New Legislation that Nonprofits and Funders Endorse
Jacksonville, FL: In January Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam announced his legislative proposal to revise Florida's laws regulating charities and charitable solicitations. His proposal is in response to the Tampa Bay Times' "America's Worst Charities" investigative report from last year, which highlighted the unscrupulous practices of for-profit telemarketers used by some charities to solicit donations. Eleven of the charities on the Times' list of the country's "50 Worst Charities" are in Florida, more than any other state.
Although the vast majority of charities in Florida operate in a proper and responsible manner when seeking contributions, the Times report revealed a handful of organizations that preyed on vulnerable citizens with deceptive and fraudulent practices; spent as much as 90 cents of every dollar raised to generate more donations; and claimed to raise money for worthy causes but actually funneled most of the funds to charity founders themselves and the for-profit telemarketing companies they hired.
The legislation proposed by Commissioner Putnam seeks to prevent the misuse of Floridians’ charitable contributions by cracking down on these fraudulent and deceptive organizations and solicitation practices. The bill is sponsored by Senator Jeff Brandes in the Senate (SB-638) and Representative Jim Boyd in the House (HB 629). A good deal of the legislation focuses on telemarketers that solicit contributions on behalf of charities, to ensure that they are operating in a legal, ethical and transparent manner.
The Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida has voiced its support for Putnam’s proposal in partnership with the Florida Philanthropic Network and the Florida Nonprofit Alliance.
“We believe that Commissioner Putnam’s proposed revisions will help ensure that donors can remain confident that their charitable contributions are being used as promised to support the causes and organizations they care about, thereby ensuring a positive environment in Florida for charitable giving,” Rena Coughlin, Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida told the Times-Union recently.
Ms. Coughlin went on to share research insights that speak to the level of trust our local residents have in local nonprofits. “A couple of years ago, market research in north Florida discovered something surprising, but also intuitive. When asked to rank “the most trusted entities to make change” in their communities, citizens placed nonprofits at the top of the list with a trust-rating of 84%. Surprising because nonprofits ranked above volunteers, businesses, even faith institutions (government, by the way, came in last). Intuitive because, as a person working in the nonprofit industry, I know that trust is what propels donations, volunteering, passion and advocacy for a mission and an organization. Without public trust, nonprofits face a
Nonprofit Center Legislation Support Page 2
nearly impossible task of staying afloat and more importantly, making progress on hugely important issues like health, education, safety, and economic well-being.
That’s why the Nonprofit Center, the Florida Philanthropic Network and the Florida Nonprofit Alliance have all endorsed the legislation to revise Florida’s charitable registration and reporting. Importantly, the bill’s sponsors and the Commissioner of Agriculture have been careful to listen to the nonprofit sector throughout the bill drafting and legislative review process; this isn’t an effort to punish all nonprofits, but rather to weed out the “bad actors” so that the rest of the nonprofits can avoid guilt by association.
The egregious practices the Tampa Bay Times laid bare in their “America’s 50 Worst Charities” are viewed by the nonprofit sector in Florida and around the country as outliers with little or no standing in the local communities where the majority of nonprofits work.
“Our three organizations are helping promote the concerns and values of the Florida nonprofit sector at the state and federal level, “ stated Coughlin. “Our goals are to encourage all legitimate Florida nonprofits to:
- Help educate their donors and volunteers about best-practices in fund raising. Post a donor bill of rights on your website.
- Help promote public trust. Be transparent and accountable with your financial and program reports and results.
- Connect with the Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida to learn more about S.638. Visit www.nonprofitcrt.org.”
About the Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida
Founded in 2002, the Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida is a 501(c)(3) organization that connects, strengthens, and advocates for nonprofits. For more information, visit www.NonprofitCtr.org.