Live From NASCO: Training On State Regulation Is Key

What keeps you up at night? The answer to that question might vary whether you’re looking at from a charity executive’s point of view or that of a state charity regulator. That was among the questions raised during a luncheon discussion between regulators and nonprofit attorneys during the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) and National Association of State Charity Officials (NASCO) annual conference today at the Washington Marriott Georgetown in Washington, D.C.

Bob Carlson, assistant attorney general for the Office of the Missouri Attorney General, moderated the roughly 40-minute discussion between David Mulvihill, vice president and general counsel for Make-A-Wish Foundation America; Timothy Phillips, general counsel at the American Cancer Society (ACS); Eric Carriker, assistant attorney general in the Office of Massachusetts Attorney General, and Abby Stempson, chief, public protection bureau in the Office of the Nebraska Attorney General.

With a federated organization made up of 62 individual and separate chapters, Mulvihill invoked the old adage that you’re only as strong as your weakest link. That’s one reason why the charity offers training and education to board members throughout the system. All board members for Make-A-Wish Foundation and its affiliates visit the Phoenix headquarters to meet staff, executives and national board members, and participate in substantial educational programs. That includes a one-hour class about basic fiduciary duties for every board member.

That initiative first got some pushback from chapter CEOs, arguing that board members are busy volunteers, but Mulvihill said they have received frequent compliments on the training.

In return for using the Make-A-Wish name, chapters are required to comply with certain obligations set forth by the national board, including board member education, Mulvihill said.

Phillips cited an extremely volatile, interconnected global economy and a fighting for highly competitive charitable dollars while operating in acutely partisan environment. “It impacts what we are all trying to do as there’s an accelerated demand for services,” he said.

From the regulator side, Carriker said he had concerns that the First Amendment is given too much reign, so much so that authorities are shy to go after fraudulent fundraisers.

ACS will continue to use paid fundraisers but the question is not whether 10 cents of every dollar goes to the fundraising firm, but if it’s 20 cents or 30 cents, Phillips said. There’s a strategic view that the acquisition of future donors is worth the investment rather than what the return on investment (ROI) is at the particular time of a campaign.

Make-A-Wish does not use telemarketing as one of its fundraising avenues, said Mulvihill. The point is to tell prospective donors who complains that it isn’t the organization and rather what he termed Fake-A-Wish. “We just don’t do it,” he said. It’s easier to say the organization doesn’t do it than to go into a long explanation.

If an activity has a “real material threat” to an organization’s mission, it requires attention, Phillips said. “Impact to an organization’s reputation is material,” he said, as that’s often the most treasured asset for some nonprofits.