Legal warnings issued against two Lowcountry charities

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - In the season of giving, many of you might be looking to write a check to a nonprofit of your choice. Many people choose to give before the start of the new year because you can still write off the donation on your 2019 tax return.

There are thousands of charities registered in South Carolina but there are also hundreds on the'Suspended List'. Through a Live 5 Investigation, we found a legal warning has been issued for two charities in the Lowcountry.

There are more than 13,000 charities registered with the Secretary of State's office.

“South Carolinians are some of the most charitable people in the nation,” Mark Hammond, the South Carolina Secretary of State, said. “We give a tremendous amount to charitable organizations. I think that’s why we get so many solicitations because people know that we are caring and that we want to give.”

But Hammond admits there are a few bad apples.

Last month, Live 5 introduced you toseveral charitiesthat had been placed on the 'Suspended Charities List.' Many claimed they had no idea they were on that list.

“I find that very hard to believe,” Hammond said.

In order to be a nonprofit, you have to register as a “Charitable Organization” with the Secretary of State. You must also send in your financial reports every year so the state can keep tabs on how you spend donor money.

If you don’t, the Secretary of State’s office sends you a notice saying they have not received an annual report. After 15 days, if the charity still does not file, they are issued a fine. That fine is $10 a day – until it maxes out at $2,000. Once a charity gets to that point, they are placed on the suspended list. That list is published online to the public. Notices are sent every step of the way.

But, if the nonprofit chooses to continue soliciting donations, the Secretary of State can file an injunction. Hammond says they have filed 12 injunctions so far this year.

The last two injunctions filed were for charities here in the Lowcountry. One is Suzie's Zoo Sanctuary for Special Needs Kitties in Saint Stephen. The other is against the Southeastern Chamber of Commerce in North Charleston. Live 5 News has reached out to both of them for a comment.

Hammond says they aren't here to punish nonprofits, just make sure they are complying with the rules.

"Our main purpose and goal here is to protect the charitable donor," Hammond says. "And, unless that annual report is filed, unless we have the numbers from that organization, we cannot help educate the donor on how much is actually going toward the charitable purpose."

Every charity in the state must register with the Secretary of State and must turn in their financial reports each year. This is so the state can keep tabs on how you spend donor money. And you have access to the information.

You can also see how much money a charity receives and how much they spend on expenditures.

“What I would really look at is how much money was spent on fundraising,” Hammond says. “The reason a lot of organizations have very little left at the end of their campaign to go toward the charitable purpose is that they’re spending an exorbitant amount of money on fundraising.”

If you go here, you can type in any charity to search. Once you find the charity you want to view, click on its name. If you scroll down, you’ll see a simple breakdown of their financial report. If you scroll below the simple breakdown, you can see the percentage the organization devoted of its total expenses to program services during the year reported. If you’d like to see a more detailed version, the latest 990 form can be found just below the financial breakdown.

VIDEO: Legal warnings issued against two Lowcountry charities

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