Panel Paper: Regulation of the Charitable Sector

Saturday, November 10, 2018
Jackson - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Elizabeth T. Boris and Shirley Adelstein, Urban Institute

State Regulation of the Charitable Sector

State charity offices play an important role in regulating the nonprofit sector, working both independently and with state and federal law enforcement agencies. As the primary regulatory and enforcement entities for charitable organizations, these offices protect charitable assets, propose or review state legislation affecting charities, and educate the charitable sector on permissible and prohibited activities. The national Urban Institute-Columbia University Survey of State Charities Regulators (Lott et al. 2016) focused at the office level and showed that state charity oversight varies in structure and authority and in tools used to facilitate and enforce regulatory compliance. In some states only the attorney general’s office oversees charities; in others, the authority is divided between the attorneys-general office and another office, usually the secretary of state, or a consumer protection office. We call this a “bifurcated” regulatory structure. The implications of these regulatory structures have not been examined until lately (Lott et. al. 2018, Adelstein and Boris, 2018).

We further analyze the survey of State Charities Regulators data to compare relationships among state-level enforcement activities, outreach activities, bifurcation of authority, and staff resources available to state charity offices. We find that staffing levels are related to the scope of outreach and enforcement activities, as well as to bifurcation of authority. Bifurcation of oversight, in this analysis, is related to more enforcement and outreach activities as well as to more staff resources.


Adelstein, Shirley and Elizabeth T. Boris. 2018. State Regulation of the Charitable Sector: Enforcement, Outreach, Structure and Staffing. Washington D.C.: Urban Institute

Lott, Cindy M., Elizabeth T. Boris, Karin Kunstler Goldman, Belinda J. Johns, Marcus Gaddy, and Maura Farrell. 2016. State Regulation and Enforcement in the Charitable Sector. Washington, DC: Urban Institute.

Lott, Cindy M., Mary L. Shelly, Nathan Dietz, and Marcus Gaddy. 2018. Bifurcation of State Regulation of Charities: Divided Regulatory Authority Over Charities and its Impact on Charitable Solicitation Laws. Washington, DC: Urban Institute.