Paper tigers

By Todd Cohen

The charitable marketplace is a paradox.

It connects donors with causes, spurring support to address urgent social needs.

But it also lets boards, managers and telemarketers prey on charities and donors.

One could argue charities and donors should fend for themselves.

But just as it regulates commerce, government should make sure charity operates under rules that treat all producers and consumers fairly and equally.

Faced with charitable excess and wrongdoing, lawmakers and regulators in Washington, D.C., and in many states want to tighten charitable regulation.

If they move quickly to concede their mistakes, police themselves and work with government to strengthen charitable regulation, charities can help ensure the charitable marketplace is fairer and more productive.

But if charities stick to their hand-wringing, whining and empty talk about change, the new regulations could be misguided, ham-fisted and counter-productive.

Many regulators will not use even the few teeth they have.

In reporting each year on the results of charitable solicitation, for example, the N.C. Secretary of State’s Office routinely touts the dollars donated, while downplaying and trying to explain the exorbitant share of those dollars pocketed by telemarketers.

Charities must push to make sure regulation is tougher, fairer and enforced.

Todd Cohen is the Editor and Publisher of the Philanthropy Journal.

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