[hackerspaces] US hackerspaces - corporation formation and 501(c)3 status

dosman dosman at packetsniffers.org
Thu May 28 21:48:36 CEST 2009

Thanks everyone for responding. Nicolle, I believe we met briefly at  
Notacon via Eric. We do intend to consult a local lawyer, but from  
what it sounds like we should do that before doing much else. It also  
sounds like the legalzoom "instant corporation" could be useful, but  
only if you already know what you are getting into or else it could be  
a double edged sword. We will certainly be working with other non- 
profits in our area to get help too. We also understand that the  
bylaws/articles of incorporation need to be ironed out with specifics  
met to appease the IRS beast.

I am still interested in others experiences with the 501(c)3 paperwork  
since that is federal and a common process regardless of the state.  
I'm not looking for legally binding advice, just curious what others  
experiences have been regarding to "hackers get tax-exempt status " -  
what the IRS liked or didn't like about your organization - with  
intent for others to avoid the potholes you drove through.


On May 28, 2009, at 1:46 PM, nicolle wrote:

> Beth, dr.kaos is correct...i am the lawyer for Pumping Station: One,  
> and
> i am giving a talk at Defcon about the legal concerns of starting a
> hackerspace.  i don't intend for the talk (or anything i say on this
> list, for that matter...) to substitute for consulting an  
> attorney...but
> it's extremely helpful to know what you're getting into, and extremely
> helpful to be able to ask the right questions and be familiar with the
> issues, especially if you're discussing your situation with a lawyer  
> who
> may not be familiar with what hackerspaces entail.
> i definitely echo the thought that it's a good idea to talk to a real,
> live lawyer about legal concerns.  corporate formation is mostly
> straightforward...but the key word there, i think, is mostly.  each
> state has its own requirements for incorporating, and then there is
> certain information that needs to be in the articles of incorporation
> and the bylaws to lay the groundwork for 501(c)(3), if you're planning
> to go that route.
> the need to talk to an attorney goes beyond corporate formation,  
> though,
> because that's not the only legal issue that's going to pop up.   
> you're
> going to have to deal with zoning and lease negotiation.  you're going
> to have to deal with liability issues for members and guests.  legally
> advising a single hackerspace is obviously not a full-time job, but
> differing legal issues arise frequently enough that it's advisable to
> talk to an attorney to make sure your ducks are in a row.  a lot of
> cities do have resources to turn to...pro bono attorneys for the arts,
> and organizations and clinics that assist nonprofits for free.  search
> online, or ask the local bar association to point you in the right
> direction.
> nicolle
> beth wrote:
>> I agree with jur1st.
>> If you don't have time to find the same info on the web, these kits
>> may be a good idea, but they just get you started and don't answer  
>> any
>> questions.
>> Finding a local lawyers for the arts type group offering a clinic  
>> is a
>> good idea, check with your local pro-bono org or bar assoc. too.
>> Also, simply finding a local non-profit with a mission that is like
>> yours and asking them how they set up their organization/board and
>> bylaws etc and what issues they ran into can be invaluable. Here in
>> Atlanta, we found an arts organization that was set up specifically  
>> to
>> provide old printing presses and offered classes on their use. Their
>> mission was educational and creative. Alot of what they are doing
>> could be translated to what we are doing (providing access to
>> technology and education on how to use it).
>> Look at your area non-profits and ask them if they have someone who
>> can spend some time via email/phone/inperson telling you how they got
>> their 501c3 and how they overcame challenges and even what their
>> bylaws say. Most will be happy to lend a hand and you may find fast
>> friends and great resources too.
>> Filing these documents costs alot of money even without the lawyers,
>> so you don't want to have to do it twice, or be denied status. It's
>> worth a workshop/clinic fee.
>> (Also, dr.kaos, my better half, says there is a lawyer from Pumping
>> Station One in Chicago giving  a talk on this at defcon, go see it or
>> get the recording after.)
>> Beth
>> On May 28, 2009, at 11:55 AM, jur1st wrote:
>>> I recall a commercial for a national tax prep firm which made an
>>> excellent point about products like Turbo Tax. When you get audited,
>>> who are you going to ask for assistance?  The software box?
>>> Outfits like the ones you mention come with forms...that's it. No  
>>> way
>>> to talk through the issues which you bring up later in your
>>> message...no opportunity to discuss other legal issues or risk
>>> management with an actual attorney.
>>> This culture is very DIY based...but legal and financial issues are
>>> best handled by those that have backgrounds in law, tax, accounting
>>> etc.
>>> You may want to consult with a local or regional law school to see  
>>> if
>>> they have clinics or professors who could help pro-bono.
>>> -jur1st

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