So here it was one of those lazy, languid summer days. Nothing to do. The washer was whirring and the dryer was adding to the household humidity. Then Jeannette called. She was in a panic. Her column was due and the family was packing for a vacation. So I agreed to do her column this month. But, I didn’t have an idea on paper, or at least on my hard drive. Needing an idea – I did what Gary Trudeau does – I went to the old mailbag!
I decided to pursue a question someone had asked me. “What do you do when you have doubts about a nonprofit?” That’s a good question. Where can you go to get information on a nonprofit? What can you do if you feel something is amiss with finances or solicitations? I started at the website of the Secretary of State, the North Carolina Secretary of State that is. Colin Powell has enough on his plate! Besides, most local nonprofits start at the Office of our NC Secretary of State. That is where the paper trail begins as a 501(c)3 initiates work for its incorporation. The site (www.secretary.state.nc.us) has a lot of information pertaining to nonprofits. This a a good site for North Carolina donors to review. There are some helpful hints to use in dealing with phone solicitors. There are reports and listings and a series of frequently asked questions (FAQ’s). Our secretary of State also includes a number of links related to non profit information.
At the Secretary Elaine Marshall’s home page, select the option for “Charitable Solicitations.” The web surfer quickly learns that the Secretary is responsible for “Charitable Solicitation Licensing” and shares some enforcement responsibilities with the Attorney General. Clearly, this is the place to research agencies and to report activities that may be questionable. It is possible to download a “pdf “ file on this statute. (And right now, if you aren’t on the internet, I apologize – I apologize that you aren’t connected because you are missing allot – but that’s another soapbox.) This site offers opportunities to report or ask questions regarding charities and solicitors. The Secretary of State and the State Attorney General have the responsibility for keeping charities and solicitors honest.
Another features of this site is the “Donor’s Telephone Checklist.” It is a one page document that should be kept close to your telephone. It is designed to help a donor query telephone solicitors. The Secretary cautions that one should check a solicitor out before writing a check. In fact, the “Donor’s Telephone Checklist” is something to be given to friends, especially those who may fall prey to unscrupulous solicitors.
In addition to these warnings, there is another report that is called “Ten Tips on Giving Wisely. It is another one page document with some thoughtful information. Some of the tips include: Budget for giving; Ask about matching gifts; Don’t forget you have the right to say no. It is very helpful as a discussion starter for any agency before entering into an Annual solicitation or a capital campaign. This information can serve an agency as well as a donor.
One site I always find helpful is the NC Center for Nonprofits, www.ncnonprofits.org) It is an excellent site for Board members to find information on topics relevant to all phases of nonprofit operations. The resources and information are restricted to members of the organization. This site is also linked to many other sources.
Of course, on the net one thing always leads to several others. So somewhere in cyberspace I ran into a site (http://nccsdataweb.urban.org) that had more data than anyone could possibly use. But I learned that Henderson County has 239 registered 501(c)3’s. And that 104 filed a 990. Remember, all non-profits with receipts over $25,000 are required to file a 990. This is a website for data wonks. There are times when starting a non-profit seems to be the only way to attack a community problem or community need. But do we need 239?
Several things pop into my mind – the confusion of all these related and unrelated services – how does a donor decide? But, this also tells me about our community – we care – we care in large and small sums. We care for every living thing. We care for things that soothe our souls, from our Churches to fine art. We care about the quality of life in our community and our history.
June 2004 Surf State Website