Keeping your nonprofit legal while raising money

Starting a nonprofit takes a lot of effort--you have to file with the IRS, create articles of incorporation, set up a board of directors, enact bylaws and deal with myriad other details. But say that's all taken care of. You're ready to start accepting donations now, right? On to the mission!

Well, not quite. Charitable fundraising is governed by state laws, which vary significantly around the country. In Tennessee, all nonprofits must register in order to accept donations.

The $30,000 Question

A key consideration when registering in Tennessee is the total value of contributions your nonprofit will receive in a given year. If it's below $30,000, then the nonprofit is exempt from registering. However, such nonprofits still have to file an Exemption Request with the state, which must they must renew annually. In their early days, many nonprofits operate on budgets well below this limit, but they still need to let the state of Tennessee know about it.

If your nonprofit's donations exceed $30,000, you need to complete all required registration or renewal forms. Large nonprofits whose revenues are greater than $500,000 will also need to include audited financial statements.

Multiple States, Multiple Registrations

Another thing to keep in mind is where your donations are coming from. If they're restricted to Tennessee, then you only have to register in a single state. However, if you have more than a handful of donors who come from a different state, then you should register there as well. Be sure to consult local laws and familiarize yourself with the requirements. Almost all states require some form of registration.

Consequences For Not Registering

Charity regulators can and do cite nonprofits for failure to register. If your organization doesn't comply with registration requirements, it's at risk for a number of consequences, including:

  • Monetary penalties
  • Negative publicity
  • Board member embarrassment
  • Missed fundraising opportunities
  • Personal financial liability for staff and officers
  • Revocation of charitable status
  • Investigations

Clearly, you want to avoid these consequences. The good news is that initial registration only costs fifty dollars, with a sliding scale for annual renewal fees thereafter. While it may seem like a minor irritation, it's nothing compared to what could happen if you ignore registering altogether. People form nonprofits to further a variety of noble missions. Ensure that yours has the greatest chance of success by keeping up with the requirements.

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