Frequently Asked Questions
FAQ > How to File a Nonprofit Complaint FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

Questions


Answers

Are complaints confidential?

Under Ohio’s public records statute, complaints filed with the Charitable Law Section are public records that must be disclosed when requested.



Can an anonymous complaint be submitted?

Some people choose to submit complaints without including their names or contact information. These individuals often follow up with the office later by telephone to talk to an investigator in case additional information is needed. If you are concerned about your identity being revealed, you may call the Charitable Law Section and speak to an investigator or duty lawyer about options that might protect your anonymity.



How can a complaint be filed?
Citizens can file complaints in multiple ways. Complaints can be submitted online through the Ohio Attorney General’s Web site. A form can be printed off the Web page and mailed in. Additionally, staff in the Ohio Attorney General’s Help Center can assist in the filing of complaints when calls are made to (800) 282-0515.


What happens when the office receives a complaint?

Each complaint received by the office is closely evaluated to determine if the issue addresses a matter related to the misuse of charitable assets, fraud or other matters that the Charitable Law Section handles. Sometimes the issue may be referred to other agencies for action. Other times the complaint stems from a personal dispute that centers more on unhappiness with a particular service provided by a nonprofit. Generally, those problems don’t fall within the authority of the Charitable Law Section.



What options does the Ohio Attorney General have in responding to complaints?

The Ohio Attorney General has broad authority in providing oversight to the charitable sector. In the past, the Ohio Attorney General has actively assisted in the prosecution of those who have committed fraud or stolen from charitable endeavors. Sometimes, lawsuits are filed that seek the recovery of funds that should have been used for charitable objectives. Sometimes efforts are undertaken in cooperation with the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Trade Commission, federal agencies with responsibilities in some of these areas dealing with charities.

Informal negotiations with nonprofit officials or solicitors also can be productive. These discussions may result in financial settlements or promises to stop particular activities. Other times, these negotiations may result in closely working with an organization to ensure that they adopt appropriate governance and oversight practices.

While complaints are an important tool for the Charitable Law Section, an equally important focus is on prevention. For that reason, the section provides regular training programs aimed at helping nonprofits establish policies and practices that reduce the likelihood of problems. Proactive prevention reduces the possibility that citizens are victimized and helps protect charitable assets in the long run.



What should be included in a complaint?

Providing as much information as possible helps investigators better understand the nature of the issue. Complaints should contain information about what happened, who was involved and when and where activities occurred. Including copies of solicitations, canceled checks, correspondence and other documents can be helpful. Providing specific information about statements that might have been made also is important, depending on the nature of the complaint. Providing information about how to get back in touch with the complainant is important in case there are additional questions.



What type of issues is the Charitable Law Section looking for in citizen complaints?

The most common issues that the Charitable Law Section takes action on fall in a couple of primary areas:

  • Bingo and charitable gaming
  • Professional solicitation and nonprofit fundraising
  • Misuse of charitable funds by nonprofits that fail to properly govern themselves

Bingo: Specific types of nonprofit organizations are permitted to use bingo, a form of gambling, as a way to raise funds for charitable purposes. The Ohio Attorney General’s Office licenses bingo. The office routinely fields complaints about organizations that are not properly accounting for bingo revenues or failing to use those monies to support charitable efforts. Sometimes theft and fraud is involved. Investigations of these complaints can lead to the loss of a bingo license, possible criminal charges or civil actions aimed at the recovery of charitable funds. Complaints about fraudulent bingo activities are taken seriously since those activities diminish the important charitable work of other groups.

Professional solicitation and nonprofit fundraising: Professional solicitors are for-profit companies and individuals that raise charitable funds on behalf of nonprofit organizations. There are specific registration and reporting requirements for professional solicitors. Violations of Ohio law in failing to register and file financial reports is a serious matter for professional solicitors. These provisions were adopted by the Ohio General Assembly to protect citizens from fraudulent activities by solicitors who may fail to turn over gifts to the intended charity or keep a substantial portion of the gift through methods not foreseen by the charity that is to benefit from the donations.

Whether professional solicitors, volunteers or nonprofit staff members ask for donations, none are permitted to use fraudulent approaches to attract financial gifts. Lies about how the funds will be used, how much will actually go to the nonprofit and other dishonest representations given over the phone or in written materials are violations of the law and are vigorously investigated by the Ohio Attorney General.

Citizens should ask plenty of questions to ensure they understand where their charitable gifts are going. More information about wise giving can be found in a separate publication titled, “Wise Giving Options.” The publication is available online or can be obtained by contacting the Ohio Attorney General’s Help Center at (800) 282-0515.

Misuse of charitable funds by nonprofits that fail to properly govern themselves: Nonprofit board members have several legal responsibilities, including the duties of care, loyalty, compliance and the duty to maintain accounts. Failure of board members to adequately get engaged in the activities of the organization can result in the squandering of charitable assets. Additionally, problems can result when there are significant conflicts of interest affecting staff and board members. Charitable assets and objectives may suffer when personal enrichment results from inattention and fraud, and these issues are routinely investigated by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

For more information about the duties and responsibilities of charity board members, a separate publication, titled Guide for Charity Board Members, can be found at www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov/GuideforCharityBoardMembers or obtained through the Ohio Attorney General’s Help Center at (800) 282-0515.

Other areas of investigation: It often is difficult to foresee the various schemes and issues that can result in investigations in the Charitable Law Section. Citizens should feel free to contact the office with concerns about activities that jeopardize charitable objectives because of fraud, theft, deception and other breaches.



What types of complaints might get referred to other agencies?

When a complaint deals with the jurisdiction of another entity, the section will forward the complaint letter to that office and notify the complainant. The section receives a lot of complaints about alleged gambling activities, and those complaints are routinely referred to local law enforcement agencies, which have the authority to enforce the gambling laws.

Some complaints about whether purchased services or items were acceptable might be appropriate for the Ohio Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Section. A call to the AG’s Office at 800-282-0515 can direct citizens to resources in that area.



What will the office do with the complaint that is submitted?

When staff lawyers and investigators determine that they have the authority to investigate a specific complaint, a variety of steps may be taken. Reviews of finances and documents may take place, and interviews with various witnesses may be held. Staff will carefully weigh the various options that can be taken at the conclusion of investigations.



Will I find out what happens with the investigation of my complaint and whether action is taken?

Probably not. Under Ohio law, investigations of charitable trusts are confidential and it may not be possible to provide information to the complainant. Staff investigators or lawyers may get in touch with the complainant if additional information is needed. Complainants will receive a written acknowledgement from the office confirming receipt of the information.

The complaint may result in litigation, a settlement of some sort or negotiations with the target of an investigation. Sometimes, because of lack of actionable evidence, the complaint information may be filed and acted on when additional complaints or supporting information becomes available.

Unfortunately, the complainant may never know the outcome. But be assured that each complaint is closely analyzed and highly valued and appreciated.