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Local Charity Contribution Research

July 11, 2012

Where and how to research your next local charitable donation.

There are a number of resources available to the donor who is thinking of making a charitable contribution to a national or large, regional charity. However, where does one turn if they would like to perform some research before donating to the smaller, local charitable organization?

One of the first places to turn to for information is the State in which the charity is located. In Massachusetts, you should go to the Attorney General’s website and in the section called “Doing Business in Massachusetts” you will find a public charities section. Here you can see a list of charities which are not in compliance with the Commonwealth’s rules and regulations for charities. You can also access every public charity’s annual filing. This annual filing includes the Massachusetts Form PC (for Public Charity) as well as the organization’s latest financial statement and IRS Form 990. There is a wealth of information here.

In addition, at the AG’s website you can read a great deal of additional information regarding charitable organizations (donating to them, serving on boards, etc.). You can also obtain a form for filing a complaint with the Attorney General about a particular charity. The Massachusetts Attorney General’s office provides a valuable service to the donating public via its public charities division and website.

In Rhode Island, obtaining information for the State is more difficult. It is the Department of Business Regulation (DBR) that regulates charities, not the Attorney General. If you type “charity” into the search box of the RI Attorney General’s website, you receive a link to the RI Foundation’s Directory of Nonprofits. There is no mention of the Department of Business Regulation’s efforts.

But, since you have read this blog and are aware of the DBR efforts, if you visit the DBR website and navigate to the Charitable Organizations section, you will find a copy of the annual registration law and PDF versions of the registration forms. This is obviously a revenue raising effort and not a consumer protection effort as it is in Massachusetts.

At the bottom of the page where all of the PDF forms are located, there is a section titled “Make the Most of Your Charitable Donation Decisions”. This contains six sentences informing you that the DBR maintains registration and financial information on charities and professional fundraisers. It doesn’t tell you how to access any of this information. The six sentences attempt to convince the reader that the DBR is monitoring the charitable industry in Rhode Island. But how does that help you determine if the organization soliciting your donation is worthy? As I said, the effort in Rhode Island appears to be revenue generating rather than a service for the taxpayers.

You can find any charity’s Form 990 on www.Guidestar.org. All charities have their annual IRS filings uploaded to this website by the IRS, so even the smallest charities should be there. Charities are also required to let you see their latest Form 990 if you visit their office or mail it to you if you request it by mail. They do have the right to charge you for the photo copying costs but they must get you a copy within 30 days of your requesting it.

The other bit of investigating you can do is to perform an internet search for the charity and see if there has been any negative publicity regarding the organization.

Every donation, regardless of the size, is important. You owe it to yourself and the numerous charities competing for your support to be a knowledgeable donor. Don’t throw your money away – donate wisely.

Related Post: Non-profit Fundraising Efficiency

As one of the largest CPA firms in Boston, KLR is unique because they service over 220 not-for-profit organizations with compliance and consulting services. We have extensive experience helping Nonprofit organizations regarding boards, and board responsibilities, charitable contributions, taxes and 990 filing requirements.

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