Donor Frequently Asked Questions

The following is designed to answer common questions you may have regarding charitable organizations and to provide information to assist you with personal giving decisions.

How can I see if a charity is registered in Wisconsin?

You can find the current status of registered charitable organizations and key financial information for registered charitable organizations by doing a Search on our database.

How can I see if a professional fundraiser is registered in Wisconsin?

Professional fundraisers that solicit contributions in Wisconsin are required to be registered with our department. You can find the current status of a registered charitable organization by doing a Search on our database.

How can I tell if a charitable organization is legitimate?

Registration with our department does not address an organization's legitimacy. However, you will be able to find information on our website about how registered charitable organizations use the contributions they receive (click here to search for the organization you are interested in and then click on the "Financials" tab). The information available on our website, combined with the information provided by various other Online Resources, will help you make an informed decision about what groups you want to donate to.

What percentage of contributions should a charitable organization use for its charitable purpose?

Wisconsin statutes don't provide an acceptable or minimum percentage that must be used towards an organization's charitable purpose. This means it is up to you to decide if you approve of the way the charity is using the contributions it receives. You can obtain information about an organization's total contributions, program service expenses (the amount spent on its charitable purpose), management expenses, and fundraising expenses from our website. There are also many other Online Resources you can use to investigate a charity.

I want to donate my car/boat to a charitable organization. Can you tell me if this car donation group I found on the internet is legitimate?

The organization in which you are interested may be registered in Wisconsin, but if it doesn't actively solicit in Wisconsin, it would not need to be registered. There are also some car donation groups that may have claimed a religious exemption from our registration requirements. You can find out if an organization is registered by looking them up on our website.

You may also want to read IRS Publication 4303, A Donors Guide to Vehicle Donations, before you donate your vehicle to a charitable organization.

I was asked to donate to a fund for a specific individual or family. How do I make sure it's legitimate?

Appeals for money that will benefit a specific individual or family are typically considered private gifts, not charitable donations, and often, the person making the appeal does not need to be registered with our department. You should ask if there is a trust or deposit account set up for the individual or family. You can contact the banking institution to verify the existence of the account and check with local sources of information to confirm that there really is a need for such donations. When you decide to contribute to an individual or family, do not give cash. Write a check that is payable to the fund, not to an individual.

What is the difference between a Nonprofit Organization and a Charitable Organization?

A nonprofit organization is an entity recognized by the state of Wisconsin when "Nonprofit Articles of Incorporation" are filed with the Division of Corporate and Consumer Services of the Department of Financial Institutions. A charitable organization is any individual or entity (regardless of corporate status) that solicits contributions in Wisconsin in order to support its charitable purpose.

What is the difference between a charitable organization and 501(c)(3) status?

A charitable organization in Wisconsin is any entity that solicits contributions from the public where the contribution is, or is said to be, used to support the organization's charitable purpose. 501(c)(3) is a federal tax exempt status granted by the IRS. Many organizations that hold a charitable organization credential in Wisconsin are also 501(c)(3) organizations.

Do all states require charitable organizations to register?

Most states have some type of registration or filing process.

What is a professional fundraiser?

A professional fundraiser is an independent third party that in exchange for compensation, conducts fundraising activities for a charitable organization. It is not unusual for commercial fundraisers to be hired by, and paid for, their fundraising services by multiple charitable organizations.

Contact Us

Phone: (608) 267-1711
Mailing Address:
Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions
Division of Corporate and Consumer Services
PO Box 7879
Madison, WI 53707-7879
Physical Address:
Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions
Division of Corporate and Consumer Services
4822 Madison Yards Way, North Tower
Madison, WI 53705