Jane Fonda Foundation Targeted by The Smoking Gun

 

December 12, 2013; The Smoking Gun

The Jane Fonda Foundation, Inc. is a private foundation established in 2004 by the actress/director/social activist. The website The Smoking Gun, which specializes in “true crime” headlines and accompanying source documents like mug shots and police reports, reports that Fonda’s foundation, with assets of about $800,000, has not made any grant awards since a $1,000 gift was given in 2006.

TSG’s story says that private foundations are required to give five percent of their assets each year or face IRS penalties, which is approximately correct. One major consideration is that foundations are allowed to count administrative costs as part of the five percent. Fonda’s foundation expenses are very small, based on review of its Form 990-PF filings for 2009, 2010, and 2011. It should also be noted that the foundation paid $500 each year in “federal taxes,” which may or may not have been the excise tax levied by the IRS on foundations that do not disburse sufficient funds in a given year.

The story appears to be a tempest in a teapot, despite its red-lettered link (indicating “hot,” we suppose) from the Drudge Report on December 12.  However, the focus on the Jane Fonda Foundation does lead to a teachable moment or two for nonprofit organizations.

First, many nonprofit leaders are still unaware that their Form 990 IRS filings are available to the general public without charge, for any reason, both through GuideStar and through the Urban Institute’s partnership with the Foundation Center. Anyone can read, (mis)interpret, and report on any nonprofit based on those filings. How a nonprofit completes its IRS filings matters, and not just to the IRS—there’s a much broader audience to be considered.

Second, particular to the Jane Fonda Foundation, is the role of Ms. Fonda herself as reported to the IRS. The foundation reports that Ms. Fonda is the chair, president, director, and secretary of the foundation. There is only one other director listed, which means that the foundation is representing to the IRS (and the public) that its leadership consists of two people with no employees—though, strangely, Ms. Fonda is listed four times, once per title. Nonprofit organizations, even private foundations, typically have at least three board members, and usually more.

Now that Ms. Fonda’s private foundation has been publicized, will it become active? Is it worth a few hundred dollars a year to keep the foundation structure operative, ready for use at a future date?—Michael Wyland

About

Michael Wyland

Michael L. Wyland, CSL, has more than thirty years of experience in corporate and government public policy, management, and administration. An expert on nonprofit governance and public policy issues, he has been featured and quoted extensively in media including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, CNN, Fox News, Washington Post, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, and The Nonprofit Quarterly. He currently serves as an editorial advisory board member and contributor to The Nonprofit Quarterly, with more than 100 articles published since 2012. Michael is a partner in the consulting firm of Sumption & Wyland. Founded in 1990, the firm provides board governance consulting, public speaking and training, and executive coaching to nonprofit organizations. Sumption & Wyland has assisted more than 200 nonprofits with strategic planning services from pre-retreat research to staff-level implementation assistance and effectiveness monitoring. Speaking topics include board-CEO partnerships, nonprofit executive transition issues, and overviews of the nonprofit sector of the US economy. Michael was born in Washington, DC and raised in the Northern Virginia suburbs. Prior to co-founding Sumption & Wyland, Michael managed the computer operations for an independent oil & gas investor in Dallas, Texas and served as a staff assistant to a U.S. Representative. During his college years, he spent one summer working at the US Department of Labor and one summer working at the US Department of Justice. His past volunteer service includes various leadership positions at the local, state, and national level with the Young Republicans. He has been the secretary and president of a condominium homeowners association and the treasurer of a professional association serving computing professionals. He served as a Trustee and Vice President of Sertoma Foundation, and has been elected president of his local Sertoma club twice. In 2014, Michael was elected Chair of the South Dakota Commission for National and Community Service (Serve SD), on which he has served since its founding in 2011. He is currently working as a senior advisor to establish a national charity dedicated to the elimination of prejudice, expanding the scope and reach of the 120-year old Pi Lamba Phi fraternal organization. Michael's writing for NPQ often addresses healthcare policy and governance, scandals involving nonprofits, and the governance and policy implications of nonprofit stories in the news. He was widely quoted and cited for his work analyzing the governance issues related to the Jerry Sandusky/Penn State/Second Mile scandal in 2011. More recently, he has written more than 30 pieces for NPQ relating to the IRS scandal. In addition, he presented a paper at the national 2014 ARNOVA Conference about the IRS scandal and its implications for regulation of political activity by nonprofit organizations. Michael lives in Sioux Falls, SD with his wife, Margaret Sumption, and their dog. They have one adult son. In his leisure time, he likes to read histories and biographies, play golf, cook, and be a companion to his wife.