The agony and ecstasy of fiscal sponsorship

You may have already heard that the Religious Institute, “a multifaith organization dedicated to sexual health and justice” headed by Unitarian Universalist minister Debra Haffner and another nonprofit lost all their cash to their fiscal sponsor, the now-defunct Christian Community, Inc. (Unrelated to the interesting Steinerist church of the same name.) News reports — here the UUWorld — suggest a damning tale.

This was devastating news, not the least because there is a necessary relationship of trust between the fiscal sponsor and the sponsored. And I hate that this is the first time some will have heard of fiscal sponsorships, which can be the right answer for some projects and other, existing public charities with a 501(c)(3) determination. They come in different formats implying different levels of control by the sponsor. Some sponsorships offer back-of-house services and others don’t. But, as someone who manages fiscal sponsorships, if I were seeking a sponsor, I’d want strong evidence of financial controls; board oversight; and administration with training, experience or both. The non-filing of form 990 for three years would make me run for the door.

Learn more about fiscal sponsorship from a Bay Area champion, the Tides Foundation.

For the record, I sent the Religious Institute a donation today and ask you to do likewise, if you have the money to spare.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

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