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Published March 06 2011

Ask Your Government: Reader seeks information on North Dakota nonprofits

Dear Teri,

“Enjoy your column in the Jamestown Sun. I have a question I to date have not yet found an answer.

“Several years ago, I was inquiring about several nonprofit organizations: whether they were legitimate and how I could find out how much of the donations go to designated sites, as often so much goes to administrators.

“Years ago, one could write to Washington, D.C., and get printouts of how well or how poorly charitable organizations do.

“When I wrote to our secretary of state in Bismarck, Al Jaeger’s staff told me it would cost $5 for each one I was asking about. That really angered me, as they were already being paid to do that.

“Anything you can do for us we’d be grateful for.”

Lenora Hughes

Jamestown

Thanks for writing! Here’s what Secretary of State Al Jaeger told me:

“As required by state law, the secretary of state’s office receives an annual report from each registered organization in North Dakota soliciting contributions. The report lists by category the amount of contributions received and the expenditures that were made by the organization.

“This report is available at www.nd.gov/sos/nonprofit. On that page, click on ‘Charitable Organization Soliciting Contributions.’

“You will find a link for a ‘Printable List of Registered Charitable Organizations.’ Use the list to find and select the name of the organization that one wants to check. Just above the previous referenced link, there is a link to ‘Search for Charitable Organization Registered to Solicit.’ Click on that.

“Insert the organization name in the ‘Entity Name’ box and hit search. When the result comes up, there is a link for ‘Charitable Organization.’ When you click on that, a report will appear.

“If an individual has a question regarding the report of a specific organization, they may call the secretary of state’s office at (800) 352-0867, ext. 8-3665, and the information will be provided verbally.

“When a copy of an organization’s report is requested, state law requires a charge of 50 cents per page. Each filed report is two pages long.”

I also contacted GuideStar, a website that offers nonprofit information. Spokeswoman Mary Fletcher Jones said the service is strictly online and doesn’t include mailing reports.

She suggested going to a local library and asking a librarian for help finding reports online if help is needed. She also suggested calling nonprofits directly and asking for their annual report.

I also talked to Dana Schaar, executive director of the North Dakota Association of Nonprofit Organizations. Here’s what she said:

“Calling a charity and requesting an annual report or other details about their programs and impact is one of the best ways to learn more about an organization. While there are national rating services for charities, these services often quantify nonprofit efforts on financial information.

“A small amount of funding spent on administrative functions does not necessarily translate to a high degree of effectiveness in meeting mission. And in North Dakota, many nonprofits are small and not included in rating services. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to identifying the most effective charities.

“Ultimately, asking the charity about its accomplishments and financial information may be the most effective way to determine if you want to make a donation.”

Barb Grieman, vice president of the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota, said information about charities can also be found at www.bbb.org or by calling (800) 646-6222.

Do you have a question for a North Dakota state government official or agency? Send us your question, and we’ll do our best to find an answer.

E-mail politics@wday.com (Subject: Ask your government).

You may also write to Teri Finneman, c/o Forum Communications, Press Room, State Capitol, Bismarck, ND 58505.

Please include your name, town and a phone number to reach you for verification.


Teri Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.