Share the load

Teresa Burks, Canton, Georgia, represents the Amos Green Family Reunion. She wrote to ask that we “stress the importance of having everyone work together to help make a reunion successful. This includes sharing costs and showing the needed commitment on seriously needed family projects. One person can’t do it all!” We could not agree more and suggest to all reunion organizers that they never “do it alone” and to delegate like your life depended on it.

Two wonderful resources from The Family Reunion Institute
Bylaws for a Family Organization by Georgia M. Burnette. 1999, spiral bound, $8.00.
CONTACT Family Reunion Institute, [email protected] for instructions to order.

As often happens, recalling the frustration of finding nothing to guide them, Georgia Burnette, developed a prototype for family association bylaws. Descendents of Ellis and Minnie Burnette began sporadic reunions in the early 1970s until regular gatherings of all six branches began meeting in earnest in 1991. It was not long before many members felt the need to change the purpose of the reunion. In 1997 they experienced a very successful “working, thinking, decision-making” reunion. Using the expertise of family members they included workshops exploring family health history and financial planning. Also, significantly, they focused reunion activity on forming a formal family association including the adoption of bylaws, fees and committee structure.

For families who are at a point they wish to pursue a more formal organization, Bylaws for a Family Organization is an essential tool. Each family is going to have to tweak and tailor the outline to their own unique needs but the outline and direction are invaluable and highly recommended.

Family reunion philanthropy

A new pamphlet from The Family Reunion Institute is an important and detailed outline for families eager to give back. While directed to African American families, this information can be of great benefit to all families. Based upon the knowledge that many family reunions are already involved in their own philanthropy (providing scholarships, funds for needy members or medical research or using inherited property to endow charitable funds), more are now encouraged to do the same. The pamphlet, African American Family Reunions and Philanthropy explains reunion purposes (celebrating, nurturing and passing along heritage) and suggests activities to enhance these purposes at the reunion. At reunions, for example, it is suggested that young members be involved with essay or oratory contests, celebration of spiritual traditions, discussions of charitable giving, workshops to encourage philanthropy). For more information, send SASE to Family Reunion Institute (see above for address).

Rule your reunion

by Edith Wagner
Every successful reunion requires good leadership. And it’s best to not do it solo. There is much evidence that one person can organize a reunion alone. But is it fair? And does it generate the greatest possible commitment? One person must be the leader, but if that person also delegates tasks and inspires lots of volunteers, there will naturally be more interest in and ownership of the reunion. Here are some ideas about reunion leadership for your consideration and also to keep in mind when reunion leadership must be passed on to the next leader.

In families with regular reunions, there are many forms of sharing the load. When delegating, make sure each volunteer understands the purpose of the task. If necessary, write instructions, read them together, then ask questions to make sure the job is understood. Don’t take on everyone else’s overload. Find others to help.

Each of the six families comprising the McGinty Family Reunion has a representative on the Board. Within the extended family structure, family talents come to light. As extended families come to know one another, members learn to use the talents of others to mobilize resources. Members learn to use knowledge, expertise and resources within their own families.

Organizing your reunion by yourself can be lonely and may not get the results you want. Anyway, it’s lots more fun when you share the planning, work and worries. Involving others as early as possible means help ranging from moral support (no small thing!) to taking charge of large and small details. Early involvement should also include monetary contributions to defray start-up phone, printing, and postage costs, and deposits soon after.

Listen to all ideas. Of course, people who make suggestions should be ready to help or assume responsibility to carry them through! Some aspects of reunions — such as newsletters, parts of the program, decorations or food — can be accomplished by enthusiastic, dedicated individuals who often have special talents. Some of the computer-related stuff can even be handled by younger family members.

Reunions are best when ruled by consensus — equality and ownership are great group motivators. Every member owns a reunion equally. Every member has a voice — those who choose not to use their voices choose to enjoy what others plan.

Beth Gay of Moultrie, Georgia, starts with relatives who live nearby. It can be just a committee of two or three to make basic decisions. 1) Do you need officers? 2) Who will keep records? 3) Is a chaplain needed? She suggests monthly family meetings. Yes, every month; Sunday afternoon is her best time. Call everyone about the meetings. Better yet, send reminder post cards. Everybody is busy — it’s easy to forget. Remind everyone every month.

During the meetings you can do lots of things together. Gay suggests work on a quilt, scrapbook, cookbook or banners and signs. Then, mailings; newsletters, fliers and invitations. “The greatest thing gained at meetings,” she says, “is that you become better acquainted and all this work, planning and caring will show at your reunion.”

Emma J. Wilson summarized the reunion of descendants of Mary Cage Givens Gilmore in Nashville, Tennessee: Committee members in Arkansas, Texas and Ohio planned the reunion at a meeting during the year-end holidays. An agenda helped spark ideas and smooth details. They discussed activities, mapped strategies, decided upon a site coordinator, treasurer, someone to be in charge of correspondence, t-shirt selection and the family tree. Each carried out assigned tasks from their homes and kept expenses reasonable.

Melenda Gatson Hunter of Lathrup Village, Michigan, writes “In retrospect, I think it’s really important for families to have reunions to teach children about their heritage. Reunions are a lot of work but it’s worth it to see your family. You don’t know if you will see some of them at the next reunion.”

For the Wills Family Reunion, Hunter broke a huge challenge into manageable increments and assigned/cajoled talented family members to the right jobs: chair, co-chair, treasurer, hospitality, registration, souvenirs and t-shirts and tour. Hunter, a family historian with high-tech computer skills, took on program planning. She created a display board and memory book; collected for and assembled goodie bags and door prizes.

“Reunions are a lot of work but it’s worth it to see your family. You don’t know if you will see some of them at the next reunion.”

New people mean fresh ideas. People who work to implement reunion goals will continue to support and improve it. Avoid burnout by sharing the workload with everyone.

About the Author
Edith Wagner is the editor of Reunions magazine, author of Reunions Workbook and Catalog and The Family Reunion Sourcebook (Lowell House, Los Angeles) in bookstores now.

Charitable organizations

According to Vincent, BESDF is a tax-exempt organization incorporated for “educational, literary, charitable or scientific purposes” under IRC 501(c)3. These purposes are enumerated (along with a couple of others) as possible qualifications for being exempt from federal corporate income taxes and eligible for tax-deductible contributions as an IRC 501(c)3 organization. See IRS publication 557, “Tax-Exempt Status for Your Organization,” for more information.

Vincent said, “Our [BESDF’s] dream is to address all of these issues,” the foundation is just beginning to focus on its programmatic strategy. The Spaulding for-profit entity, BESDA, has given scholarships to family members “to attend universities or junior colleges.” No scholarships have been distributed yet through their foundation.

Scholarship programs

Feinberg pointed out that private foundations (such as a family foundation) must have their scholarship programs approved by the IRS in advance; otherwise they may be subject to penalty taxes if they make scholarship grants to individuals. He also explained that the IRS will consider whether the size of the charitable class eligible to receive scholarships is large enough. If not, scholarships may need to be offered to others (outside the family) based on similar criteria. It is important to note the IRS determines on a case-by-case basis what constitutes a “charitable class” and how large it should be.

The Family Feinberg

Feinberg said if he were going to incorporate his family reunion, he would set it up as a nonprofit organization under the laws of Ohio (because he lives there) and seek tax exemption under IRC 501(c)7. This section grants exemption from federal corporate income taxes for “social and recreation clubs” such as college fraternities and sororities, hobby clubs, garden clubs and country clubs. See IRS Publication 557, page 49. Feinberg explained that 501(c)7s “are generally exempt from state and federal corporate income taxes. The theory behind the federal exemption is that the clubs really have no income. It’s just members’ dues coming back to them in the form of goods and services,” Feinberg said. He compared it to a group of friends ordering a pizza and passing the hat for payment. “If there’s a little money left over, we just keep it for the next pizza and it’s not considered income,” he said.

Feinberg also suggested an easy way for families to run their scholarship programs:  by giving these funds to a community foundation such as the Cleveland Foundation to establish a scholarship fund. Community foundations accept donations from the public for charitable purposes. (By contrast, private foundations generally are funded by one family or group.) “As a result, community foundations are not subject to the restrictions imposed on private foundations, particularly the limits on making scholarship grants. If such a scholarship fund is established, then the community foundation has to make the determination whether the fund is for a large enough charitable class,” he said. For a list of community foundations, see the Council on Foundations website at on their “Community Foundations Locator” page. Bulking up for TEOsThere’s an urban legend that once upon a time family groups incorporated their reunions as nonprofit organizations and sought federal tax exemption status under IRC 501(c)3 to take advantage of bulk mailing rates. While some tax-exempt organizations can reduce mailing expenses under the US Postal Manual rules, it’s no longer much of a motivation. In this age of websites, the internet and e-mail newsletters, most reunion communications escape the need for any kind of postage.

Procuring professionals
Incorporating a family association and seeking federal tax-exempt status is complicated and generally requires the services of a professional. All 50 states have their own incorporation statutes with varying requirements, and dealing with the IRS should never be undertaken lightly. Reunions Magazine Editor Edith Wagner has been asked on numerous occasions, “How do we incorporate our family reunion?” Her advice has always been spot-on: “Find attorneys or accountants in your family and ask them who they would use.”

Banking your reunion

Where should money raised at a family reunion be kept? Should it be handed to the person in charge of the next one or put in a savings account? In whose name? Just what do you do with all this money until it is needed the following year? How do you handle the money that is turned in by family members to cover any fees associated with the reunion?

Put your reunion money in a business account in the name of the reunion. It can be in any bank that will serve your reunion well, but if it’s in the city where the reunion is being held you’ll have instant access when you need it most. Check with your banker about setting up an account that has the fewest/lowest charges.

To help with the business of reunions, you may want to establish bylaws for your reunion. Long-time reunion organizer Georgia Burnette has written instructions for the establishment of bylaws. CONTACT Family Reunion Institute, [email protected] for instructions to order.
If you can plan ahead and write only one check at the time of your reunion, your banker might let you use a counter check to avoid having checks printed. On the other hand, cancelled checks are your best receipt for record keeping, reporting and to provide accurate proof of where the funds went. If you choose a business account, you’ll need to maintain a minimum balance to avoid fees.

If you can hold (not touch) the money for six months or more, buy 6-, 12-month, or longer, CDs. This must be money you will not need before the CD matures (otherwise early withdrawal penalties apply). Make a little extra money for your reunion but don’t lose the benefit by not planning ahead.

Your reunion money can be kept by the treasurer, chairperson or someone chosen by the group. You must decide who will have access to the money and have those people sign the signature card to eliminate confusion. The bank will probably require two signatures and may require a resolution from the group authorizing the account. Money can be available if you choose to pay as you go. If you’re limiting the number of checks you’re writing, however, ask persons who incur expenses along the way to collect receipts and wait to be repaid at the reunion.

Establish a budget and how expenses will be approved so there are no surprises and you have enough to cover what everyone spends. Be sure you account for every penny you spend because, no matter how much you as chairperson may invest personally in the reunion, your family members will be concerned about where “their” money is going.

Plan a treasurer’s report at your reunion and offer to have anyone check your books at any time to verify your statements.

Regarding the money, Yvonne Captain wrote that experience taught her to be very careful, especially with relatives who feel comfortable telling you what they think! In order to avoid thoughts that the money was misspent, she set up a separate account for the Captain Family Reunion and made sure at least two people handled the money at all times. Different people were assigned to take care of t-shirts, hotel and dues. She scheduled a business meeting to discuss, among other things, where the money went. Captain says, “It worked out extremely well, because everybody understood why they had to pay dues.” Since they did not overspend, they had a little extra something in their bank account.

Carole Neal also set up a separate bank account, so incoming checks could be made payable to the Seals Family Reunion. Neal lives in California and the reunion was in Louisiana, so service providers required payment either by cash or travelers checks. Her bank established a four-month free checking account. There were two names on the signature card, but only one was required to sign a check. She did not order checks, just used starter checks that come when you open an account.

The committee set a low registration fee schedule to make the reunion affordable: seniors 65+ $25, adults $45, age 12-18 $30, age 3-11 $20, age 2 & under free. Fees covered all activities and three reunion meals. Setting fees was tricky, because they didn’t know how many would be attending.

Rob Fish, Powell, Ohio, writes about his Class of 1971 reunion. A small treasury is carried over from the previous reunion to cover initial costs and setup for the next reunion. The balance comes from fees charged for attending the banquet.

LueVenia R. Alford, Maple Heights, Ohio, reports that for the Pressley Family Reunion, the host city establishes, approves and maintains the budget and finances for that city. The fee is $90 per family (a parent or parents with children under age 18) and $45 per single person. Transportation and hotel are paid by members. The fees are used for entertainment on Friday evening, activities on Saturday, including a banquet Saturday night and a picnic on Sunday.

The organizer of the Chell Family Reunion is responsible for financing the reunion until money starts coming in. They price the reunion per person. They raffle a handmade quilt each year to offset the organizer’s expenses. Several family members who can well afford it split any cost overruns, including extra scholarships if more are needed than can be covered by the collected funds.

Elaine Bender Bowie, Waldorf, Maryland, says her family sets small fees and passes a hat at the end of each reunion, which is probably a pretty good idea for any reunion, no matter how well endowed.

About the author
Sarah Jaquay is a freelance writer in Cleveland, Ohio. She practiced law there for about 10 years, but is no longer active. Please note she is not giving any legal advice in this article.