by Jessica Swan
The internet and social media allow equine rescues to reach millions of potential donors across multiple jurisdictions. This has made it possible for small equine rescues, in underserved or poverty stricken areas, to reach prosperous donors and make a real difference in the lives of abused or neglected equines. It has also made it possible for the proliferation of suspect or abusive fundraising tactics, violation of donor privacy, release of private information, public squabbling and unprofessional conduct, and outright fraud. Worse, it has made is easy for hoarders or animal abusers, masquerading as rescues, to collect horses and starve them to death.
The patchwork of charitable solicitation laws and regulations have failed to keep up with the fast paced, evolving world of the internet. While a nonprofit soliciting in another state is usually required to register in that state, these laws or regulations do not always apply to nonprofits soliciting over the internet. Sometimes the laws are unclear or difficult to enforce. Consumer complaints about fraudulent solicitations, scams, misused or misapplied donations, and the existence of poorly run or fraudulent charities undermine the public’s trust in nonprofits, and diminish confidence among potential donors. Good nonprofits suffer when the public’s confidence is lost.
The National Association of State Charities Officials (NASCO) was created to foster cooperation among state charity officials, and to promulgate sound regulation of nonprofit fundraising. This Association is responsible for creation of the Charleston Principles; a guideline for states developing regulation of internet fundraising by nonprofits. The goal is to regulate internet fundraising and protect consumers, yet be flexible enough to not constitute an unfair burden to the small nonprofit.
In July 2011, the Uniform Law Commission, (ULC) approved a Model Protection of Charitable Assets Act. Upon approval, this Act is offered to the states, and legislatures are urged to adopt it. The Act clarifies the role state Attorneys General play in the protection of charitable assets (donations), as the IRS does not possess the resources to pursue all nonprofits abusing the public trust.
For the public and donors, this means that states incorporating the Charleston Principles into their laws and regulations, or adopting the Charitable Assets Act, may have a powerful new tool in stopping fraud, waste and abuses committed by poorly run or fraudulent nonprofits. An aggrieved donor donating to a rescue in state or out of state, will no longer be forced to chalk up their financial losses or bad experience as a “lesson learned”.
Nonprofit law and accounting are complex fields. Before considering a significant donation of cash or other assets, consult an attorney or accountant specializing in these fields.
No matter what protections are available to the donor, it pays to be vigilant, perform some basic research, and find the right equine rescue to work with and contribute to. A reputable, organized, well run equine rescue deserves your support, your money, and your time. By vetting an equine rescue, you are maximizing your generous gift, and making a real difference in the life of an animal in need.
And they need us now more than ever.