SC Secretary of State: Hundreds of charities in SC suspended

SC Secretary of State: Hundreds of charities in SC suspended
Organizations are required to submit financial reports to the state every year, allowing it to keep tabs on how it spends donor money. (Source: Caroline Hecker)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - During this season of giving, the South Carolina Secretary of State wants you to know there are hundreds of suspended charities in South Carolina, unable to solicit donations.

The state is home to more than 13,000 nonprofits and its generosity ranks in the top 10 in the nation, according to Secretary of State Mark Hammond.

“Before you click that donate button, check that organization out and find out how much is going toward the charitable purpose,” Hammond said. “We consider an organization to be a scrooge if they dedicate 45 percent of their donations or less to their charitable cause.”

In order to be a nonprofit, a group must register as a charitable organization with the state. Additionally, organizations are required to submit financial reports to the state every year, allowing it to keep tabs on how it spends donor money.

If a nonprofit fails to do so, the Secretary of State’s Office sends it a notice that it has not received the financial report. After 15 days, if the charity does not file its report, it is issued a fine of $10 per day. The fine continues for up to 200 days until the fine maxes out at $2,000.

Once a charity reaches that point, it is placed on suspension.

“Unfortunately, because of a few, it hurts the majority of the other organizations,” Hammond said. “And that is very unfortunate because there are wonderful organizations out there.”

At last count, there were about 270 charities suspended in South Carolina. Around 20 of the organizations are in Columbia.

One of those nonprofits is Sowing Seeds Into the Midlands, a group focused on providing programs to juveniles in the criminal justice system.

Founder and Executive Director Zakiya Esper said the grassroots effort began in 2013. She admits she made mistakes with the financial paperwork, but also points out it can be very tough for small charities like Sowing Seeds to navigate the complicated process.

“What we’re trying to do is make sure what I attempted to file the first time, which wasn’t done properly, is rectified,” she said. “This year, it did fall through the cracks, because we’re prioritizing programming.”

Esper said as the nonprofit has grown, she struggled to keep up with the paperwork. However, her board president, Rebecca Williams, said it is no indication of any wrongdoing.

“Paperwork not being filed with the Secretary of State, while it’s important and you want it to work out just right, is no indication that there’s been a misuse of funds,” Williams said.

Both women said they hope to have their financial reports fixed and submitted by the end of the year.

While they’ve been suspended, the group has not been allowed to solicit donations, per state statute. Esper said grant funding has helped keep the nonprofit afloat, along with several dedicated donors.

“I think this is a story of these small organizations just being underfunded,” she said. “Bringing in a bookkeeper is not a cheap thing to do, but it’s what we need to do to correct this and make sure it never happens again.”

To see a full list of suspended charities, or if anyone is concerned about a group soliciting donations, visit https://search.scsos.com/charities.

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