Philanthropy is ingrained in American culture. Whether they are donating twenty-five dollars to support a local food bank, or a multi-million dollar gift to save an endangered habitat, Americans are generous people. Despite the poor economy, Americans donated over 68 billion dollars to nonprofits in 2010.
The purpose of a nonprofit is to act as a fiduciary, with a duty to serve the charitable needs of the community and general public. In exchange for meeting that need, the federal government exempts the organization from paying income tax. However, the nonprofit must comply with unique legal and accounting requirements in order to operate and retain its tax exempt status. A nonprofit is not “owned” by its founder. It exists and acts for the public benefit, not a private one.
Over 1.2 million nonprofits exist in the United States. Though tax exempt status is granted by the federal government, nonprofit activity is also legislated and regulated at the state level. Nonprofits with custody of large or small animals may also be required to meet housing, acreage, zoning, bio-security, or other criteria. Though there appears to be an abundance of consumer protections available to the public, it is difficult to persuade the IRS or a state Attorney General to investigate legitimate complaints about illegal or unethical nonprofit conduct. (or scams masquerading as nonprofits). This is also true of nonprofits who fundraise across state lines, or who utilize the internet for fundraising.
Fundraising is a vital component of any nonprofit’s operation, and the need is greatest in small nonprofits that have no endowment and little to no operating reserve. Appeals may be continuous, sporadic, and can be written requests for funds, an alert over the internet or website, or through advertising in print or social media. In all appeals, the nonprofit, including equine rescues, should be open and honest about how the funds will be used, and observe and account separately for gifts restricted by the donor.
Nonprofits formed to rescue, assist or rehabilitate horses are responsible for saving untold thousands of equines from starvation, abuse or neglect. Many of these nonprofits also meet the needs of their community by offering gelding clinics, hay banks, disaster relief, educational materials, or veterinary care for surrendered or seized equines. The well run equine rescue is a vital part of the community in which it operates, as well as much needed component of the horse industry in the United States. Unfortunately, there are many rescues operated by animal abusers, hoarders, or unprofessional people. Their actions and abuses reflect poorly on all equine rescues, and give even the most philanthropic person second thoughts about donating. To prevent your gift falling into the hands of a scam artist or poorly run rescue, vet the rescue and educate yourself on your rights as a donor.
For the well run equine rescue, the educated donor is a reliable ally in its mission to alleviate animal suffering. This person becomes the repeat donor, the one who gives more as their trust and confidence in the rescue grows. The rescue that cultivates a base of educated donors has a tremendous resource to draw upon when the need arises - meaning more horses saved or rehabilitated.
In the next article from our nonprofit series, you’ll learn the basics of “vetting” an equine rescue.