Panel Paper: Regulatory Breadth Index: A New Measurement of State-Level Charity Regulation

Friday, November 8, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Plaza Court 6 (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Cindy Lott, Columbia University, Mary Shelly, University of Michigan and Nathan Dietz, University of Maryland

Recent scholarship on U.S. charity regulation has focused on the division of regulatory authority between state and federal regulators, the shift from federal to state-level oversight of charities (see, e.g., Mayer 2016), and the extent to which the government should regulate charities (see, e.g., Fishman 2015). Several important, yet still largely unanswered, questions arise in discussions of state-level charity regulation in the United States regarding effectiveness and rates of enforcement. Before we can address these questions, however, we need to assess the regulatory regime in each state and form a basis of state-to-state comparison.

This paper will address a baseline, two-part question that has not yet been answered about current charity regulation: 1) how do we measure the breadth of each state-level regulatory regime, and 2) what can we learn about the sector by having a tool to compare the breadth of each state’s regime? Although identifying the laws applicable to charities in each state can be a fairly straightforward process, currently we have no way to measure and evaluate the full breadth of a given state’s regulatory regime over charities. To fill this need, we will create an index of state-level regulatory breadth that can be used by researchers and practitioners to compare and assess regulatory environments across jurisdictions as well as to inform other research questions, particularly regarding enforcement metrics. This work will extend the work of Lott et al. (2016) on the regulatory breadth of state-level charitable solicitation laws to create a much broader index of regulatory breadth that covers major aspects of all charitable regulation at the state level.

We will construct the index using data from a taxonomy of state laws. The taxonomy covers many aspects of the regulatory regime, including legal jurisdiction, registration and reporting requirements (of charities and their fundraisers), oversight responsibilities of regulators in connection with certain transactions, obligations of charities to notify regulators of those transactions, and charitable solicitation requirements. Importantly, the items included in both sets of data were chosen in collaboration with state charities regulators, thus ensuring that these indicators are valid and relevant for a regulatory breadth index.

A tool that allows us to compare and assess regulatory breadth across states that is based on data will provide a useful baseline from which to build our future research on effectiveness, rates of enforcement, and other important, unanswered questions. It will enable us to understand more about state-level charity regulation in the U.S. and will inform further research and policy changes regarding the regulation of the sector.


Fishman, James J. 2015. “Who Can Regulate Fraudulent Charitable Solicitation?” Pittsburgh Tax Review 13 (1): 16–17.

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

Mayer, Lloyd Hitoshi. 2016. “Fragmented Oversight of Nonprofits in the United States: Does It Work? Can It Work?” Chicago-Kent Law Review 91: 937-963.