Here are answers to a few questions we frequently receive from consumers:

1. How do I determine if a charity is legitimate?

You, the donor, are ultimately the best judge of the legitimacy of a particular charity or solicitation effort. You can always contact our office to see if a particular charity is licensed to solicit in North Carolina. We also advise donors to check other consumer information or regulatory sites, and we provide links to several such sites for your use.

2. How do I know how my donation will be used by the charity?

It’s often difficult to determine before the fact how much of your donation dollar will actually go toward the intended charitable purpose. The donor’s best defense is to research the charity before making a donation by contacting our officeor using other resources, such as those found in our links pages. Some consumer information sites, such as the American Institute of Philanthropy site, actually rate the past performance of certain charities regarding efficient application of donated funds to program services.

3. Will my money be used for the children, or animals, or environmental cleanup I was told about -- or will the money be used for other things?

Nearly all charities, like any business entity, encounter overhead costs. Some charities legitimately possess higher overhead cost burdens than others. However, legitimate charities strive to put as much donor money as possible into charitable programs or purposes. We encourage donors concerned about how their donated monies are actually used to research the documented financial efficiency of a particular charity before making a donation. We have links to several consumer information and research sites on our links pages.

4. Do I have to get a receipt for my donation?

No, but we strongly encourage every donor to obtain a written receipt documenting the date, the recipient organization, and the amount donated in every donation. This information will be useful if questions arise later, and a receipt record is necessary if you plan to later deduct the donation from your taxes.

5. Is there an organization to which charitable organizations answer?

There is no absolute overseer or authority over charities, but the truth is that any charity must answer to any person from whom the charity seeks a donation. You have the right to ask for and receive a written explanation of program services and financial information from any charity asking for your donation. Feel free to contact our office with questions about particular charities, and check our links to other sites containing additional useful information.

6. How do I find out more information on a charity?

If a charity calls or writes you requesting a donation, you have the right to ask them directly for more information. In particular, federal tax law requires tax-exempt charities to provide certain financial information upon request. Our office maintains records of information on the organizations we license, and many other regulatory agencies and consumer groups also maintain information about specific organizations. Feel free to contact our office and peruse our list of links to other information sources.

7. Can I put a charity in my will?

A person may designate a charity as a beneficiary in their will, and many legitimate charities encourage donors to consider this method of planned giving. Bear in mind, a will is a binding legal document with far-reaching consequences. We encourage any person considering designating a charitable organization as a beneficiary in a will to thoroughly discuss options and possible consequences with a qualified attorney or financial planner before making a promise or commitment to the soliciting charity. Legitimate charities will not discourage, and probably will encourage, potential donors to consider their options and seek professional legal advice prior to including the charity as a beneficiary in a will. Be suspicious if a person or organization asking you to give a donation by designating them as a beneficiary in your will discourages you from talking the matter over with your attorney or with other family members first. If this happens to you, please contact our office.

8. Can my office do a payroll deduction and give the money to the charity?

Some employers, but not all, have mechanisms or programs to permit employees to donate to charities through payroll deduction. We advise you to check with your employer for further information about their programs and any relevant requirements and restrictions. If your employer tells you that part of your paycheck will go to a charity without first obtaining your consent for the donation, please contact our office.

9. Can I give stocks or property to a charity, and if so, how do I determine the value of the property?

Many charities accept stocks or other property as donations. Stocks, bonds, and other property donations (like cars, beds, or clothing) present issues of "valuation" – meaning how much the property donated is actually worth. If you plan to deduct the value of a donation of stock or other property from your taxes, we strongly advise you to determine the actual fair market value of your property at the time you make the donation. It is the taxpayer’s responsibility - not the charity's - to determine and properly report the value of a donation. Do not rely on a charity’s representations about the value of your property. For further information on this topic, we encourage you to visit the Internal Revenue Servicesite.

10. Does “501(c)(3)” mean a charity is legitimate?

“501(c)(3)” refers to the federal tax code, and is a designation given to certain organizations exempted from paying federal income tax. This is a tax designation only, and is only one factor in determining the legitimacy of a particular charity. Organizations exempted from federal taxation as “501(c)(3)” entities are required by federal law to provide certain financial information upon request. We advise donors to always ask for and examine written program and financial information provided by charities prior to making a donation. If you’re researching a particular organization, we encourage you to contact our office or conduct further research at the information sites listed in our links pages.

11. What is the benefit to me of the charity being a “501(c)(3)”?

The benefit to donors of this designation is that, in most cases, a donor may deduct part or all of a contribution from his/her federal income taxes. We advise those seeking clarification or further information regarding the tax deductibility of donations to consult the Internal Revenue Service site.

12. Can a donor always deduct what they give as a donation?

Not always. The tax deductibility of a particular donation depends upon several factors, including whether the organization receiving the donation possesses a particular tax exempt status, whether the donor receives any service or property of value as a result of the donation, and other factors. Legitimate charities can and will provide explicit information concerning the tax deductibility of donations to their organization upon request. We encourage all donors to require an explicit explanation from the charity regarding the tax deductibility of a donation prior to actually making a donation. Be suspicious if the charity or caller cannot or will not provide a clear, explicit answer to your inquiry. If this happens to you, please contact our office. We recommend visiting the Internal Revenue Service site for more information concerning the tax deductibility of donations.

13. Where can I complain about a charity?

If you want to issue a complaint about a charity, you have several options. First, you may issue a complaint directly to the charity. Second, you may contact our office to register a complaint. You may also contact the Consumer Protection Section of the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office (they provide an online complaint form). In addition, you can report the charity to the Better Business Bureau and your local print or broadcast media consumer reporters.

14. Where can I find out how to start a charity?

While we regulate and license certain charitable organizations, we do not govern the creation and maintenance of charity organizations. If you’re interested in starting your own charity, we can recommend several information sources. The North Carolina Department of Commerce Business License Information Office has resource and contact information, and the Secretary of State’s Corporations Division has information and prints a publication concerning proper creation of a nonprofit organization in North Carolina. We also recommend a visit to the North Carolina Center for Non-Profits site as a valuable information resource for those interested in starting a charity.

15. How can I raise money for a charity?

First, you must get the charity’s permission. Soliciting for a charity without their prior permission may violate North Carolina's solicitation laws. Once you have the charity’s permission, you may solicit as a volunteer, or as a paid employee of the charity, without having to get a license from us. If you want to raise money from North Carolina residents for a charity as a separate business venture with the intent to generate a profit, you must apply for and obtain a license first. Contact our office for more information.

16. Can I get a copy of a charity’s tax return?

If the organization is a “501(c)(3)” entity, the entity must provide certain tax filing information to the public upon request. Consumer information sites, such as Guidestar, also provide federal tax filing information for specific organizations. You can also contact our office. We maintain copies of federal tax filing information for many entities we license. We further recommend checking out the consumer information sites in our links list.

17. Does anyone keep a list of complaints?

We suggest you check with the Consumer Protection Section of the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office for updated complaint information. We do not maintain an active list of complaints due to resource limitations, although we can and do respond to inquiries concerning individual entities we license. The consumer information and regulatory sites on our links list maintain additional useful information concerning individual entities.

18. How do I get my money back when I've been schemed"?

Unfortunately, in most cases it’s very difficult to recover your money. However, in some cases you may be able to file and pursue a legal action in court to recover funds lost or misused.In general terms, there is no designated government agency empowered to recover funds or responsible for recovering lost funds for consumers. The individual consumer may want to consult their attorney regarding pursuing legal action against the defrauding person or organization. Frankly, that’s why our office focuses on prevention rather than remedies. It’s easier and much more effective to query and research the soliciting charity and objectively evaluate your options prior to making a donation than it is to pursue a claim after a donation has been made.

19. How can I find contact information for a charity?

If we license the organization, we have contact information for them – contact our office. In addition, any legitimate charity asking for your donation will promptly provide you contact information upon request. Other consumer information sites on our links list will also maintain contact information for individual organizations.

20. How do I know if the charity I work for needs to be registered?

Any person or organization soliciting funds from North Carolina residents for charitable purposes must obtain a license first, unless the person or organization qualifies for an exemption under our Old Version of Chapter 131F - Superseded Jan. 1, 2004. Old Version of Chapter 131F - Superseded Jan. 1, 2004. We maintain a link to the text of our CSL Statute and Rule Reference (issued 10/01/2005) division’s governing law on this site. If, after reviewing the law, you have further questions, please contact our office.

21. Do charities have to register every year?

Unless the charity qualifies under a statutory exemption, the organization must renew its license every year. A charity that does qualify under a statutory exemption must obtain a license if at any time it no longer qualifies for the statutory exemption.

22. When do charities have to register?

A charity that does not qualify for an exemption should register before soliciting in North Carolina. We encourage any charity that is not licensed, but discovers that it needs to obtain a license, to contact our office promptly so that we can bring the charity into compliance with governing law.

23. Do you send me a reminder about registration?

Administrative rules require our office to send each licensed entity the appropriate renewal forms and information at least sixty-five (65) days prior to the expiration date of the entity’s license term.

24. What counts as income in determining whether a charity meets monetary income levels requiring a license?

Anything meeting the definition of “charitable contribution” under our governing law is counted towards determining the total amount of contributions received during a fiscal year for the purpose of determining the organization’s income level for exemption and license application fee purposes. Generally, just about all forms of income to a charity count under our “charitable contributions” definition. We encourage interested persons to review our governing law, and to contact our office for further information.

25. How can I get charities to stop calling or sending me requests for donations?

One method to get a charity to stop calling you is to inform the caller to place you on a “no-call” list. If you receive unwanted solicitations in the mail, you can write the entity and ask them to take you off their mailing list. If after making these notifications you continue to receive repetitive and unwanted telephone calls or letters from charities or solicitors, please contact our office.

26. Where can I look to see if a charity that calls me has ever been in trouble?

If the charity is one that maintains a license with our office, contact our office for information we may have. We also recommend checking with the Consumer Protection Section of the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office, and with other consumer information sites in our links list.

27. Can I give a donation on my credit card?

Yes, but we generally do not recommend giving out credit card information over the telephone unless you are well acquainted with and trust the calling charity. If you do conduct a credit card donation over the telephone, be sure to request a written receipt for your records, and we advise you to make written notes about the telephone call for your future reference. If you receive a suspicious request from a telephone caller for your credit card information, please contact our office.