The Nonprofit Motive

How Darryl Solberg helps organizations become tax-exempt

Published in 2013 San Diego Super Lawyers — July 2013

Over the last 40 years, Darryl Solberg’s pro bono work has helped launch more than 80 nonprofits, and he’s not stopping anytime soon.

“It’s been ingrained in me since I was growing up,” he says. “It’s partly just who I am.”

Solberg is a business and real estate lawyer, so he knows all about setting up corporations and taking care of governance issues.

“I get called all the time,” he says. From addressing international issues for the Rwandan Orphans Project to reviewing a lease for Survivors of Torture, International—which serves survivors living in San Diego County—Solberg will help. “I enjoy that,” he says.

Some of his recent pro bono projects include working with Larry English, outside linebacker for the San Diego Chargers, to form The Larry English L.E.A.D. Foundation, which provides programming in academics, mentoring and professional development to junior high and high school student athletes. He has also worked with actress Linda Purl to set up the California International Theatre Festival, which includes educational outreach programs, and has donated 125 hours to guide Mission Edge San Diego into nonprofit status.

This last, he says, “was the most complex because it was in an area that isn’t often dealt with.” Mission Edge San Diego provides back-office services to other nonprofits, in operations such as accounting and data work, at a discounted fee. “To be able to get their nonprofit approval,” says Solberg, “it was a pretty interesting challenge. The IRS looks very closely at how much money is coming in from the public as a donation versus how much is being charged.”

The seed for providing legal services to nonprofits, as part of pro bono efforts at Hecht Solberg Robinson Goldberg & Bagley, was planted 40 years ago when Solberg joined the firm straight out of law school. Judy McDonald, wife of a former senior partner (now appellate court justice), enlisted him to help San Diego School of Gymnastics, where her daughter was a student.

Solberg sees his work as just one of the ways his firm contributes to the community. “A number of the attorneys are involved in nonprofit boards of one kind or another,” he says. As managing partner, he also makes sure every new associate sets up a nonprofit and achieves tax-exempt status at the federal and state level at least once. That way, he says, “When they do serve on a board, it gives them a much better background as to the law and structures that go into nonprofits.”

Which is what exactly?

“501(c)(3) nonprofits—public benefit nonprofits—have a myriad of alternatives such as: Do you have voting members or nonvoting members? If you don’t have voting members, what you have is a self-sustaining board. Who chooses those people? Are there criteria?” he says. “It gets complex because of those overlays of what’s going on with nonprofits.

“And that’s just the beginning of it. How you do the officers? How you do the terms of the directors, whether they are staggered terms or three-year terms? How you set up committees for a nonprofit? What kind of committees?”

He adds, “It’s much more complex than setting up a profit corporation. … It’s fun.”

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