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Attorneys, paralegals and compliance officers with a strong corporate focus that are providing services mostly to for-profit clients often find that state nonprofit compliance requirements can be challenging and confusing. In addition to dealing with annual state nonprofit corporate compliance, there is a second component to state nonprofit compliance – the annual charitable solicitation registration. While some of the jargon and form names associated with these two types of compliance are similar and both can take place at the office of the Secretary of State, it's important not to confuse the two to ensure nonprofits meet all of their state compliance obligations.

Charitable Solicitation Requirements and Exemptions Vary Widely

The District of Columbia and 39 states currently require some form of charitable registration prior to solicitation of charitable donations by most nonprofit organizations. In addition to one time or annual registration, most of these states require filings in the form of an annual report, renewal, update or some form of compliance filing to remain in good standing with the state charity bureau, usually a division of the Secretary of State or Office of the Attorney General. However, in some of these states, nonprofits are exempt from registration based on the type of charitable activity (e.g. religious organizations, hospitals, educational institutions and small nonprofits), but the requirements for exemption vary widely and, in some cases, require an application.

Ironically, some states exempt certain nonprofit organizations from the registration requirement, but then mandate the filing of an exemption application to do so, often requiring an annual filing to maintain the exemption. Furthermore, there are unusual exceptions, such as in Missouri where 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations are not required to register and in Louisiana, where only charitable organizations that use a professional solicitor are required to register annually.

Requirements for Qualification and a Registered Agent in Some States

In a few states, the charitable solicitation registration requirements mandate that a charity also qualify to do business in the state and file the appropriate foreign qualification paperwork with the Corporations Division of the Secretary of State. In these states and in a handful of others, a registered agent is also required to fulfill charitable registration and compliance obligations. In order to maintain foreign qualification status in the states that require this, corporate annual reports must be filed with the Secretary of State.

Additional Documents Required With Charitable Solicitation Compliance Filings

Documents that must accompany annual charitable solicitation compliance filings usually include the nonprofit's Form 990 (IRS annual return), audited financial statements and/or state-specific financial reports. Documents that must be filed by nonprofit organizations with initial registrations (and sometimes annual registrations) can also include

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