What is a fiscal sponsor?

A fiscal sponsor is a unique type of nonprofit organization that shares its 501(c)3 status with unincorporated nonprofit projects. This allows projects to receive grants and tax-exempt donations from government, foundations, and individuals. Fiscal Sponsorship can end there, but at Community Initiatives we provide comprehensive back office services in support of projects for a flat fee. While we take care of the administration, you can focus on your mission!

Learn about the services provided at Community Initiatives.

Read an independent overview of fiscal sponsorship.

Community Initiatives is a member of the National Network of Fiscal Sponsors.

We were planning to file for 501(c)3 status. Why should we consider fiscal sponsorship instead?

Administration can be an unwieldy burden for many nonprofits. Managing the back office of a nonprofit can easily swallow 20-40% of your budget. Choosing fiscal sponsorship allows your project to flourish on the ground while we handle the back office for one low cost. The stable fees mean that you can plan your expenses wisely. Learn more about the services included with comprehensive fiscal sponsorship with Community Initiatives.

Is fiscal sponsorship the sharing economy for nonprofits?

Fiscal sponsorship has existed since the 1950s, and was a precursor to the sharing economy. Fiscal sponsorship allows nonprofits to pool their resources for affordable administration and risk management. With nearly 100 projects in our network, Community Initiatives’ projects benefit from the collective knowledge of all of our clients. While every project is unique, many administrative needs are similar among projects.

For example, often nonprofits cannot afford to keep a lawyer on retainer, but at Community Initiatives, all projects have access to our legal partners. Are you overwhelmed at the thought of drafting or reviewing contracts or creating an employee policy? We have templates for most of your needs. Other expertise may be out of reach for those with limited nonprofit budgets, but all of our projects have access to our bench of consulting experts. By pooling risk, we are able to offer our fiscally sponsored projects access to affordable comprehensive insurance.

We are do-gooders! What is the worst that can happen if we are on our own?

Disasters and crises do not discriminate based on the nobility of your cause. A crisis can strike any organization without notice. A catastrophic fire, a serious volunteer injury, an IRS audit, or a discrimination claim can devastate a small nonprofit. No matter how careful you are, you cannot completely protect yourself. By joining Community Initiatives, most projects benefit from more protection than they could ever afford on their own. Our projects gain the peace of mind that they will never face a disaster alone.

What sets Community Initiatives apart from lower cost or à la carte fiscal sponsors?

Not all fiscal sponsors are the same. It’s important to comparison shop. Some fiscal sponsors share little more than their tax status with projects. Others, like Community Initiatives, offer comprehensive back office services and legal protections to projects that go well above and beyond tax status. Check out a detailed explanation of the services we provide at Community Initiatives. Our fees can be found here.  

In addition to covering the bases in your back office, we provide a human connection with a bench of nonprofit professionals we have on staff, and on call. When you have an important HR question, a legal question, or an insurance claim to file, you won’t have to email an “info@” address and hope an answer comes in time. You’ll be able to speak directly with an experienced member of our team. We can answer your questions, and may have answers to additional questions that you have not even thought of yet!

As a project with us, you’ll be assigned a Client Services Manager who is your project’s advocate within the organization. Your Client Services Manager will be your primary contact, and will coordinate all the services you receive from Community Initiatives.

How long has Community Initiatives been working as a fiscal sponsor?

Community Initiatives has been in the business of fiscal sponsorship for over 20 years. When partnering  with us, projects have access to the experience and expertise that has supported hundreds of projects over two decades.

What services will Community Initiatives provide our project?

Fiscal sponsorship with Community Initiatives includes human resources, financial management,  payroll, tax preparation and compliance, grant management, health insurance, workers compensation, risk management, legal counsel, donation management, and even coaching on a variety of nonprofit needs. Our services are detailed here. Once accepted as a project, you will be matched with a dedicated Client Services Manager, who will be readily available to help you access Community Initiatives’ services.

What is the legal relationship between Community Initiatives and its projects?

In all legal matters--from taxes to litigation--we are considered the same entity. Community Initiatives provides the project with 501(c)3 charitable status. This means that when expensive issues arise, like legal disputes, tax audits, and even major insurance claims, we are in it together. Once you’ve been accepted as a project, you’ll enter into a written contract governing our relationship.

Will we still be able to make all the decisions about how we run our programs?

Yes! While we ensure that all of our projects follow the law, we don’t tell you how to run the day to day operations of your programs. We focus on administration, however, our nonprofit professionals have vast experience in nonprofit best practices that is informed by the experiences of projects throughout our network. From social media to donor thank you notes--we know what works in the nonprofit sector.

Are employees of our project eligible to receive health and retirement benefits from Community Initiatives?

Full time employees of fiscally sponsored projects with Community Initiatives are eligible to receive health, dental, and vision benefits, 401(k) contributions, pre-tax flex-spending and commuter/transit accounts. Certain part time employees are eligible for a portion of these benefits.

How much does Community Initiatives charge for services?

At Community Initiatives we strive to be transparent about our fees. Community Initiatives charges 10% on all non-government revenues. Due to the complexity of the reporting requirements, we charge 15% for government funds. Learn about what is included in this flat rate.

What happens if we require administrative services not included in our fee?

Most of our projects’ administrative needs are met with our comprehensive services. Occasionally projects require additional support outside the scope of our contract. In those rare cases, projects will be given notice of extra costs. When appropriate, we may pair you with a subject matter expert in our network who can provide services at a discounted rate negotiated by our team. This is most common for projects facing extraordinary legal needs.

Does Community Initiatives have fundraising and fee minimums?

Community Initiatives has the breadth and ability to serve projects of a variety of sizes. While we serve a number of projects with annual budgets in the millions, all projects in our network must fulfill a minimum annual fundraising requirement of $24,000, making the minimum annual administrative fee for the comprehensive services $2,400.

What kind of information will we need to provide when applying for sponsorship?

You can learn about our application process here. A list of application requirements can be found here. A member of our team will work closely with you to compile all of the information and documentation required.

How long will the application, acceptance, and enrollment process take?

This process can take anywhere from a month to much longer depending on when you apply, the scope of your project, the thoroughness of your application materials, and your readiness to enter into the agreement. We approve new projects on a quarterly basis. If your project is approved, you may enroll at any time within one year of your projects’ acceptance.

Learn about our application process in detail.

Find our deadlines for this year.

Contact us to get started today.

Does Community Initiatives work in specific issue areas or have an ideological focus?

Community Initiatives does not discriminate on the basis of issue areas or ideological focus. Community Initiatives is comprehensive in our services, and comprehensive in our philosophy of nonprofit work. We evaluate each project base on its viability and if it meets the nonprofit definition of a public good.  

Our projects work with animals, arts, capacity building, education, environment, health and wellness, alliances, philanthropy, social justice and youth development. Our projects vary greatly from new, incubating organizations, projects of limited duration, community efforts responding to crises and urgent calls to action, and collaborative, philanthropic efforts among foundations.

Get to know our current projects here. If you feel in good company, you will likely fit right in! We’re more than happy to talk with you about how your work fits with our mission and our other projects.

Does Community Initiatives raise money for projects?

It’s the responsibility of fiscally sponsored projects to raise all funds required to carry out their programs. In support of your fundraising activities, Community Initiatives provides:

  • A hosted crowdfunding site with white labeling available
  • Donor acknowledgement tax receipts required by law
  • Grant application review

From time to time, we may share grant announcements that could be a good fit, but we encourage all of our projects to investigate grant opportunities at The Foundation Center

Are project donations accepted from any source?

Yes! All legally obtained donations in U.S. currency are accepted. These  include: fee for service and contributions from foundations, corporations, government entities, or individuals. On behalf of our project we also accept gifts of stock and vehicles.

How much control will we maintain over our money?

All projects must prepare an annual budget to determine how your money will be spent. These budgets must follow the law governing nonprofits, as well as the terms of grants you receive from donors or other agencies. Community Initiatives keeps you on track with monthly accounting reports, and helps you avoid budget surprises.

Your project’s revenues and expenses will be accounted for within our accounting system. You won’t need a separate bank account. If your project requires staff credit cards, Community Initiatives will issue them to you. Community Initiatives maintains internal control and compliance systems to assure that funds are allocated according to your approved budget and that funds are readily available.

We operate outside the State of California. Can we work with Community Initiatives?

Absolutely! We have deep roots in the Bay Area, but 42% of Community Initiatives projects operate outside of California. On a case-by-case basis, we accept projects that operate internationally.

How and why might our relationship end, and is there an established process for varied exits?

Projects may exit Community Initiatives for various reasons, outlined below. In all circumstances, Community Initiatives staff works with the project to make this a smooth transition or a professionally managed closure.

  • Completion of the project work. When the project has completed their work and spent down all their funds, they close the project. If funds remain after the project is completed, the project may designate a like-minded 501(c)(3) to receive the funds. If appropriate, the balance may be returned to the donor, granted to Community Initiatives, or regranted to another appropriate nonprofit organization.
  • Evolve into an independent 501(c)(3). This new nonprofit organization assumes responsibility for its own operations. Any remaining project funds are transferred to the new entity.
  • Merge with another 501(c)(3) organization. In this case, a merger agreement is executed between the two entities and the project funds are transferred to the new entity.
  • Transfer to another fiscal sponsor. Any remaining project funds are transferred to the new fiscal sponsor, and the Fiscally Sponsored Projects’ grantors are notified of the transfer of sponsorship.
  • Termination by Community Initiatives. Community Initiatives may end a project’s fiscal sponsorship under the following circumstances:
    • The project account has a zero cash balance
    • No significant activity has occurred in connection with the project for one year or longer

We look forward to getting to know you and your great ideas! To get the process started, please submit our short inquiry form.