Legislation That Nonprofits and Funders Can Endorse

Note: The following column written by David Biemesderfer, President & CEO of Florida Philanthropic Network, and Rena Coughlin, Board Member of the Florida Nonprofit Alliance, appeared in the Tallahassee Democrat on March 23, 2014:

David Biemesderfer, President and CEO, Florida Philanthropic Network:

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 Sen. Jeff Brandes in the Senate (SB-638) and Rep. Jim Boyd in the House (HB 629). Much 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.

Florida Philanthropic Network has voiced its support for Putnam’s proposal. FPN is a statewide association of nearly 110 grant-makers who work hard to ensure their foundation and corporate charitable dollars are being used as effectively as possible. FPN believes the proposed revisions will help ensure donors can remain confident their charitable contributions are being used as promised to support the causes and organizations they care about, leading to a positive environment in Florida for charitable giving.

Rena Coughlin, Board Member, Florida Nonprofit Alliance:

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 percent.

It was 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 field, I know that trust is what propels donations, volunteering, passion and advocacy for a mission and an organization. Without public trust, nonprofits face a nearly impossible task of staying afloat and more importantly, making progress on such hugely important issues as health, education, safety and economic well-being.

That’s why the Florida Nonprofit Alliance and its partners have all endorsed the legislation to revise Florida’s charitable registration and reporting. The bill’s sponsors and the Commissioner of Agriculture have been careful to listen to FNA and 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 Florida Nonprofit Alliance, a statewide organization helping to promote the concerns and values of the Florida nonprofit sector at the state and federal level, hopes Florida nonprofits will (1) help educate their donors and volunteers about best practices in fundraising; and (2) help promote the public trust.

Post the donor bill of rights on your website. It’s available to download at www.afpnet.org.

If you have any questions about FPN’s public policy work, please contact David Biemesderfer at 813-983-7396, dave@fpnetwork.org

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