Frequently Asked Questions for Registering Charities
Q: What is a "charitable organization?"
A: The Charitable Solicitations Act, 19.09 RCW, defines a charitable organization as any entity that solicits or collects contributions from the general public, where the contribution is, or is said to be, used to support a charitable purpose, but does not include commercial fundraiser, commercial fundraising entity, commercial coventurer, or any fundraising counsel. Charitable organizations do not include Churches and their integrated auxiliaries.
Q: What is considered a "charitable purpose?"
A: The Charitable Solicitations Act defines charitable purpose as, "any religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purpose or any other purpose that is beneficial to the community, including environmental, humanitarian, patriotic, or civic purposes, the support of national or international amateur sports competition, the prevention of cruelty to children or animals, the advancement of social welfare, or the benefit of law enforcement personnel, firefighters, and other persons who protect public safety. The term "charitable" is used in its generally accepted legal sense and includes relief of the poor, the distressed, or the underprivileged, advancement of religion, advancement of education or science, erecting or maintaining public buildings, monuments, or works, lessening the burdens of government, lessening neighborhood tensions, eliminating prejudice and discrimination, defending human and civil rights secured by law and combating community deterioration and juvenile delinquency."
Q: Who must register?
A: Generally, any person or entity that conducts charitable solicitations in the state of Washington must register; including organizations located outside the state of Washington. If the entity conducts a charitable solicitation, it is considered a "charitable organization" for purposes of this statute, even if the entity does not think of itself as a charity.
However, the Charitable Solicitations Act exempts certain organizations and activities from state registration requirements.
In Washington State, most organizations that are (1) strictly volunteer run and raising less than $50,000 from the public; (2) Political organizations; (3) Fundraising on behalf of specific individuals; or (4) Churches or their integrated auxiliaries. Organizations that are exempt from the registration requirements are encouraged to submit an "Optional Statement for an Exempt Organization" with the Charities Program. The application is not required, but does allow the Office of the Secretary of State to respond to customer inquiries. For more information regarding qualifying for exemption from registration, please contact the Charities Program directly.
Q: Is a copy of the laws and regulations regarding fundraising in Washington available online?
A: Yes. The Charitable Solicitations Act, RCW 19.09 and the Washington Administrative Code, Chapter 434-120 is available online at http://www.sos.wa.gov/charities/laws.aspx
Q: Why is registration required?
A: Both the benefiting charities as well as the independent entities paid to solicit funds must, in most cases, provide financial and other information about their activities. This information is available so the consumer can learn more about how their donation will be spent by the soliciting organization, before making a contribution.
Q: Are registration forms available online?
A: Yes. Registration forms are available and may be accessed by visiting the Charities Web page at http://www.sos.wa.gov/charities/forms.aspx . Online registration is not available; the forms must be downloaded and printed. Filing fees, required disclosures and other requirements are also available online.
Q: Why isn't the renewal application available online?
A: The renewal forms are not available online because certain sections of the application are pre-filled with existing registration information that is extracted directly from the Charities Program database. The renewal notices are generated from the system approximately 60 days prior to the organization's renewal due date. Organizations may obtain a renewal form at any time by contacting the Charities Program directly.
Q: What if our charitable organization is unable to meet the renewal deadline?
A: Charities are required to renew on or before the fifteenth day of the fifth month after the end of the organization's fiscal or accounting year end. Eligible organizations automatically receive a six and a half month extension. Upon the completion of each successful renewal, the organization will receive a written confirmation, including the organizations "extended" renewal date.
Due to an extremely high volume of extension requests, organizations are no longer required to submit an extension request to the Washington State Charities Programs. Although Washington State has amended its extension procedures, this does not eliminate the need to follow established extension request procedures with the Internal Revenue Service or other states.
Q: Do all states require a registration?
A: Most states have some type of registration or filing process. It is necessary for organizations contemplating fundraising activities in other states to research the individual state reporting requirements to ensure compliance prior to soliciting.
Q: What is the difference between a non profit organization and a charitable organization?
A: A non profit organization is an entity recognized by the state of Washington when "Non Profit Articles of Incorporation" are filed with the Corporations Division of the Secretary of State. A charitable organization is any individual or entity, (regardless of corporate status) that fundraises in Washington to support a charitable activity. It is not unusual that a non profit corporation is also engaged in charitable activities and subject to separate reporting requirements with the Corporations and Charities Program.
Q: What is the difference between a UBI number and a FEIN number?
A: A UBI, or Unified Business Identifier, is a state issued identification number. A FEIN, or Federal Employer Identification Number, is an identification number issued by the Internal Revenue Service.
Q: What is the difference between a charitable organization and 501c3 status?
A: A charitable organization in Washington State is defined as any entity that solicits or collects contributions from the public, where the contribution is, or is said to be used to support a charitable purpose. Charitable purpose includes, religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purpose or any other purpose that is beneficial to the community, including environmental, humanitarian, patriotic, or civic purposes, the support of national or international amateur sports competition, the prevention of cruelty to children or animals, the advancement of social welfare, or the benefit of law enforcement personnel, firefighters, and other persons who protect public safety. "Charitable" is used in its generally accepted legal sense and includes relief of the poor, the distressed, or the underprivileged; advancement of religion; advancement of education or science; erecting or maintaining public building, monuments, or works; lessening the burdens of government; lessening neighborhood tensions; eliminating prejudice and discrimination; defending human and civil rights secured by law; and combating community deterioration and juvenile delinquency.
"501c3" is a Federal tax exempt status granted by the Internal Revenue Service. Certain requirements established through the Internal Revenue Code must be met in order to receive tax exempt status. For specific information regarding the application process, please refer to the IRS Web site at www.IRS.gov or call the Exempt Organizations Division at (877) 829-5500.
Q: Where is your office located?
A: The Charities Program is located in the Dolliver Building, 801 Capitol Way South, Olympia, WA 98501. Business hours are from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, except holidays.
Q: Is Olympia the only office where I can file my application?
A: Yes. We do not have any branch offices in Washington State. You can visit our Olympia office or submit your application by mail. Applications can be mailed to The Secretary of State, Charities Program, PO Box 40234, Olympia, WA, 98504-0234.
This FAQ page should not be considered a substitute for professional or legal advice. We encourage you to seek private legal counsel, or a CPA or an accountant if you require additional assistance.