Charities, Foundations and Nonprofits

The Office of the Attorney General oversees charitable assets held by persons, organizations, and nonprofit corporations. Because these assets are intended to benefit the public—as opposed to a private beneficiary—the Attorney General, who represents the state of Idaho, is in the best position to act when charitable assets are diverted from their charitable purpose.

Additionally, the Attorney General regulates “charitable solicitations,” which include oral or written requests for money, credit, or other things of value that will be used for a charitable purpose or that will benefit a charitable organization. The Idaho Charitable Solicitation Act prohibits persons from engaging in unfair, false, misleading, deceptive, or unconscionable acts or practices while planning or conducting a charitable solicitation.

Statutory Authority

The Attorney General also enforces the following state statutes applicable to charitable organizations and solicitations:

Public charities and private foundations, as defined under the Internal Revenue Code, are the primary focus of the Attorney General’s regulatory authority. The Attorney General may investigate (among other things):

  • Deceptive charitable solicitations by the charity or on behalf of the charity by a third party fundraiser;
  • Misappropriation of charitable assets (e.g., diversion of assets from their charitable purpose; private benefit transactions);
  • Excessive compensation or benefits paid to a charity’s executives; and
  • Conversion of a charity to a for-profit business.

Registration

Idaho does not require charitable organizations or professional fundraisers to register with the state. Also, Idaho law does not require public charities or private foundations to send their annual IRS 990 or similar filings to the Attorney General. However, to comply with Internal Revenue Service rules, certain private foundations may need to send a copy of their IRS 990-PF filings to the Attorney General. A private foundation should consult with its tax advisor for guidance on this issue. Please mail or hand-deliver all IRS 990-PF filings to:

Idaho Attorney General’s Office
Consumer Protection Division
954 W. Jefferson St., 2nd Fl.
P.O. Box 83720
Boise, ID 83720-0010

As the attorney for the state of Idaho, the Attorney General acts in the best interests of the state. He may not provide legal advice to charitable organizations, their managers or members, or to the public. The Attorney General’s court actions are brought in the name of the state of Idaho and not on behalf of the charity, a private person, or a class of individuals.

Idaho Nonprofit Corporation Act

The Attorney General does not enforce the Idaho Nonprofit Corporation Act and does not investigate:

  • Nonprofit corporations that do not hold charitable assets, such as homeowners’ associations, clubs, and other membership benefit corporations;
  • Matters involving internal labor disputes, contested elections, and procedural disagreements between directors, officers, or members; and
  • Claimed violations of religious laws or doctrines by churches or religious corporations.

If a member of a nonprofit corporation believes a director is mismanaging the organization the member may have legal rights under the Idaho Nonprofit Corporation Act.

Charitable Solicitations

Charitable donations are vital to sustaining an organization’s charitable mission, and obtaining donations usually requires asking for them. Charitable organizations are free to solicit the public via direct-mailings, door-to-door solicitations, telephone calls, and fundraising events, such as auctions and raffles. But the organization—or the third-party fundraiser—must comply with applicable local, state, and federal laws.

The Attorney General enforces three statutes that are applicable to charitable solicitations:

  • Idaho Charitable Solicitation Act, title 48, chapter 12, Idaho Code.
  • Idaho Consumer Protection Act, title 48, chapter 6, Idaho Code.
  • Idaho Telephone Solicitation Act, title 48, chapter 10, Idaho Code.

The Idaho Charitable Solicitation Act prohibits a person from engaging in deceptive charitable solicitations. Examples include:

  • Misrepresenting to the donor the purpose of the solicitation;
  • Misrepresenting an affiliation with a charitable organization;
  • Using a donation for a purpose that is unrelated to the purpose for which it was solicited; and
  • Harassing or threatening a potential donor.

The Idaho Charitable Solicitation Act is enforced through the Idaho Consumer Protection Act. The Attorney General may file a lawsuit against the suspected violator and ask the court to award the Attorney General civil penalties, restitution for injured donors, and attorney’s fees.

The Idaho Telephone Solicitation Act imposes certain requirements on persons who use an automatic dialing-announcing device to solicit donations. At the beginning of the call, the caller must disclose the name of the person for whom the message is being made, the purpose of the message, and the contact information of the caller. Like the Idaho Charitable Solicitation Act, the Idaho Telephone Solicitation Act is enforced through the Idaho Consumer Protection Act, which means the Attorney General may sue a caller who fails to disclose the required information.

The Attorney General publishes a consumer education pamphlet that provides more information about charitable solicitations and how donors can better protect themselves from fraudulent fundraising attempts. An excellent resource for donors about charity scams is the Federal Trade Commission’s webpage.

Filing a Complaint

A citizen, corporate officer, director, or donor who has evidence that a person or an organization has misused charitable assets or has engaged in other unlawful activities, including deceptive fundraising, should file a complaint with the Attorney General. Early intervention by the Attorney General may prevent minor issues from becoming problems that irreparably harm a charity. By filing a detailed complaint that includes written evidence, you help the Attorney General’s Office evaluate whether the issues you raise fall within his supervisory authority.

A member of the Consumer Protection Division's enforcement staff reviews every charity complaint that is filed with the office. Please understand, however, that the office, cannot conduct a full investigation of every complaint it receives. We must reserve our limited resources to investigating matters involving gross mismanagement of assets, significant financial losses, and substantial harm to the public.

Click here to download a complaint form.

Questions about Tax Exempt Organizations (EOs)

If you have a question about the tax-exempt status of an organization, you may check the organization’s exempt status on the Internal Revenue Service’s exempt organizations (EOs) website. Legitimate and professionally-operated EOs publish their IRS 990 filings on their website or provide a copy to the public upon request. You may view the data from EOs’ IRS 990Ns (postcards) on the IRS’s EO website and obtain copies of EOs’ IRS 990s, 990EZs, or 990PFs from multiple resources, including GuideStar, CharityChecker, Charity Navigator, and the National Center for Charity Statistics (NCCS).

Click here to file a complaint with the IRS regarding an EO.

Legal Questions about Nonprofit Corporations

Generally, the Idaho Nonprofit Corporation Act governs the formation, management, and dissolution of a nonprofit corporation in Idaho. A corporation’s bylaws, however, may deviate from some of the Act’s provisions. Therefore, it is important to read the bylaws for answers to questions about a corporation’s organizational, election, membership, meeting, and other requirements.

The Attorney General’s Office cannot advise a nonprofit corporation, the board of directors, or the corporation’s members about their legal rights or responsibilities. We encourage a nonprofit corporation to retain an experienced attorney who can address day-to-day legal issues, while also working to ensure the corporation’s actions comply with the myriad of applicable local, state, and federal laws. It is a mistake for a nonprofit corporation to wait until a problem arises to consult an attorney.

The Attorney General’s Office publishes a basic manual to introduce persons to the responsibilities of serving on a nonprofit board of directors. This manual is not a substitute to competent legal counsel, and the information in the manual is provided for guidance purposes only.

Individuals who have questions about the application or interpretation of the Idaho Nonprofit Corporation Act need to speak to a private attorney. The Idaho State Bar provides a free attorney referral service on its website at www.isb.idaho.gov and also offers a volunteer “Ask a Lawyer” service to assist Idaho residents with legal questions.

Other Resources

  • Informational Websites

Alliance for Nonprofit Management. Dedicated to improving the management and governance of nonprofits.

Boardnet USA. Helps nonprofit boards strengthen their governing and management capabilities.

BoardSource, Inc. Publishes a nine pamphlet Governance Series, beginning with Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards.

Foundation Center, The Advances knowledge about U.S. philanthropy.

Governance Matters. Encourages and promotes good governance in the nonprofit sector.

Idaho Nonprofit Center. Acts as a vehicle of information, a convener of leaders and allies, and a bridge between the nonprofit, public, and private sectors.

National Association of State Charity Officials. Provides information about state registration and reporting requirements.

Urban Institute, The Provides information and analysis to public and private decision makers to help them address social, economic, and political challenges.

  • Government Agencies

Federal Trade Commission. Provides information about donating to charities.

Internal Revenue Service. Publishes information about tax exempt organizations and posts tax forms and filing instructions for nonprofit corporations.

Idaho Secretary of State’s Office. Provides information about incorporating as a nonprofit corporation in Idaho.

Idaho Lottery Commission. Regulates charitable gaming in Idaho.

Idaho Tax Commission. Provides information about state taxes that nonprofit corporations must collect and pay.

  • Watchdog Organizations & Donor Information

Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance. Publishes standards for nonprofit corporations that are used in the BBB’s published evaluations of charities.

Charity Navigator. Rates organizations that solicit charitable donations.

GuideStar. Provides a national database of financial reports and other information on over 850,000 tax-exempt U.S. charitable organizations.