Sacred Places Fall 2011 - Page 17

friends group is often the most straightforward choice. It can reach out to the community on behalf of, but separately from, the congregation itself, enabling it to place an emphasis on the preservation of the property or the support of community-serving programs and services. Money raised by an unincorporated friends group would be given directly to the church, but can be earmarked by donors for individual programs or capital campaign needs. This option doesn’t require incorporation, and it is a good way to explore how such a separate group would work for your congregation. Alternatively, a congregation can work with community leaders to establish a nonprofit corporation that operates completely independent of the congregation. The organization will require Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws, and must obtain tax-exempt status through the legal incorporation process. The group can accept gifts, grants, and membership donations. This process requires the services of a lawyer, but it creates a clear division between the secular goals of the friends group and the religious mission of the church. For some large donors this may be important and worth the effort involved. However, an unincorporated friends group can be a good first step, helping the congregation determine whether or not incorporation would be beneficial or burdensome on the group. Whether a friends group or corporation, it is important to remember that any organization needs time and money to get off the ground. This can be seen clearly in the example of the Friends of Trinity Cathedral (Friends), which was formed in 2007 with the goal of raising funds for the preservation of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Miami, FL. At that time, the cathedral’s staff had a full workload and were unable to dedicate the time needed to lead a friends group. A friends group needs a clear mission, defined organization, and support from a dedicated group of people, be they passionate volunteers, a more formal board of directors with a dedicated and driven president, or a paid program leader. Recognizing this, the cathedral decided to pursue the latter option, and in 2010 funds were raised to create a full-time executive director position, making Friends a highly active and effective organization. (See Friends of Trinity article, page 19.) An unincorporated friends group can function as a strong fundraising entity while still operating under a congregation’s tax-exempt status, but it can also be the starting point to test the waters for the creation of a formal, separate supporting organization. Incorporating as an autonomous organization takes time and money, but the work can be eased if the congregation has a relationship with an attorney who is willing to give pro bono assistance. If it is not feasible for a congregation to support paid leadership, a friends group can work with a local nonprofit preservation group that can provide direct access to individuals in the community who are passionate about saving local historic structures. This type of partnership can also create a greater sense of distance for donors who may be hesitant to donate directly to a religious organization, as the partner nonprofit can accept funds on behalf of the friends group. The restoration of the 1924 Aeolian-Skinner organ at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Miami, FL, was an enormous undertaking – one that was funded through the efforts of Friends of Trinity Cathedral. Photo courtesy of R.A. Colby, Inc Though this route can be simpler than creating a standalone 501(c)(3) organization (a term derived from the portion of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service Code that allows for federal tax exemption to nonprofits), it is important to clearly outline how the Sacred Places • Fall 2011 • 16