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What Shall It Nonprofit a Man

October 1, 2016

if he profits from membership on the board, and doesn’t render some of that unto Caesar?

This being a smaller and smaller world after all, I guess it isn’t surprising that your narrator has had experience on the board of a nonprofit, and can testify that, even though this is about taxes, basically it’s a matter of common sense. The tax code isn’t that complex.

We were a literary 501(c)3, with the purpose of promoting the contemporary art of poetry. We had donations and grants, and we organized programs and sold a few books. Maybe we made a small contribution to American culture.  You be the judge.

So we were concerned with artistic integrity. If you mess with that, what’s the point of being in the arts? It would be self-defeating. We had to make sure, not only that we handled every penny according to the truth, conscience, the law, and the rigors of bookkeeping, but furthermore that we didn’t give poets or readers the slightest impression that we might be falsifying reality. People were counting on us. We might go into politics.

You see how much is at stake. But do the Trumps?

There’s rarely any financial profit in poetry. You scrape by. But your (c)3 might have a good year and take in more than it spends. That’s a financial “profit” of a kind, at least a temporary surplus, but it is not held privately by an individual, with discretion to use it privately to serve his own purposes. The (c)3 doesn’t pay taxes on that lucre, because it’s a nonprofit org. It’s incorporated, but it is not a person. Of course it is a “person” before the law, but it is not a person with regard to income, love, hate and so on. It doesn’t write poems. It doesn’t have any “personal income.”

Board members are persons (some even write poems) and some have personal income. Can the (c)3 legally turn some of its surplus into a board member’s personal income, by paying her or him an appropriate (as described in the incorpation doc) compensation for services rendered as an employee—like hours spent making a public program come off well? Sure.

And then the board member pays taxes on that personal income. Uv course!

If I were that board member and Trump’s lawyer told me that I didn’t have to pay taxes on that income, would I believe him, or would I fire him? And if I were a poet or a politician or a businessman, in a world in which truth and personal integrity mattered, would I risk giving even a hint of possible impropriety, just so I could afford another yacht?

Now, maybe it’s a different world when a heap of money is involved. I’m sure it can be complicated. Maybe it becomes more difficult to distinguish a gift from a con. For instance, suppose I had been payed $1,000,000 by Centerfold Guy, instead of the $10 that they offered. Then I had them cut the check to my charity, and the charity offered to pay me a million for the self-portrait that I did for the flyer for a reading. But I donated the portrait, and took a deduction in the amount of its valuation. (Of course I didn’t pose for CG.  I’m glad I got this body, but I didn’t want to exploit it. Who could have taken me seriously as a poetry editor, except maybe Allen or John? This is a hypothetical.)

With that million, the charity bought a small yacht which I used as my editorial office, so I could read mss. between swims, and which I used to host young poets, editors, critics, scholars, and teachers for international workshops. Of course I took my lawyer along. And by the way, she’s a really really nice person, and she’s beautiful. Everybody tells me.

You see how confusing this can get. Now even I can’t figure out why I don’t have to pay taxes.

[Readers who liked this page also liked Don’t Tax Me Bro! and Donald and the Junkyard Dogs.]

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