Charities Information for the Public
Minnesotans are generous people with good intentions. They raise money for good causes and they donate to good causes because they want others to be able to afford their lives and to live with the same dignity and respect that they want for themselves.
The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office serves as the chief regulator of charities in Minnesota. The Charities Division of the Office is dedicated to educating fundraisers and charities about their responsibilities under the law and ensure they comply with the law, and to educating donors about their rights and how to know they are donating to reliable charities with a track record of delivering results.
Below are a couple free publications that can get you started, and many more resources as well. You can also contact the Attorney General’s Office with charity-related questions at any time at (651) 296-3353 (Metro area) or (800) 657-3787 (Greater Minnesota).
You Might Be a “Charity”—Yes, You! What Individuals Need to Know When Raising Money for a Charitable Cause
Don’t Just Follow the Crowd on "Crowdfunding" Websites
Tips on Researching Charities
Donors should research any charity to which they are considering donating. Below are some tips on how to do so:
See if the charity is registered. You can search to see if a charity has registered with the Attorney General’s Office using the Office’s Search for Charities webpage. It can be a red flag if a charity is not registered. At the same time, being registered does not constitute approval of a charity’s activities, or ensure that a certain percentage of your donation will actually be used for a charitable purpose.
Contact the Attorney General’s Office. Donors can contact the Attorney General’s Office at (651) 757-1496 or (800) 657-3787. The Attorney General’s Office can answer basic questions about a charity, send you a copy of a charity’s annual report (which must be filed with the Office), and provide other tips on charitable giving.
Ask if the charity uses a “Professional Fundraiser.” Some charities hire for-profit companies to solicit donations for them. These companies are called “professional fundraisers.” A professional fundraiser typically gets a “cut” of each donation made by the public. This fundraising fee reduces the amount that goes to the charity. You should determine if a charity uses a professional fundraiser. If it does, find out the percentage of your donation that will go to the for-profit professional fundraiser versus the charity.
Professional fundraisers are required to register with the Attorney General’s Office. You can check if a professional fundraiser is registered with the Attorney General’s Office using the Search for Professional Fundraiser webpage.
Review the charity’s “990.” Most charities must file tax returns with the IRS. These are called Form 990. A charity’s tax return (i.e., its “990”) contains helpful information about the charity. You may access a charity’s 990 for free electronically at the website www.guidestar.org. You may also obtain a copy of a registered charity’s 990 by calling the Attorney General’s Office at the telephone numbers listed above.
Contact the Minnesota Charities Review Council. The Charities Review Council is a private nonprofit organization that rates and evaluates other charities. It also provides suggested guidelines that it recommends charities follow, including not using more than a certain percentage of donations on fundraising and overhead. You may access the Council’s website at www.smartgivers.org, or contact the Council as follows:
Minnesota Charities Review Council
700 Raymond Avenue, Suite 160
St. Paul, MN 55114
Contact Charity Watch, the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, or Charity Navigator. There are also a number of groups that evaluate and rate charitable organizations on a national basis in an effort to help donors give wisely. Charity Watch, the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, and Charity Navigator all have rating information about many charities on their websites. You may access each of these organizations’ websites—or contact them directly—as follows:
P.O. Box 578460
Chicago, IL 60657
|BBB Wise Giving Alliance
3033 Wilson Blvd, Suite 600
Arlington, VA 22201
139 Harristown Road, Suite 101
Glen Rock, NJ 07452
Contact the IRS. The IRS is the federal agency that gives charities their tax-exempt status. The IRS may revoke a charity’s tax exempt status if it acts improperly. You may review the IRS’s Charities & Non-Profits webpage which has more information about this and other nonprofit issues. You may also call the IRS at (877) 829-5500 to check on a charity’s tax-exempt status.
Tips on Avoiding Common Scams
Donors should be aware of charity scams. A few of the more well-known charities scams are:
Sham Charities. Some individuals set up a charity that uses little or none of a donor’s donation to benefit a charitable purpose. These charities typically pick a sympathetic cause to target the heartstrings of the generous, but then use most or all of the donations for fundraising expenses or to line the pockets of the charity’s fundraisers, executives, family members, or friends.
Sound-Alike Organizations. Scammers may attempt to impress a prospective donor with a respectable-sounding name or a name similar to a well-known charity. These charities try to capitalize on donors who do not ask questions or confirm to which charity they are actually donating. By the time the donor realizes the difference, it is too late.
High Pressure Tactics. Reputable charities will be happy to receive a contribution whenever a donor is ready to donate. Some charities use high-pressure tactics to solicit donations, but fail to explain how the donation will be used. These types of charities often tell donors it is “critical” that they donate “immediately.”
False Pledge Claims. Sometimes donors get telephone calls or mailings claiming that they have previously pledged to donate a certain amount (for example, $20) to the charity. In fact, no such pledge was ever made. These claims are designed to make it more difficult for the person to turn down the solicitor’s request for a donation.
The Minnesota Gambling Control Board has the authority to license and regulate lawful gambling. Licensing specialists with the Gambling Control Board can answer questions about licenses, permits, and leases. Compliance specialists can answer questions regarding the conduct of lawful gambling and reporting requirements. You may contact the Gambling Control Board as follows:
Minnesota Gambling Control Board
1711 West County Road B, Suite 300S
Roseville, MN 55113
The Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division at the Minnesota Department of Public Safety also has authority to enforce state gambling laws. You may wish to contact the Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division as follows:
Minnesota Department of Public Safety
Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division
445 Minnesota Street
1000 Bremer Tower
St. Paul, Minnesota 55101
In addition to the above sources of information, the Attorney General’s Office makes available the following materials, which provide more information about Minnesota’s charities laws and charitable giving:
- Giving to Charities—Know the Facts, Avoid the Scams, and Other Tips on Charitable Giving
- Checking Up On Charities and Their Fundraisers
- You Might Be a “Charity”—Yes, You! What Individuals Need to Know When Raising Money for a Charitable Cause
- Don’t Just Follow the Crowd on "Crowdfunding" Websites
- Donating Your Vehicle to Charity
- Phony Solicitations for Grants
- A Guide to Minnesota’s Charities Laws
- Fiduciary Duties of Directors of Charitable Organizations: A Guide for Board Members
- Charitable Athletic Events—How to Stay On Course
Reporting Questionable Practices
Donors play an important role in helping ensure that charities in Minnesota operate with integrity and fulfill their charitable mission. If you believe that a charity is soliciting funds in Minnesota without being properly registered with the Attorney General’s Office, or is engaged in other questionable activities, please report it to our Office by calling (651) 757-1496 or (800) 657-3787, or by submitting a Nonprofit/Charities Report form to:
Office of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison
445 Minnesota Street, Suite 1400
St. Paul, MN 55101