We are a 501(c)(3) charity and would like to put a place for donations on our website. Can we receive a donation from someone in another state and use it in our home area?
Many charities have configured their websites so that they can collect contributions over the Internet and have been highly successful in obtaining contributions from other states and even other countries. It is clearly the wave of the future.
There is no law that I am aware of that prohibits you from using the gifts in your own area so long as that is what you say you will be doing. You may not solicit for one purpose and use the funds for another.
Your bigger question is whether you have to register to solicit charitable funds in each of the states that has a charitable solicitation registration law. Thirty nine states and the District of Columbia require registration before you solicit unless your organization is excluded or exempted under the particular state law. The National Association of State Charities Officials has released its set of Charleston Principles that basically provides that you don’t have to register in other states if you have a “passive” website that merely allows a donor to find you and send a contribution over your site. But if you have an “active” site you will probably have to register. It will be considered an “active” site if you have an interactive site and specifically target people in another state or receive contributions on a repeated or ongoing basis from another state. If so, you will probably have to register in the other state. In addition, once you receive the gift from out of state, you will undoubtedly thank the donor, and ask for more. As soon as you ask for more, you are soliciting in the other state.
Several states are now taking the position that asking for gifts on the website constitutes a charitable solicitation in their state even withouit any active solicitatio or targeting of their citizens. Probably most charities that don't have direct relationships with those states are not registering solely becuase of the ask on their websites. But organizations that are sending their newsletters or other emails or phone calls into the state are more vulnerable and are wise to consider registration to avoid later problems.
Thursday, April 12, 2012