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Should Your Agency Form a Non Profit Organization?

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By Dawn Kennedy

Does your municipality provide a way for your agency to receive financial gifts, or bequests (from wills), or monies paid from a trust, or a donation from a foundation? Would you be willing to create an entity which can accept additional financial resources to benefit your community?

What are you even talking about? Generally, Tax Funded services cannot accept financial gifts from taxpayers. But, a municipality may set up a non-profit organization for a purpose to support an agency and accept financial gifts that way. So, if Uncle Joe was a Volunteer Firefighter for 15 years, and wants to make a provision in his will to give money to purchase new bunker gear, without an NPO he probably can’t. Same for Aunt Susie who wants to give $10,000 to the Police Department for new radios. Or the neighbor who wants to buy new chairs for the dispatch office after her life was saved after a 911 call. And it goes on.

The best definition/ explanation that I have found, in plain language about the relationship between a Non-Profit Organization (NPO) and other businesses, agencies, and organizations. Greg McRay, EA published on the Foundation Group Blog, “Who really Owns a Non-Profit?

“A nonprofit corporation is formed to carry out a public purpose, whether that be religious, educational, charitable, scientific or whatever. It is prohibited from acting in a manner that results in private inurement (profit) to individuals.…The nonprofit organization is not 'owned' by the person or persons that started it. It is a public organization that belongs to the public at-large. The parties responsible to operate the organization for the stakeholders are the members of the board of directors. Also, a nonprofit corporation cannot be sold. It is simply not possible. If a nonprofit corporation were to 'close down', or dissolve, the board of directors of the nonprofit must distribute all of the nonprofit’s assets to another nonprofit corporation after all debts have been settled.”1

But Will My Community Support it?

Jar of Coins
I knew you’d ask. And I am not too sure, but you are, through an NPO, providing a way for people to donate to your agency, for the community benefit. The 2014 Statistics seem to say so. The National Philanthropic Trust published these statistics for 2014:

"Individual and Family Philanthropy”

   •   The average annual household contribution is $2,974.2

   •   Americans gave $358.38 billion in 2014. This reflects a 7.1% increase from 2013.

   •   Corporate giving in 2014 increased to $17.77 billion - a 13.7% increase from 2013.

   •   Foundation giving in 2014 increased to $53.7 billion - an 8.2% increase from 2013.

   •   In 2014, the largest source of charitable giving came from individuals at $258.51 billion, or 72% of total giving; followed by foundations ($53.97 billion/15%), bequests ($28.13 billion/8%), and corporations ($17.77 billion/5%).3

Talk with your professional, but make sure your NPO can accept any gifts or bequests (in wills or trusts) from any individual or business, and consider a narrow purpose such as personnel training and maintenance or replacement equipment.

Some Surprising Municipalities with NPOs:

The Seattle Police Foundation grants funds for the Seattle Police Department in three vital areas:

   •   Community Partnerships - Programs that enhance relationships between the community and the Seattle Police Department

   •   Employee Development - Advanced training and employee recognition programs

   •   Police Service Enhancements - Cutting-edge and specialized equipment and technology

By supporting innovative projects in these funding areas, our public-private partnership allows the Seattle Police Department to launch innovative and experimental projects that further their ability to serve Seattle's public safety and community needs. 80 cents of every dollar raised goes towards program support.

Board of Public Trusts (formerly the Houston Foundation) The foundation is not a 501(c)(3). The Houston Foundation was created by City Council in 1915 to establish a board of trustees to manage and distribute gifts and bequests to the City of Houston for charitable and benevolent purposes.


   •   The Adopt-a-Fire-Station program was created to give citizens as well as civic and business groups a formal vehicle to make donations of equipment and/or supplies to the fire stations of their choice.

   •   This program, which is managed by both the Houston Fire Department and the General Services Department, serves as a supplement to the City's ongoing fire station maintenance program.

   •   The program is not set up to receive cash donations; however, the Fire Department may accept cash donations and apply for grants on behalf of the Adopt-A-Fire Station Program through Medi Life of Houston. For information contact Alicia Whitehead at (832) 394-6639 or visit their website.


   •   Created in 1990 for the express service of improving and continually enhancing the quality of pre-hospital emergency care. Medilife accepts cash or equipment donations on behalf of the fire department or EMS.

   •   In the past, the organization has raised money for EKG monitors, defibrillators, First Response equipment, and other medical supplies.

Houston Police Foundation

The Houston Police Foundation Fund is a 501(c)(3) organization with a Board of Directors comprised of private citizens.

   •   The Houston Police Foundation Fund will provide HPD with funding for various law enforcement programs and initiatives.

For more information, email: or visit their site here.

Fire Truck
So, what about the small guys? Like us? Please allow me to introduce you to the Cataula Volunteer Fire Department, Cataula, Georgia:

“The Cataula Volunteer Fire Department is a 100 percent Volunteer service which currently has 30 members, two stations and nine apparatus. The Cataula Volunteer Fire Department protects over 2000 families in a rural, but growing community.

   •   Funding is primarily by personal donations and our annual Boston butt fundraiser, with a small stipend from the Harris County tax budget.

   •   The Cataula Volunteer Fire Department (CVFD) was established and incorporated in 1973 and is located in Harris County, Georgia. Harris County is one of the largest land mass counties in the state of Georgia. The Cataula fire district covers over 90 square miles and has over 7000 residents.

   •   There is no fire tax and we are contracted by the County Board of Commissioners to provide fire and rescue services. The CVFD does receive an annual stipend from the county of about $13,000 to help cover the cost of providing services.

   •   The rest of the money needed by the department is raised by fund raisers throughout the year and donations of the citizens in the community. None of the firefighters receive monetary compensation.

   •   The CVFD is a 100% volunteer non-profit organization that strives to train and perform fire and rescue services to the community when called upon

The donations to the NPO are also tax deductible to the residents! Check out their gallery of cool vehicles.

+ Convinced this may be a good idea?

   •   Talk to your municipal leaders. You may have a city attorney or city accountant that can look at the feasibility of standing up this organization, again for the benefit of your community. More training? New or better equipment? Better response?

   •   Get professional help! There are Legal, Tax. And Compliance regulations that MUST be followed to the letter. I know of Attorneys and Accountants and Enrolled Agents with the IRS providing pro bono work to set up NPOs.

Some Resources to get you started:

The Nonprofit Startup Map provides links to helpful state resources such as nonprofit associations, legal support organizations and government agencies.

National start-up guides and the guides for every state are available here.

For California: Non-profit Resource Center

If you have or start up an NPO- please write to At the Ready Magazine and let us know!

About the Author

Dawn Kennedy is a Federal Acquisition Professional who has developed an acquisition process for First Responder Agencies. She is a licensed attorney in California, and the CEO of At the Ready Publications. As a former paramedic and firefighter in Arizona, Dawn continues to champion for responders, and to promote accessibility for small, midsize, and rural departments.


(1)Greg McRay is the founder and CEO of The Foundation Group. He is registered with the IRS as an Enrolled Agent and specializes in 501(c)(3) and other tax exemption issues.

(2)The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University

(3)Giving USA 2014

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