Takeaways from the 2022 NAAG/NASCO Conference

This year’s National Association of Attorneys General/ National Association of State Charity Officials (NAAG/NASCO) Conference, held in person on October 12, was lively and informative. Topics under discussion included recent enforcement actions, the state of charitable giving, nonprofit board management, and current trends and issues for the sector.

Current Trends and Issues in Charitable Regulation

Conference panels presented by various state regulators covered ongoing trends and issues. Public trust of the charitable sector was a topic of general concern, based on surveys indicating a decrease in the trust in the nonprofit sector.  The regulators noted that they play an important role in enhancing trust by providing meaningful oversight of the sector.

Noteworthy topics included the importance of Board governance and oversight, particularly in monitoring the organization’s finances. The panelists noted a rise in for-profit entities soliciting in-kind disaster relief, particularly those that do not have a nonprofit partner. This trend has been largely observed in connection with the rise of natural disasters and the war in Ukraine.   Regulators are also troubled by the balloon and bust of opioid-crisis relief organizations. This is threatening given the importance these organizations play in their local communities. Such failures have been attributed to their overly rapid growth.

Several state regulators noted an increase in mergers and acquisitions filings of hospitals. Approval of these transactions generally turns on the question of whether the transaction is in the best interest of the community. As for charity care, regulators noted that nonprofit hospitals have a duty to provide subsidized care to patients in need, something they say they have seen too little of.

A notable increase of fraud, committed in the name of charities or directed at charities, is also of concern. It is reported that there has been a rise of bad actors using the name and information of known and respected charities to commit fraud.  One typical scheme is the impersonation of regulators claiming that registration fees are past due. Charities that receive such calls are admonished to use best efforts to confirm the identity of caller.

NASCO puts out an annual report detailing trends on state regulation and enforcement.

Nonprofit Sector and Practitioner Panelists
In the afternoon, other stakeholders in the charitable sector spoke on the trends they have observed during the past year. Jan Masaoka, CEO of the California Association of Nonprofits, discussed the Association’s concerns with donor-advised funds (DAFs) arising from the delay in time between donor benefit (i.e., the donor’s tax-deduction) and the donation reaching its target community. Erin Bradrick, Principal of NEO Law Group, spoke on the growth of fiscal sponsorships and the lack of sector education and oversight that exists. She observed that Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) have the theoretical ability to seek 501(c)(3) status without having a governing body (the core distinguishing characteristic of DAOs).  Ms. Bradrick also noted an upward trend in the politicization of issues directly tied to key nonprofit areas, which have created a tension between state and federal law., naming the recent cannabis and abortion access laws as prime examples.

NFT and Cryptocurrency
Sara Hall, Chief Legal Officer and General Counsel of ALSAC, Andrea Kramer, Partner of McDermott, Will & Emory, Ruth Madrigal, Principal of the Exempt Organizations Group at KPMG, and Beth Short, Director of Outreach and Education, Charitable Law Section of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, discussed cryptocurrencies, NFTs, and other emerging forms of donation.  The panel noted that these forms are not suitable for all organizations, as there is significant risk and several complex issues to consider in accepting donations of cryptocurrency.

It was noted that organizations that decide to accept NFT or cryptocurrency donations should ensure they have a detailed donation acceptance policy and procedure in place.  The policy should include how the organization will protect the security of the crypto wallets through which they accept the donation, how to appraise the cryptocurrency or NFT, and whether to use an intermediary service like a Donor Advised Fund (DAF). Including the development department on any decision on acceptance of these donations is critical.

Now and Next in Charitable Giving
In her keynote address, Dr. Una Osili, Associate Dean for Research and International Programs at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, made a deep dive into the data to identify donor trends. Among those Dr. Osili highlighted are that giving is at an all-time high, that individuals remain the largest group of donors, and that fewer households are donating. She also pointed to a downturn in religious donations, historically the largest generator of donations, and an upturn in donations to racial identity and environmental groups. Donors are moving from a trend of making passive donations to getting more involved in the causes they support through active engagement and education.

Dr. Osili ended by sharing some of her key findings, notably that giving is the great equalizer. Adjusted for gross income, charitable giving is the same across all groups. Technology, specifically crowdfunding websites and social media, has become one of the strongest vehicles for attracting donations, making up 40% of all giving. Finally, charities should start thinking of the value of donating one’s testimonial and network of connection, not just time and gifts. For more information, visit the Indiana University website at Generosity for Life.

Establishing a Healthy Board
Dr. Gerri King, President of Human Dynamics Associates, taught board mediation and communication techniques. Her talk centered on the five states of group development: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing and Adjourning. Dr. King explained that at each stage, there are unique challenges affecting Board dynamics, and that any change to the make-up of the Board can be a setback.

Dr. King emphasized the importance of creating a no blame, no gossip environment among the team and the organization, noting that although it sounds simple, it can be intensely difficult to achieve. The benefits, as she noted, are indispensable., creating higher accountability, cohesion, trust and efficiency.

Update on the California Charitable Fundraising Platform Law
Brian Armstrong, Deputy Attorney General of the California Attorney General’s Office, discussed Assembly Bill 488, which is set to take effect on January 1, 2023. This is the first law in the U.S. specifically designed to regulate online charitable fundraising platforms, including through a new registration and reporting requirement, specific required public disclosures, and other provisions designed to safeguard charitable donations received through these platforms.

The proposed regulation is currently in the “review of public comments” stage. Armstrong indicated that a second, 15-day period for public comments will open up again once the review is complete, but did not specify when that would be.  During the follow-up Q&A, our team learned that the registration portion of the law is not likely to go into effect on January 1, 2023. Still pending would be final regulations and the development of the new registration forms. However, the AG’s office intends to begin enforcement of those portions of the law which are not dependent upon the passage of final regulations (e.g., the disclosure requirements).

Charitable fundraising platforms and platform charities should take time to carefully review their current platform disclosures (including disclosures made throughout the user/donor flow, as well as the platform Terms of Use) and ensure they are in compliance with these new requirements.  For more details on the legislation, please read California Enacts New Law to Regulate Charitable Fundraising Platforms by firm partner Karen Wu.