New developments in the Single Portal Multi-State Charitable Registration project

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Updated February 22, 2016 - Before a nonprofit asks supporters to make a contribution, it needs to determine whether those supporters are in one of the 39 states plus the District of Columbia requiring the nonprofit to submit a charitable solicitation registration filing with the state charity official. Unfortunately, state laws are not uniform; they differ widely on what triggers registration and what information must be filed. The current process amounts to solving a crossword puzzle of conflicting state laws. For instance, the mere act of sending a fundraising email or text message across state lines could activate registration requirements in some states, whereas other states don’t require registration until a threshold amount is contributed from donors in their state. Complicating matters is that most state laws are built on frameworks written around “old” technologies pre-dating the development of mobile giving.

Recognizing these challenges, a group of state charity regulators started working several years ago on the Single Portal Multi-State Registration project to make it easier for nonprofits to register for fundraising activities in multiple states. Those state charity regulators are committed to launching a beta test site before the end of 2016. To make that happen, many of the state charity regulators currently are in the process of developing a set of common questions that will be asked on the registration forms so the information can be submitted once for use by all participating states, rather than entered separately on different and sometimes conflicting state forms.

Your comments will help the charity regulators design the single portal process

The participating state charity regulators have posted a “request for information” (RFI) about the project asking for input from the public. Comments to the RFI will help the project meet design goals and shape the end-product so your nonprofit will have a better experience using the portal. We encourage all those who currently complete registrations on behalf of charitable nonprofits (e.g., charitable nonprofit staff members, board members, fundraising consultants, and professional advisors to nonprofits) to comment on the RFI to help this process be as nonprofit friendly as possible.

The Single Portal Multi-State Charitable Registration project is needed – but there is more to do!

The National Council of Nonprofits is committed to helping nonprofits fulfill their compliance obligations. We have posted information about the registration requirements on our website. The state associations of nonprofits in our network also educate nonprofits in their states about compliance obligations in their individual states. Many state associations also offer discounts on tools or services that nonprofits can use to comply with charitable registration requirements in multiple states.

We are similarly committed to working collaboratively with state charity officials to improve a cumbersome and expensive process. Our Vice President, Jennifer Chandler, serves on the advisory committee to the Single Portal Multi-State Charitable Registration project. We hope that by working together the charity regulators and the charitable nonprofit community will create an alternative to what is currently an expensive and impractical process. It is not unusual for nonprofits to spend hours completing conflicting forms from various states that, for example, ask for the organization’s name in seven different ways.

The current plan to create a “single portal” for online charitable registration in multiple states sounds fabulous – but the reality of creating such a portal is quite a bit more complicated than just creating one website that all nonprofits can use to register in several states in a single fell swoop.

  • First, a truly streamlined process will require the various state charity officials to agree on the information they need to collect from charitable nonprofits. While the state charity officials are making commendable progress, a common set of questions does not yet exist. At present the process used by some states to collect the registration information is as simple as the charity submitting a copy of what it filed with the IRS (the IRS Form 990), but in other states the registration process requires completing multiple forms that are unique to that state.
  • Second, the underlying state laws that require nonprofits to register for charitable solicitation activities need to be clarified. The laws of some states, such as Colorado, don’t require a nonprofit operating in another state to register for solicitation purposes in Colorado until after a certain dollar amount of contributions is received by the charity from residents of Colorado. In other states the activity of the nonprofit that triggers registration is not as “cut and dry.” Nonprofits need to work with their state charity officials to update and clarify currently problematic regulations.
  • For any satisfactory changes in state laws/regulations, charitable nonprofits need to speak up and be heard so that they can have a say in the rules that govern their conduct. Nonprofit staff and board members need to be comfortable speaking up as advocates on behalf of their own nonprofit.
  • One way to do that is to join a state association of nonprofits so that your nonprofit’s voice will be represented as the state association works with the state charity official to change or clarify various regulations.
  • Another way is to submit comments on the Request for Information to share with state charity officials what would make the single portal as nonprofit-friendly as possible.
  • Additionally, the National Council of Nonprofits welcomes your thoughts about the single portal project so that we can share your real-life experiences and advice directly with the advisory committee that is guiding this project.
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