I know that lawyers get a lot of grief, sometimes deservedly so.
But, there is a time and place where they are most welcome, and for this month, it is in helping us preclude trouble with state bureaucracies with regard to solicitation of funds.
I understand that the state has a role in regulating and registrating organizations within its scope. And I understand the state has an interest in protecting its citizens from fraudulent appeals from non-profit organizations.
(I don’t understand why the state has no interest in protecting its citizens from fraudulent church organizations but that is another matter.)
What I’m troubled by are the regulations of different states to register non-profits, and the lack of clear guidance with regard to soliciting funds via the web.
As we completed the registration requirements for our non-profit in Illinois, we discovered the plethora of differences across various states with regard to what it means to solicit, and whether a website that is visible from their state is a violation of their rules, subject to fines or imprisonment.
Although there is a guideline — the Charleston Principles, describing a reasonable set of expectations on the topic of web-based solicitation — very few states have adopted these as law.
We shared our frustration with a friend of ours who is a lawyer. She spoke with her firm and made arrangements for some pro bono help to define how we should state things on our website with regard to soliciting donations.
Unfortunately, since the collection of state law is unclear, and subject to reinterpretation by the state attorney generals, the guidance we received was not as concrete as we would have liked.
But having the chance to get a professional legal opinion is somewhat reassuring. So, I am grateful for lawyers, to help us protect ourselves from a misstep with bureaucrats.