Most or all state laws that govern charitable solicitation registration focus on traditional fundraising techniques like direct mail, in-person, events and telephone solicitation among others. However, there has been an upsurge of internet usage to market and promote businesses online. This is to say that, charity organizations have not been left behind. They are exploring internet solicitation where they invest in a website that highlights their purpose and requests donations through a donate now button.
This is a move that perplexed state officials who oversee charity registration and compliance. They had never anticipated internet solicitation, and thus, no state had laws in place that administrate online solicitation. As such, something had to be done to head off confusion among state regulators. That is how the Charleston Principles were proposed and published in the year 2001. The Charleston principles are simply guidelines; they can change as laws change and do not bind states.
Among other requisites, the Charleston principles require all out of state charities that solicit or receive ongoing contributions from people in different states to register with states from which they receive substantial and on-going contributions via their websites. It is up to the states to determine what ongoing and significant contributions mean.
The Charleston Principles state that charitable solicitation organizations should register if their non-internet solicitation activities require them to register in a state, they solicit contributions through an interactive website or invites potential donors to complete donations offline, targets people from a particular state online and receives repeated donations from one or more states.
NASCO drafted the Charleston principles with the aim of simplifying online solicitation regulations for different states that felt confused and unprepared to deal with the sudden online fundraising efforts by non-profits. However, since the principles are guidelines and not laws, states modify and interpret them differently.
Online solicitation tips
If you receive an insubstantial or unsolicited donation via the internet or email from a person in a state you are compliant with and later decide to follow-up or solicit via the internet or email; you are required to register. That is termed as a solicitation activity that triggers registration.
Solicitation through charity portals like networkforgood.com does not trigger registration because they are donor funds that distribute funds to other charity organizations. Their donation are given as payee. Additionally, a non-profit may host a non-interactive site that encourages people to donate offline or through third party websites. Though not receiving donations directly, you encourage people to donate which is termed as solicitation, and you must comply with registration laws.
You can use social media platforms to market and make your charity organization known without inviting donations. In this case, you are not required to register. But if your language triggers solicitation, you need to comply.
This means that you must perform due diligence with the different states you wish to seek online solicitation. Different states will have various provisions governing online registration requirements. Do not assume what applied in one state will use in another. Visit or contact the relevant bodies before completing your registration. Alternatively, consider seeking legal assistance from a charitable solicitation attorney with your area. They are knowledgeable and understand legal terms better.