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"Welcome to the world of nonprofit law,
summarized here in a form loosely poetical;
Those with deep allegiance to this law won’t, hope, find these renditions heretical.” 

With that, Bruce R. Hopkins embarks on an exploration of the nonprofit law realm, using 27 poems that actually rhyme, although he is the first to admit that some of the rhyming is a stretch. 

Topics covered include the commerciality doctrine (obviously), tax exemption, private inurement, governance, lobbying and political campaign activity, private foundations, the unrelated business rules, charitable giving, use of subsidiaries, and joint venturing. 

An epic poem, "Ode to the Form 990," is featured. Hopkins summarizes the IRS brouhaha in poetry, along with ruminations on nonprofit law practice.  

One reviewer stated that this book will “entertain and amuse” nonprofit lawyers and other nonprofit professionals as rhyme and humor is used to “illuminate many nonprofit laws.”  It is believed this is the first book of
its type.  

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Available from the Dorrance Bookstore.

Book Reviews

KIRKUS REVIEW: April 19, 2018


Bruce R. Hopkins Dorrance Publishing Co. (72 pp.)
$21.00 paperback
ISBN: 978-1-4809-5042-9

Hopkins (Starting and Managing a Nonprofit Organization, 2017, etc.) offers verses on an underpraised area of the law in this collection.

“Welcome to the world of nonprofit law, 
summarized here in a form loosely poetical;  
Those with deep allegiance to this law won’t,  
I hope, find these renditions heretical.”

So begins the first in Hopkins’s cycle of verses. Lawyers who represent nonprofit organizations are similar to regular lawyers—yes, they do get paid—but, as in any other area of the law, there are a few things that are specific to their trade.

The title poem, for example, expresses the woes of nonprofit organizations who apply for tax-exempt status, only to fall victim to the Internal Revenue Service’s “commerciality doctrine,” which can deny nonprofit status to organizations “operating in ways that are unduly commercial.” “Charity Begins in the Tome” discusses the legal definition of charity, a term that’s central to nonprofits’ identities.

Other poems explain and ruminate on such issues as the same-state rule, or bifurcation, or private inurement:

“Consider the doctrine of private inurement;
It is so ponderous and anachronistic.
With its emphasis on net earnings and shareholders,
The doctrine is magnificently atavistic.”

Hopkins generally writes in an ABCB rhyme scheme, although he pays little attention to meter, giving his verses a halting, nursery rhyme quality. They do succeed on a semantic level, however, and readers will learn quite a bit about the topics at hand, if they so desire.

Hopkins displays an endearing, if goofy, sense of humor, and is well aware of how esoteric the material is:

“These offerings are more like inside jokes – how rude! – 
than one’s usual and customary poem.”

Even so, a poem called “Ode to the Form 990” should ideally still work at the poetic level. Had this collection been a bit less mannerist, it might have been as entertaining to read as it must have been to write. A collection of legal poetry that’s unusual but doesn’t sing.

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“Welcome back to this realm of nonprofit tax law, where the summaries are in a form loosely poetical.

I had so much fun

writing the earlier batch of poems, I was compelled to write more, tho’ they’re not versicle.”​

Available from the Dorrance Bookstore.

In this second book of poetry, Hopkins embarks on another tour of nonprofit law, stated in poetry form, serving up 25 more engrossing poems. Topics include musings about tax-exempt organizations (are they really exempt?), IRS private letter rulings, and the concept of the charitable class. He summaries the law concerning social welfare organizations, social clubs, endowments, public charities, private foundations, supporting organizations, and donor-advised funds.  He dips into private foundation law, poeming about disqualified persons, self-dealing, excess business holdings, taxable expenditures, and the concept of the philanthropic business. 

Hopkins waxes on (way too long) about the exemption recognition process (“Song of the Form 1023”), including the streamlined application. His attention then turns to charitable giving, where he rhapsodizes about the charitable gift, noncash gifts, the charitable remainder trust, the substantiation rules, and appraisers. Hopkins wraps up this collection with poems about fundraising, constitutional law, and nonprofit law tax reform in 2017
(the latter sort of a ballad).


The poem about tax reform concludes thusly:

“We know who the biggest reform beneficiaries will be; it won’t be the accountants or those tax law scholars.
No, those with wide smiles and bulging pockets are certain to be the merry band of the nation’s tax lawyers.”



I just now finished reading Bruce Hopkins’ book, Beware the Commerciality Doctrine and Other Nonprofit Law Poetry, smiling and sometimes laughing out loud as I read it. He is right that much of his poetry reads as inside jokes, and that makes me (and will make other readers) glad to feel like an insider, even though I am a CPA tax advisor to tax-exempt entities, not an attorney. 

The insider reader knows in advance when a line ends in the word “lurch” or “search” that the rhyming word two lines later has to be, and is, “church.” However, some of the rhyming words were created by Bruce, along the lines of Ogden Nash. My favorite is “blithesomeest” (page 25), rhyming with “substantial part test.” It is listed on Google but without the “e” after “m”, so perhaps it was a Bruce creation. 

I also learned the real words “afflatus” (page 36), rhyming with “public charity status,” and “deductiate” (page 56), rhyming with “substantiate,” which I have added to my vocabulary. Deductiate is listed on Google with several references, one of which is this very book of poetry written by Bruce! There are many other arresting words, whether created by Bruce or real words new to me, that are just as delightful. Thank you, Bruce! 

Now let us hope that for his next book Bruce writes similar poetry regarding donor advised funds -- a major current subject of nonprofit law dear to your heart, Paul, and not in this particular book. 


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