by Phyllis Castens Wiederhoeft
There are those of us who love administrative tasks and then there are those of us who would just as soon get an ice cream headache than complete basic tasks. The subject of this blog may be ice cream to some of you and a headache to others. But in any case, we all have to consider the necessary and all-important task of registering our organization if we solicit donations from donors in states other than where our organization is based.
I learned this requirement early upon arriving as ALDE Executive Director, and back in 2001, there was no such thing as the Unified Registration Statement (URS). Now, the URS helps simplify the registration tasks, but as we get more sophisticated with online donations, new issues arise that can cause massive headaches if unheeded.
One such issue was brought to my attention by a new member who was informed that placing an online donation button on the organization’s website triggers the need to complete the URS. I know that direct mail solicitation can only be completed in those states in which ALDE has registered and/or does not require registration. Consequently, ALDE does not do a direct mail solicitation to members in Washington, D.C., because the registration process is too costly and cumbersome. However, I had innocently thought that an online donation button and even our email blasts are passive enough that those methods do not violate state registration requirements.
Thankfully, and I do mean thankfully, this member’s question forced me to delve further into this issue and to catch up on recent developments. My research points out that online and email solicitations do require registration in some states. Therefore, I must get back to this administrative task of reviewing which states ask for what filing because I know that ALDE will not stop online and email solicitations.
The two resources that I have found most helpful thus far are:
- The book , Nonprofit Fundraising Registration: The 50-State Guide, Ronald J. Barrett and Stephen Fishman, J.D., November 2012, 2nd Edition
- A blog posting by the Apex Law Group, Online Charitable Solicitations: 4 Tips for Using the “Donate Here” Button, Peter Smith, April 10, 2013
There is a lot of information in the blog posting alone that may make that headache worse, especially for those of us who serve small organizations and don’t have a good tax adviser/legal department readily available. But I highly encourage you all to complete this administrative task because having the IRS and states pursuing your organization will certainly cause even more headaches and more trouble than tackling the registration task.
Plus, be sure to do it annually! That’s why I am grateful for the member’s question — I haven’t put this task on my calendar tickler and I must! So I’m off to do this part of my job. Here’s hoping you too are spurred on to managing yet another “vanilla-flavored” task, saving the joyful, “butter pecan” aspects of meeting donors and receiving gifts for later.
Phyllis Castens Wiederhoeft, Ph.D., is Executive Director of ALDE. She lives and works in Verona, Wis., where she enjoys gardening, biking, hiking, piano, choir and enabling her husband’s Model A habit. She is the mother of two grown daughters.