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 Post subject: NRHS- A Brief Excursion Through the P&L
PostPosted: Wed Sep 24, 2014 11:12 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 11:54 pm
Posts: 1775
After the recent kerfuffle, I used some free time to look at some of the NRHS posted financials and and while they offer some insights, their structure raises some questions and limits their utility.

When an enterprise is in financial trouble, there are two things that should be done. Borrowing from the medical profession, “first do no harm”. Second, stabilize the patient.

Advanced financial illness almost always offers the presenting symptom of red ink hemorrhaging from the income statement so it’s appropriate to start there.

First, the source:

https://admin.nrhs.com/public//Finance/ ... Report.pdf
Attachment:
NRHS Analysis.pdf [186.23 KiB]
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Now, a little housekeeping, the NRHS statement of activities (the income statement) has a bit of a problem due to the confusion of FUNCTION and ACTIVITY .

Ordinarily income statements present income and expenses with a brief description of the type of expense, not the activity that generated it. That is, one would expect to see expenses like Salaries, Wages, Employee Health Insurance, Electricity, Train Rentals, Meals, Telephone, Internet Access Fees, etc., not “Convention” and” Bulletin”.

Modern reporting systems are "multidimensional", and use responsibility (cost) centers to show the source and establish accountability for the expense-the overall income statement is mean to show the TYPE of expense, not the SOURCE.

This is normally the kind of advice that your external auditor offers, gratis.

Given that minor limitation, let’s proceed:

I copied the 2012 and 2013 Statements of Activity into Excel in order to do a year to year comparison, a basic analytical procedure, often called a "roll-forward".

*On the Revenue side, I note that in 2013, member dues were actually up over 2012. (366,760 vs. 365,860). Revenues overall are up as well. (972,606 vs. 963,024). It’s almost immediately obvious that the 7.2% loss of members was offset by higher rates, and as I recall, there was some resentment over the increase in dues, so I wonder if the loss of members is DUE to the increase. While the long run effects of such a loss of membership is staggering (maintained, in 9 years, you have 51% of your member base), It isn’t the source of an IMMEDIATE problem.

This means that the IMMEDIATE problem is pretty much likely located on the EXPENSE side. No surprise, then that in both years, expenses exceeded revenues. To paraphrase many politicians, the NRHS has a spending program.

Outside of the expense labeled “convention”, the big hitter was the somewhat cryptically titled “management fees” which totaled 357K for the both years. It’s not at all obvious what constitutes that expense. It could be salaries and benefits for staff or payments to external consultants, but there’s also a line for “professional fees”, so who knows?

Recommendation: the new Board and Management Team should be making inquiries about the nature, magnitude and necessity of these expenses.

*Now back to “convention” expenses. While the convention produced a loss in 2012, it produced 82K in profits for 2013. Again, because the expense is presented by SOURCE and not NATURE, it’s difficult to determine how there was such a loss in 2012.

Recommendation: The new Board and Management Team should look to have a budget prepared for future conventions and other major activities and establish cost centers to allow for accountability, so expenses can be categorized by function, (excursion fees, rentals, etc.), rather than by activity (conventions, conferences).

*The next thing that caught my eye is the line “professional fees”. Although not the largest item in magnitude, the idea that an organization that produced 1.936 million in revenue and spends $135K in “pro fees” (7%) seems rather large, in my experience. Worse, it went from 50K to 85K, a 70% year over year increase.

Recommendation: The new Board and Management Team should be making inquiries about the nature, magnitude and necessity of these expenses. Additionally, these should be broken out into individual line items. (accounting, legal, management consulting, professional organizations)

(As an aside, I’m curious as to why a Mechanicsburg Accounting firm is doing a Philadelphia audit. There has to be SOME onsite fieldwork, are firm staff travelling to Philly?)

*“Corporate” is another cryptic description, even though it’s only 39K. Notable is the drop from 27K to 11K. This suggests a good deal of controllability in this item.

Recommendation, the new Board and Management Team should be making inquiries about the nature, magnitude and necessity of these expenses.

*Fundraising (again, what is this, is it internal or external?) is 72K. It went from 32K to 40K year over year. This might very well be a worthwhile expense, if it can be demonstrated that it produced the increase in contributions from 73K to 159K that occurred between 2012 and 2013. Spending 32K to get a portion of 73K, however isn’t the kind of productivity you should expect for a professional fundraising program.

Recommendation: The new Board and Management Team should be making inquiries about the nature, magnitude and necessity of these expenses and attempting to see if they are actually productive, especially due to other campaigns or vendors.

Even small expenses can be reviewed. What is “office”? Sure it’s only 43K for the two years, but it’s not clear what constitutes this expense-or how it differs from “corporate”.

Attached is a pdf of the 2012 and 2013 statement of activities, along with a year by year differences comparison.


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 Post subject: Re: NRHS- A Brief Excursion Through the P&L
PostPosted: Thu Sep 25, 2014 12:11 am 

Joined: Thu Feb 27, 2014 10:08 am
Posts: 240
Superheater, thank you for this very interesting and thoughtful analysis.

Given the numbers here, how big would a potential liability have to be to be included as material in a footnote to the financials?

Normally, would something large enough to require a footnote also require that a reserve be held?

I ask this because the Hankey essays mention a litigation issue that appears large enough that he refers to it in his third essay by stating, "as it [the NRHS] fights for its life against a nasty lawsuit."

In another thread, Mr. Bumgarner stated, "The litigation is over someone suing the NRHS over an automobile accident that happened at one of the RailCamps. As I understand it, one of the NRHS officers was on official business and someone was seriously injured in the accident and it was not properly insured."

I believe that the unfortunate incident Mr. Bumgarner refers to is summarized in this news article, cut and pasted below:

"Two men injured in van crash along Highway 167 near Kent, Auburn
by STEVE HUNTER, Kent Reporter Courts, Government Reporter
Jul 30, 2012 at 10:56AM
Two men were injured near the Kent-Auburn border after their van left the roadway and rolled over at about 11:30 p.m. Saturday, July 28 along southbound Highway 167.

The 2012 Chevrolet Express van crashed in the single-vehicle accident under the South 277th Street overpass along Highway 167, according to a State Patrol media release. The cause of the accident remains under investigation but the report indicates that alcohol or drugs were a factor.

Paramedics transported the driver of the van, a 60-year-old man from Shippensburg, Pa., to Auburn Regional Medical Center with undisclosed injuries. A 21-year-old man from Hampshire, W.V., was transported with undisclosed injuries to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. A 15-year-old boy from West Virginia also was in the van and escaped injury."

It would seem that, in a single vehicle accident where drugs or alcohol may have been involved, the implication is that the driver may have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Was a DUI/DWI involved in this accident? Is a DUI/DWI involved in this litigation some how? If it is, would the NRHS' insurance cover them for injuries that are a result of this accident?

I ask this because I seem to recall, and someone please check this, that a mailing I received from the NRHS around February 10-14, 2014 (it may have been an "NRHS News") included, towards the back, a one or two line item regarding an NRHS VP that had been removed from office in accordance with the by-laws, specifically, the by-law prohibiting a convicted felon from holding office in the organization.

Was the felony conviction (if my memory is correct) related to this accident and to the litigation Hankey mentions?

If the litigation Hankey mentions, the accident described in the news article, and the felony conviction are all related, depending on the injuries sustained, I'd imagine the NRHS could be on the hook for an appreciable sum. Shouldn't this be addressed in the financial statements?


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 Post subject: Re: NRHS- A Brief Excursion Through the P&L
PostPosted: Thu Sep 25, 2014 10:06 am 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 1:51 pm
Posts: 8455
Location: Baltimore, MD
Since we're, as the saying goes, "going there"...........

My understanding of the incident in question is that the individual in question had allegedly been taking medication or medications that supposedly made him drowsy, that he dozed off at the wheel, and that one RailCamp attendee received a life-altering, disfiguring injury in said accident. This is what I meant when I said the situation is a bit "messy." Whether the "felony" charge is proper or the result of overzealous prosecution, I'll leave to others to explore and discuss. (Note: Those warnings on medication packaging are there for a reason.)

This incident also brutally exposes the other dilemma organizations like the NRHS also face. Supposedly, we need more volunteers and volunteerism instead of paying for such things as mailings and "membership services" in order for such groups to survive, but at the same time "society" and the "legal profession," especially in the litigation-happy United States, have made the risks behind such volunteerism essentially impossible. A small but significant part of the reason we don't see big excursion events like you saw in the 1960s and 1970s, is because this thought process lurks in the back of every mature officer of a group in the 21st century that could run one: "Gee, I'd like to see an excursion behind 765/1225/844/261/etc. out of my home town, but if I associate myself in any way with that, and someone twists an ankle or breaks a hip stepping off the train, I'm going to have to take a second mortgage on my house just to pay for the lawyer, never mind if it should derail or hit some crazy railfan photographer.... no way, man..." Don't think I'm kidding. I've heard variations of the same sentiments expressed repeatedly, out loud, though they usually say "our" instead of "my".

Further, what about, as a real-life example, some group that runs afoul of the town/city/county and elicits the wrath of a vengeful mayor/commissioner/sheriff, and starts assessing fines of $1,000 a day for "those eyesores" and "running a junkyard"? Or someone that over-reacts to some white stuff that fell on the ground next to a stuffed steam locomotive and immediately sues to make the museum " a Superfund haz-mat clean-up site"?

I recently offered to assist my brother-in-law with a community-sponsored festival for which he would be working. I was informed that I would have to be put through a criminal background check if I was to be anywhere where I could even SEE children, never mind if I were actually interfacing with them, handling money or food, etc. Needless to say, although I have a clean record, I spared them the expense.

American society has increasingly abdicated from common sense, personal responsibility, and liberty in apparent pursuit of the perfectly harmless, flawless, inoffensive world. People of my generation and below see this (or, indeed, are complicit in this), and see that the personal risks are too great in a society where litigation has replaced baseball as the national pastime, and they're staying away from such "risks" as interfacing with the public, working with groups that accumulate assets, etc.


(Disclaimer: These views are mine and mine alone, and should not be construed to reflect upon the positions or opinions of any NRHS Chapter, any rail preservation group, any political party, any brewery whose beers I may consume, any transportation or transit service I may ride or use, any website I may peruse, any photography subjects I may photograph or their owners or representatives, or anyone else on the face of this or any other planet. Your mileage may vary. Contents may have settled during shipping. This post is not a toy and should not be handled by those three years of age and under. Close cover before striking.)


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 Post subject: Re: NRHS- A Brief Excursion Through the P&L
PostPosted: Thu Sep 25, 2014 10:40 am 

Joined: Thu Feb 27, 2014 10:08 am
Posts: 240
Mr. Mitchell's brief overview of the state of Tort Law in the US is certainly relevant to any organization that utilizes volunteers and provides services.

The point of this thread, however, is to look at the NRHS' finances.

Mr. Hankey mentioned this litigation more than once in his series of essays and in terms that indicated that the outcome could materially impact the NRHS as a going concern (recall Mr. Hankey's "fights for its life" language cited in my previous post).

My questions to Superheater were intended only to more clearly understand the parameters of what monetary amount of potential liability would be considered material in an organization having financial statements such as the ones he analyzed.

If this litigation is such that the national is indeed ,"fighting for its life", then that fact should be revealed in the financial statements. Donors, and potential donors, should be informed so that they can choose the organization that has the best track record and the best future potential to make the most of their scarce rail preservation dollars.


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 Post subject: Re: NRHS- A Brief Excursion Through the P&L
PostPosted: Thu Sep 25, 2014 11:17 am 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 1:51 pm
Posts: 8455
Location: Baltimore, MD
Of course, such "disclosure" flies in the face of the ever-repeated-to-the-point-of-abuse-as-obfuscation "we don't/cant comment on pending/ongoing litigation" AND possible "non-disclosure" terms of out-of-court settlements, if either are indeed in effect in this specific instance.

Juries are still (for the moment, anyway) largely keeping in check litigation regarding "offensensitivity," "hurt feelings," and the like, but until such time that even minor accidents are NOT treated as "lottery wins" for victims and punitive sanctions against anyone with more assets than someone else in the name of "social justice" or whatever, it behooves anyone with assets or possessions to "hide" instead of engaging in public outreach and social intercourse. And that, as much as the Internet and social media, is going to kill off the "old way" of history preservation as we've known it.

I was told yesterday of several history re-enactment groups that were invited to appear at a significant annual local festival, but told by the civic-minded organizers not to bring any weapons or "things promoting war or fighting," not even non-functional replicas. The groups in question were, of course, re-enactor "living history" groups centered around military regiments in a civil war............
Said annual festival is now extinct.

EDIT: It behooves me to remind readers that this website itself is now but a shadow of its original intent, in part because of threatened litigation by a certain "offended" person (whom others persist in defending and glorifying to this day) that induced several volunteer moderators, editors, etc. to abandon their ties to this website.....


Last edited by Alexander D. Mitchell IV on Mon Sep 29, 2014 8:56 am, edited 2 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: NRHS- A Brief Excursion Through the P&L paging our couns
PostPosted: Thu Sep 25, 2014 12:51 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 11:54 pm
Posts: 1775
"Given the numbers here, how big would a potential liability have to be to be included as material in a footnote to the financials?"

"I ask this because the Hankey essays mention a litigation issue that appears large enough that he refers to it in his third essay by stating, "as it [the NRHS] fights for its life against a nasty lawsuit."

Because of the lack of details on this matter, I hadn't included this in my "back of the envelope" analysis.

The definition of materiality is decided non-quantitative. It's sort of like restricted speed-you think it's a numerical thing, but it's not. Material is something of a magnitude or nature that a reasonable and informed person would consider it important in evaluating the entity in question.

Any legal contingency that exists as described as quoted is material.


"Normally, would something large enough to require a footnote also require that a reserve be held?"

The requirement for a note disclosure is generally that a contingent liability is possible, which is a lower threshold than what is required for booking a liability on the balance sheet.

Ever since FASB 5 in the mid 1970's, (now ASC 450, under the new codified standards, which was supposed to be modified, but I think has been postponed) the requirement for accruing a liability has been ESTIMABLE and PROBABLE. It's a little more exacting now, but "estimable and probable" still applies.

Here's a brief guide:

http://www.accountanttown.com/site/fasb ... tingencies

As for whether the NRHS is responsible for the actions of the individual in question, I thought that an entity was responsible for the actions of its agents-to the extent that they were acting on it's behalf-but if they were committing a crime, they were responsible. I'll let the attorneys take it from here.

Additionally, creating "reserve" as you describe is not the same as reserving for uncollectible accounts and you might be thinking of accruing liability on the balance sheet. A reserve for settling a lawsuit is a legal concept that involves setting aside moneys for the satisfaction of a debt, and doing so is generally done upon the advice of counsel, not accountants. I think that if such an action were taken, it appear as a component of permanently restricted funds in a tax-exempt, although it's been a while (since I took the CPA exam) since I thought about that.

What we do know is:

Multiple commenters have described a legal contingency that if accurately described, would be material and possible.

I see no note disclosure in the 2013 financials mentioning the possibility of a legal liability. Either counsel though it remote or it was apparent through May 14, the date cited for which "subsequent events" would be included as note disclosures.

There is no liability booked. This would mean that the contingency would be considered not reasonably possible, or wasn't "probable and estimable".

I do note that on the financials, this appears:

"The Society does not have a system of internal controls that would enable management to prepare GAAP financial statements and related footnote disclosures."

I see no adjusting entries proposed by the auditors to account for this event.

So we are left with some questions, if there is a potential liability that is of such a magnitude and nature that it poses a dire and existential threat to the NRHS, why wasn't it the first order of business? Are commenters making suppositions about this event inferring liability where no exists? It doesn't seem to have been a factor in the new business model-either to deal with the existing risk or to mitigate against future occurrences.

Recommendation: The new Board and Management team needs to take actions to resolve the existing deficiencies in the NRHS financial reporting, preferably by engaging a licensed CPA firm (Fernley and Fernley is not and is mentioned as "NRHS concurs that the monthly accounting closings by Fernley & Fernley were deficient in 2013 and caused significant delays in producing accurate financial information. NRHS has already taken steps to fix this problem and expects significantly better reporting in 2014"-is clearly a problem) and to start to consider enterprise risks.


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 Post subject: Re: NRHS- A Brief Excursion Through the P&L
PostPosted: Fri Sep 26, 2014 1:02 pm 

Joined: Wed Aug 25, 2004 4:18 pm
Posts: 431
Location: Illinois
If you aren't familiar with the NRHS, some explanation as to what the "management fees" and "professional fees" are: until not that long ago, the NRHS had entirely volunteer labor to manage the membership rolls, mailings, and the NRHS newsletters, among other tasks. This hasn't been the case for several years, and the NRHS now pays a very substantial fee for some of these activities to the company Fernley and Fernley (for occasionally suspect quality, IMHO). I presume some of these fees are also to publish the newsletter, and to manage the substantial film and book library.

I agree completely that these costs need to be detailed, and I think there needs to be some hard decisions made - for example, can the NRHS keep its book and printed materials library, given how few members use it?

Chris Jacks.


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 Post subject: Re: NRHS- A Brief Excursion Through the P&L
PostPosted: Fri Sep 26, 2014 1:28 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 11:54 pm
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"This hasn't been the case for several years, and the NRHS now pays a very substantial fee for some of these activities to the company Fernley and Fernley (for occasionally suspect quality, IMHO)."

I kind of guessed that, but needed confirmation. I'm assuming you have direct knowledge of this matter.

(As an aside, it's more than your humble opinion, when the NRHS states it openly- it's reasonable to assume that's indisputable, or else the F&F would be seeking a defamation claim)

The most pressing an immediate problems of the NRHS have NOTHING to do with what were identified by the committee. If that audit report were issued to a regular commercial enterprise, the C-suite would be facing some legal peril.

One of the big problems is that while the library might be managed, it isn't being effectively monetized. Over the years that I went to the railroad film night at the National Canal Museum, I saw so many amazing things: Maine Narrow Gauge in the 1920's, Mauch Chunk (Jim Thorpe in what appears to be the 1936 flood, the Wanamie Steam that ran into the 1960's. If they don't have the ability to convert to DVD, get Pechulis or Herron or one of the innumerable other vendors to purchase rights. Maybe they aren't sitting on a fortune, but there's some cash in those vaults.


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 Post subject: Re: NRHS- A Brief Excursion Through the P&L
PostPosted: Fri Sep 26, 2014 4:51 pm 

Joined: Wed Feb 02, 2011 9:40 pm
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OT of the post topic, but does NRHS have a new Pres and Board now, or did the old guard find a way to stay in power?


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 Post subject: Re: NRHS- A Brief Excursion Through the P&L
PostPosted: Fri Sep 26, 2014 10:12 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 11:54 pm
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I (and others) should have more details after our next Chapter meeting, October 14.


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 Post subject: Re: NRHS- A Brief Excursion Through the P&L
PostPosted: Fri Sep 26, 2014 11:28 pm 

Joined: Tue Jul 02, 2013 10:45 pm
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Let me just mention a thing or two about the legal case involving the NRHS. However, it should be noted that in no way am I speaking for NRHS on the matter.

Alexander D. Mitchell is very correct in much of what he has put out about various types of legal action and risk, in my opinion (again, my opinion, not the legal advise given to the NRHS). Legal lawsuits happen for many reasons - some very good reasons and others just to explore for facts. I have worked a number of court and legal cases. A fairly recent case involving a railroad resulted in a request for me to provide a list - under court order - of every rail article, magazine, book, internet website, and any other published or unpublished resource or reference that I have read, heard, or written. My library contains thousands of books, both professional and historical, and more than 70 years of industry trade magazines, plus I have attended numerous rail professional meetings in the more than 30 years I have been involved with the railroad industry.

After an explanation of these facts, the judge finally allowed me to produce a list of recent materials directly related to the specific subject involved, but it still took hours and pages to produce. Remember that a failure to provide every one could result in eliminating me from working the case, a common reason for the request.

The standard practice in such lawsuits is to write nothing, take no notes, and to make sure only those directly involved have any details. The typical legal advise is to inform those of immediate need only to limit the materials that could be brought into the case. For example, ever been on an Amtrak train that has hit a car at a grade crossing? The normal practice is to interview every single passenger on the train, and all are potential witnesses to the event.

The legal advisers for NRHS are good at what they do and they handle a number of railroad and related event cases. I have worked with some of them on other non-legal activities, but know of their reputation. I am sure that they have provided advise to limit the information out as an attempt to limit exposing every member to potential involvement with the case. Also, just one comment such as "our VP caused a wreck", "the organization could be held responsible for thousands of dollars", or something like that, even in a chapter newsletter, could impact the case and cost the organization a great deal of money.


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 Post subject: Re: NRHS- A Brief Excursion Through the P&L
PostPosted: Sat Sep 27, 2014 7:23 am 

Joined: Mon Aug 23, 2004 11:07 am
Posts: 526
Lincoln Penn wrote:
OT of the post topic, but does NRHS have a new Pres and Board now, or did the old guard find a way to stay in power?


In the past year (or so), NRHS has changed its President, Vice President, Secretary, Assistant Secretary and there is a different chairman for the convention which will be held in Vermont next summer.

The board is elected for four year terms with half the board elected every other year and this time around a few people who eligible for reelection chose not to run. Note that term limits now apply to the NRHS BOD.

Also, the audit report was prepared by a professional CPA firm that specializes in non profits and it is normal, as part of the audit, for such a firm to have discussions and correspondence with the client's attorneys.

Jeff Smith, in another thread, has already said NRHS will not comment on any litigation it is involved in.

Bob H


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 Post subject: Re: NRHS- A Brief Excursion Through the P&L
PostPosted: Mon Sep 29, 2014 5:09 am 

Joined: Thu Nov 22, 2007 5:46 am
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Location: S.F. Bay Area
superheater wrote:
Now, a little housekeeping, the NRHS statement of activities (the income statement) has a bit of a problem due to the confusion of FUNCTION and ACTIVITY .

Ordinarily income statements present income and expenses with a brief description of the type of expense, not the activity that generated it. That is, one would expect to see expenses like Salaries, Wages, Employee Health Insurance, Electricity, Train Rentals, Meals, Telephone, Internet Access Fees, etc., not “Convention” and” Bulletin”.

Modern reporting systems are "multidimensional", and use responsibility (cost) centers to show the source and establish accountability for the expense-the overall income statement is mean to show the TYPE of expense, not the SOURCE.

Yes, you do need to do that multidimensional "slice and dice", not least, to file your Form 990 taxes (and God help you, the Form 1023, which wants you to classify funds in yet a different way.) For instance, IRS wants not only the usual expense categories, but also broken out for your top 3-5 program services or expenses -- what part of your management expense went to the Newsletter, what part to the Convention, what part to the Excursions.

It really helps if your chart of accounts (the categories in your accounting system) is set up cleverly to mesh with the Form 990 tax form. Not so much if you are stuck with a "legacy" chart of accounts that didn't think about 990s or meshed with the old form.

But here's another concept: LLC. Create a subsidiary LLC which performs one single program service. Satellite management, separate accounting books, separate P/L. Quite often, the division may work like this already; e.g. WRM's archive/bookstore division funds itself from bookstore sales. Filing your Form 990 is cake, because as a "disregarded entity", its numbers just add to the parent, except where they're required to be broken out, which is easy. Side effect: a liability shield, so the misadventures of the LLC can't burn down the whole company. Solves your hand-wring about excursions, Sandy.

Quote:
...the big hitter was the somewhat cryptically titled “management fees” which totaled 357K for the both years. It’s not at all obvious what constitutes that expense. It could be salaries and benefits for staff or payments to external consultants, but there’s also a line for “professional fees”, so who knows?
...
The next thing that caught my eye is the line “professional fees”. Although not the largest item in magnitude, the idea that an organization that produced 1.936 million in revenue and spends $135K in “pro fees” (7%) seems rather large, in my experience. Worse, it went from 50K to 85K, a 70% year over year increase.

It's a good thing when professional fees are highly variable. It means you aren't being sued often enough for the law of averages to apply. (a big slam in the professional fee section is probably legal fees.)

Further, the financial statements may be silent on the nature of the legal work, because standard operating procedure is you do not discuss pending litigation outside executive session (not least because of some rules about privilege), and many settlements include a "do not discuss" clause.

Alexander D. Mitchell IV wrote:
Since we're, as the saying goes, "going there"...........

Nor should we "go there", as it does not serve OP's inquiry. All that matters to the accountant is "extraordinary legal activities are afoot." It doesn't matter whether they're being sued by RIAA for BitTorrent on their IP, or pursuing a warranty claim on their roof.


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