wind River Drug, Alcohol & DNA Testing

Wind River Ranch – Reined Cow Horse Breeding, Training, Exhibition & Sales


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  1. Thank you so much for these articles. You provide a unique service to the reader.

  2. Senor Rick,
    Gracias for the info! Your article was sent to me in Spain. It reminds me of why I wouldn’t want to buy a horse from USA.

  3. Again, another powerful message. Just goes to show ya horse trainers think they own the nonprofits, the owners and their pocket books. WRONG!! Thanks for reminding them!

  4. Wonder if trainers realize how much damage they’ve done to themselves. Just saying.

  5. Fantastic article on corporate structure!

  6. As I see it, they should ban all drugs then this problem wouldn’t exist. Horse trainers are getting ridiculous!

  7. Another great article, typical of your style. I’ve come to expect nothing less!

  8. This rule change isn’t fair to European trainers whose horses are drug free. Neither is the trainers meddling in the members’ business!

  9. Having read four article, my view is the only SMOKE AND MIRRORS is the sneaky way this group of trainers introduced this rule change without full disclosure and their true intentions, to drug their horses!

  10. Thanks for the info. Glad they’re not worried about public opinion. Perhaps we shouldn’t worry about them and hire other trainers!!!

  11. Rick,
    I totally agree with you. People that have been on nonprofit executive boards for 4 years or longer and supposedly for free, which we both know is BS, should be removed and replaced!

  12. This is why I got out of the horse business: corruption and politics!

  13. This is just typical of what happens when horse trainers try to run a nonprofit. I like the article.

  14. The problem with drugging horses is the trainers make money, the vets make money and the drug manufacturers make money.

  15. I’d say Mrs. Schmersal is more than misguided. She’s forgotten who pays her bills – Members and owners! Good article.

  16. Glory should change “Rick’s Corner” to either Smokum Rick or Rick’s Smokin! You definitely have a unique way of driving your point home! LOL

  17. Each nonprofit should have a nepotism policy. that way fathers, wives, sons, daughters, cousins, aunts and uncles aren’t running the nonprofit.

  18. Great article! Interesting reading and concepts.

  19. Rick, thank you for keeping us informed! Your topics are broad based and written like no other.

  20. From the amount of money horse nonprofits are losing, I’d say the wizbang guys at the top might take some classes in business management.

  21. After reading this article, I’m for drug testing horses and riders. Not just the horse!

  22. Rick,
    I see the World Cutting Horse Association must be doing it right. On their site they are reporting they have so many sponsors they’re adding more money to its purses. Check it out.

  23. Rick,
    Your articles are always chock full of intelligent, useful and pure logical info. Thanks!

  24. Rick
    Do you or Glory know if the NRHA rule proposal for drugs passed.

    • Yes. On NRHA web site: On Proposal 54-10-15 – Amend the Animal Welfare & Medications Policy (Excluding European Events – Pol. 11-07-27) to continue the research phase through 2015 and create a task force to review NRHA medications rules and policies.
      Glory Ann

  25. I don’t know where Glory found you but I hope you stick around. Your educational articles are brilliant!

  26. As a director this article answers questions I’ve always asked but never got an answer to. Thanks for your help.

  27. Great article! Wonder if the million dollar gang have anymore rabbits to pull out of their boots!

  28. You know what they say: Education brings darkness to light. Enjoyed it!

  29. On behalf of Europe, we thank you!

  30. Seems the more that’s exposed, the nastier it gets. A good one!

  31. Rick,
    If you’re not an attorney, you should be. What a precise, on-target article! WOW!

  32. This article was much needed and long overdue. Thank You.

  33. From a director’s standpoint, this article should be handed out to all old and new directors in the horse business. Eye opener!

  34. From how I see it, this is just typical of all horse associations: Power, politics and control!

  35. Rick,
    I just wanted to let you know there’s a petition on Facebook started by a reining trainer asking the NRHA Board to keep the stricter drug policy Thank you and Glory Ann for all the wonderful things you do!

  36. Rick,
    We don’t know how to thank you enough!

  37. Some say you’re controversial; some say you’re brilliant. Never the less, you always deliver right on target!
    Jackie Lynn

  38. Great, great article!!!

  39. I only have one small quibble about the article. By stating directors should have D&O insurance, it would appear that they are covered in all instances. I don’t think that is so. D&O does not protect you from negligence claims, etc

    Just my understanding.


    • You are absolutely correct but if you have an errors and omissions provision, the individuals are covered.

  40. How do I share your non profit newsletter? Great article? Can you send me a link?

  41. Rick,
    Your article is wonderful. I’ve given the link to this site to my riding buds in the U.K. You have made a difference.
    Mary Rose

  42. Rick I love this article need to post it on Facebook more people need to read it keep it going

  43. Rick,
    I enjoy reading all of your articles. A big thank you on the last one on nonprofits. I think what we need as equestrians is some type of international treaty banning drugs in the USA. That would make it fair for everyone. As you know, we can’t use drugs on horses here in Europe.

  44. Rick is an expert when it comes to training horses and people in the horse world. He has many champions that include horses and people.

    Service Category: professional Reined Cow horse trainer. Year first hired: (2002) hired more than once).

    Top qualities: Great results, expert, high integrity, no horse doping!
    Lucy Tetlow

  45. Great article! Info you can’t easily find on the net.
    Rhonda Frasier

  46. Rick,
    Your articles are a compilation of authentic research, self experience, guts and genius. I thoroughly enjoy each one!

  47. Rick,
    Your articles are the ones I’ve come to rely on for their interesting and unique content. Thank you.

  48. Nice article on nonprofits. Enjoyed it!

  49. Really lied your last article!

  50. Rick,
    How does your brain hold ALL this info? LOL
    Vickie Lee

  51. I think you got em again!

  52. When I come back to horses maybe it’ll be better!

  53. Rick,
    I learn more from your and Glory’s articles than any other magazine publication!

  54. I just read your resume on your site. You’re an incredibly trained and educated individual. Congrats on your career!

  55. Arizona had Wyatt Warp, Wyoming had Buffalo Bill, Texaa had the hanging judge and the horse industry has you. How does it feel to be a super hero??

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