If you are an officer, director, or employee of a nonprofit organization in Washington, specifically one that seeks donations from members of the public, you should be aware of the requirements of Washington’s Charitable Solicitations Act (RCW 19.09). Organizations often run into this law when they need to register under the Act as a charitable organization in the State of Washington.
Even if your organization is not required to register as a charitable organization (for example if it makes less than $50,000 per year and all of its operations are conducted by volunteers), the Act itself applies to all organizations soliciting the public for charitable donations in the State of Washington.
The Act requires that all organization make the the following clear and conspicuous disclosures at the time of soliciting donations:
- The name of the individual making the solicitation.
- The identity of the charitable organization and the city in which it primarily operates.
- If the organization is registered and such information is requested, the organization’s charitable registration number and website of the Secretary of State’s office.
Additionally, the following rules apply in special circumstances:
- If the solicitation is made by a commercial fundraiser (a person hired to solicit by the organization), then the commercial fundraiser must disclose which organization for which they are working.
- If the solicitation is made by phone, the same disclosures described above must be sent in writing within five days of the phone call to any person who has made a pledge to donate.
- If the solicitation is done by advertisement or mass distribution, the disclosures will need to include the name of a commercial fundraiser (if applicable), the fact the organization’s charitable solicitation registration is on file with the Washington Secretary of State’s office (if applicable), and that potential donors can obtain additional financial and other information at the public number or website of the office of the Secretary of State.
- A container or vending machine displaying a solicitation must display (a) the name of the charitable organization for which funds are solicited; (b) the name, business address, and telephone number of the individual or any commercial fund-raiser responsible for collecting funds placed in the containers or vending machines; and (c) the statement: “This organization is currently registered with the secretary’s office under the charitable solicitation act – call 1-800-332-4483,” if such registration is required.
Finally, the Charitable Solicitations Act contains several prohibitions that are applicable to all soliciting organizations, whether they are registered or not.
The first and foremost of these prohibitions states that organizations cannot misrepresent the deductibility of the donation being given (i.e. tell a donor that an organization has been recognized as a 501(c)(3) organization when it has not been), the pain/unpaid status of the individual making the solicitation, or the member/affiliation status of the individual making the solicitation.
A good rule of thumb in this area is that all solicitations must be honest and must not mislead or materially misrepresent any information regarding the solicitation or the organization for which the solicitation is made.
The statute contains several more prohibitions that should be reviewed thoroughly by your organization to ensure your solicitations are not in violation of any of the. The relevant portions of the statute for such prohibitions are contained in RCW 19.09.100(6) – (18). Organizations concerned about compliance under these sections of the statute should seek qualified counsel.
If you have questions about this article or have any other tax-exempt or nonprofit law questions or would like help in understanding whether your organization is compliance with Washington’s Charitable Solicitations Act, feel free to reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author:
Jacob Ferrari is a nonprofit business attorney with The Apex Law Group PLLC. Jacob focuses his practice on nonprofit corporate governance, board conflict resolution, and corporate transitions. He has a passion for working with nonprofits and finds joy in counseling them through difficulties, whether it be transitionary phases or conflict disputes.
The above article is for general information purposes only and should not be relied upon as specific legal advice. This article, or using the email@example.com form, does not in any way form an attorney-client relationship. If you have any questions or would like to learn more, please contact Jacob Ferrari at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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