The Basics of Charity Registration

"Registration desk sign" courtesy of NHS Confederation on Flickr.
I do a lot of speaking and writing to demystify the morass of state Charity Registration laws, and my blog deserves more attention on the subject. Here are a few basics.

What is Charity Registration. These are the requirements in every state, and D.C., that you register with state authorities before you solicit donations in the state. You either register, qualify for an exemption, don’t solicit there or roll the dice and take your chances.

What is a solicitation. Oh how I wish there was a simple answer. It depends upon the state when you’re talking about email or a “donate now” button on your website. But in every state these are solicitations: U.S. Mail; hosting events; buying advertising space; or having individual meetings, where a donation is requested, any part of which will be used for a charitable purpose.

What about raffles. It’s a solicitation if any part of the donation will be used for charitable purposes and the donation was requested using the methods above.

How do exemptions work. These, too, vary from state to state. Some states, like Arizona and Florida, have paltry exemptions. California and North Carolina, on the other hand, have a decent list of exemptions. Religious organizations are commonly exempt, and many people erroneously believe such nonprofits get an automatic exemption from state registration. Education and healthcare are also commonly exempted, as are small charities that raise less than a threshold set from state to state. In some states you apply for exemption and must be approved. In others, you can walk away if you conclude you’re exempt.

How do you register. My common refrain: it depends on the state. Generally, you fill out a comprehensive form (or a series of forms), add a bunch of documents like tax determination letter; by-laws; articles of incorporation; financial statement; list of board members; IRS form 990; and fundraiser contracts. And, pay a fee.

What about renewals. In most states, you renew annually. In a few, including Hawaii, New Mexico and Oregon, registration lasts indefinitely. In Georgia, it’s every two years.

If you want comprehensive info on the subject, take a look at my book, Charity Registration: State-by-State Guidelines for Compliance. If you want less than a book but more than a blog post, here’s a journal article I wrote.

If your nonprofit wants help with registrations, contact me. I do them.

If you only want the basics, follow me around. I’ll keep writing about it.

1 thought on “The Basics of Charity Registration

  1. Tony, this is a terrific post about an often misunderstood topic. I just want to add two thoughts:

    1) Nonprofits who are required to register must do so in every state in which they solicit, unless exempt. It is insufficient to only register in the nonprofit’s home state.

    2) Consultants and Professional Solicitors must also register. Registration is not just for nonprofits.

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