Most everyone in Tennessee receives solicitations by mail and telephone asking for donations to what seem like worthy causes. As most people know, charities perform a variety of valuable services in our society.
Unfortunately, there are some people who ask for a donation with no intention of putting it to charitable use. While no one wants to discourage charitable giving, citizens should be educated to make informed decisions regarding charitable donations. The following information is designed to help consumers make informed decisions so that the money donated is spent wisely on the designated charitable purpose.
Charitable organizations are regulated in Tennessee under the Solicitation of Charitable Funds Act, Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 48-101-501, et seq. The Public Interest Division of the Attorney General's Office works with the Charitable Solicitations and Gaming Division of the Office of the Secretary of State in making sure that charitable solicitors are properly registered and enforcing civil penalties that have been assessed against charitable organizations for violations of the Solicitation of Charitable Funds Act. The Secretary of State may impose a civil penalty of up to $5,000 for each violation of the Solicitation of Charitable Funds Act.
A Charitable Organization that intends to solicit contributions from or within Tennessee, or have funds solicited on its behalf, must register each year with the Secretary of State before any solicitation. Excluded from the requirement to register are religious institutions and affiliated groups; educational institutions and supporting organizations; volunteer fire departments, rescue squads and local civil defense organizations; and organizations that receive contributions less than $30,000 annually. Excluded groups are required to complete and file an "Exemption Request" form.
A Professional Solicitor, an individual or company hired by a charitable organization to solicit donations on its behalf, must also register each year with the Secretary of State before any solicitation. Although a solicitor may be referred to as a "telemarketer," the method of raising funds can occur by telephone, direct mail, door-to-door requests or selling tickets to an event. The registration process includes completing an application, paying a fee, and filing proof of a $25,000 bond. Tennessee law requires that a solicitor disclose to the potential donor - prior to the solicitation - such solicitor's name, the name of its employer (if the solicitor is an employee or agent) and the fact that part of the funds raised through the campaign will be paid to the solicitor. Residential telephone subscribers who do not want to be solicited by professional telephone solicitors may register with the Tennessee Regulatory Authority's Do Not Call Program.
A Professional Fund Raising Counsel, a person or group hired by charities to handle their mailings or plan a fund-raising activity, must register with the Secretary of State before beginning their work in Tennessee. Registrations must be renewed no later than December 31st of each year. The registration process includes filing a completed application and attaching a copy of the agreement with the charity, paying a $250.00 filing fee, and filing a $25,000 surety bond payable to the State of Tennessee.
It is illegal for an organization or individual to mislead consumers in order to get a donation. If a consumer feels that an organization has been misleading, call the Division of Charitable Solicitations and Gaming at 800-861-7393 or the Division of Consumer Affairs at 800-342-8385.