Saturday, October 20, 2018
Following up on yesterday's post on local land use controls of nonprofits, I want to briefly share some findings from a forthcoming article on local regulation of charitable solicitation. As you probably know, states often nonprofits that solicit donations from residents of their state to register with the state. Many cities have similar requirements -- in fact, cities were often the first to act in the regulation of charitable solicitation. And yet, we almost never hear about (or study) local requirements (outside of, perhaps, laws about panhandling and begging), so I was curious how common they were. Turns out, they're pretty common.
I looked at the laws of the largest 50 cities in the United States by population. Every single one of them had a law that specifically targeted charitable solicitation in some way. Most cities had sidewalk solicitation ordinances, designed to deter panhandlers, which have been subject to numerous constitutional challenges in recent years. Several cities also had severe restrictions about roadside solicitation, allowing it only a few days a year, and requiring costly insurance and CPR training. About a quarter of the cities had restrictions about the location and maintenance of donation bins.
Most interesting, at least to me, are the cities that broadly require registration of any nonprofit soliciting in the city by any means, including phone, mail, email, internet, television, radio, etc. (See the table, but note Houston's ordinance only applies to telephone and face to face solicitation.) Additional cities (not listed) had special registration requirements for public solicitation, paid solicitors, or other particular situations. Some of the registration requirements are specific, demanding information about social security numbers of all solicitors, requiring that the registration be completed at least 10, 15, or 30 days prior to the onset of any solicitation, or, in the case of Oakland, California, a pretty clearly unconstitutional requirement that no more than 16% of direct gifts will be used on costs.
Although many of these rules appear to be holdovers form an earlier era, they remain on the books and cities continue to update them (and process the registrations required). In fact, 3 of the cities with these registration requirements revisited them last year, made minor adjustments, but chose to leave them in full force. While I doubt many organizations face any serious legal jeopardy for overlooking these local laws -- and they are regularly overlooked! -- their existence adds an additional cost to nonprofits attempting to follow all of the laws that might apply to their solicitation campaigns.