Filing a Complaint About a Charity or Charitable Solicitation

In California, the Attorney General has primary responsibility for supervising charities, charitable trusts, and professional fundraisers that solicit donations on their behalf. The Attorney General’s oversight involves protecting charitable assets and donations for their intended use, prohibiting deceptive or coercive charitable solicitations, and ensuring compliance with the charitable organization’s governing documents, such as the articles of incorporation or trust documents. To this end, the Attorney General investigates charitable organizations and fundraisers and brings administrative and legal enforcement actions against them. See the Charities home page and links on the right for more details about specific programs, laws, forms and the Registry Verification Search tool.

The Attorney General encourages the public to file complaints regarding a charity or charitable solicitation using the Complaint Form (Form CT-9) available below.

Form CT-9
Charity Complaint Form
This form is required to file all complaints regarding charities or fundraising professionals with the Attorney General's Registry of Charitable Trusts.

In addition to filing a complaint with the Attorney General’s Registry of Charitable Trusts, consider also filing complaints with:

  • Public Inquiry Unit (PIU): (800) 952-5225 or (916) 322-3360
  • Better Business Bureau: (916) 443-6843
  • Department of Consumer Affairs: (916) 445-1254
  • Local Police Department
  • Internal Revenue Service

Frequently Asked Questions

No. Complaints reported via email or phone call are not accepted. Complaints must be documented on Form CT-9, and any supporting documentation should be attached to the completed form. The complaint form must be sent via email or regular mail to the Registry of Charitable Trusts.

A letter confirming the Registry’s receipt of the complaint will be mailed to you after it has been processed. All complaints are kept confidential and not made available to the general public. We do not provide any information to the public regarding a complaint, or provide status reports to complainants.

We review all complaints. However, our limited resources and workload do not always permit us to open an investigation for every complaint received. Sometimes a complaint will be referred to another government agency. We do not provide status reports to complainants. And we neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation. Therefore, the general public or the complainant will not know which complaints are being investigated.

The Attorney General’s Office does not provide legal advice to the public. If you need legal assistance, please seek the advice of private counsel. The Attorney General’s website, however, does provide information on laws applicable to charitable organizations. Please visit oag.ca.gov/charities/laws. You may also want to review the Attorney General’s Guide for Charities. If you have information about a crime, please report the matter to the local police department or the sheriff’s office.

While we do not typically get involved in board disputes, if there are allegations of loss or misuse of charitable assets, improper solicitation or reporting practices, we encourage you to file a complaint.

The Attorney General's office can tell you if a charity is registered and current in its reporting requirements. However, we can't tell you whether it is legitimate, or such things as how effective it is, or whether it uses its money wisely. There is no Attorney General's seal of approval. It is up to the individual donor to check out a charity for him/herself.

You may find the most recently filed IRS Form 900, 990-EZ or 990-PF using the Registry Verification Search tool maintained by the Attorney General’s Registry of Charitable Trusts (Registry). The Registry makes available the public files, including the financial reports, for registered charities. The Registry receives and processes the periodic financial reports that must be filed by the largest public benefit corporations and charitable trusts. If a charity has not registered with the California Attorney General, the Registry is unable to provide any information about it. Also, some charities, such as hospitals, schools, and churches, are exempt from registering and reporting to the Registry; thus, as to these charities, you may not find any information using the Registry Verification Search tool.

If the charity has registered, the Registry makes available the following public information: a copy of its articles of incorporation or trust instrument, copies of annual information returns (IRS Form 990 or 990-EZ for public charities and Form 990-PF for private foundations) filed by the charity, and Form RRF-1. These documents may contain valuable information about the charitable organization and its programs.

Please note that not every financial report submitted by a charity is available using the Registry Verification Search tool and that the information on the reports is unedited and posted as-sent. Please also note that the Registry does not make available for public viewing certain records and information submitted with IRS Form 990 and 990-EZ, such as the Schedule B.

Certainly. Federal law now requires a charity to send you a copy of its IRS Form 990 for a reasonable charge. If the form is not available using the Registry Verification Search tool, this is the fastest way to obtain the information.

Various government agencies take actions that affect the status and operations of charitable organizations. The IRS and the California Franchise Tax Board initially determine whether an organization qualifies for exemption from federal and state income tax. At any time during the operating life of a charity, the IRS or the Franchise Tax Board may audit the organization to determine its liability for taxes, penalties, or revocation of tax-exempt status.

The role of the Attorney General in overseeing California charities is different from the IRS and Franchise Tax Board. The Attorney General represents the public beneficiaries of charities who cannot sue in their own right. The Attorney General investigates and audits charities to detect cases in which directors and trustees have mismanaged, diverted, or defrauded the charity. If such improper actions by directors have resulted in a loss of charitable assets, the Attorney General may sue the directors to recover from them the missing funds. The funds recovered by the Attorney General are returned to the charity.

Some of the problems frequently investigated by the Attorney General include:

  • Self-dealing transactions either between a director and the public benefit corporation, or by trustees;
  • Loans by a corporation to a director or officer;
  • Loss of substantial corporate funds or assets during one year;
  • Excessive amounts paid by a public benefit corporation or charitable trust for salaries, benefits, travel, entertainment, legal and other professional fees;
  • Sale of a charity or conversion of a public benefit corporation to for-profit status (authorized by statute under restricted conditions) at a price that is unfair to the charity;
  • Illegal or improper use of charitable funds;
  • Diversion or loss of charitable assets;
  • Losses arising out of speculative investments or the failure to diversify investments leading to insignificant gains;
  • Reporting and registration violations;
  • Breaches of fiduciary duties; and
  • Misleading, deceptive, or coercive charitable solicitations and fundraising practices.

The Attorney General also investigates allegations of criminal activity by charities. Persons with complaints of criminal activity by a charity should also contact the local district attorney.

The Attorney General's charitable trusts jurisdiction does not apply to churches, religious corporations, homeowners’ associations, and most mutual benefit corporations. The Attorney General does not review matters involving internal labor disputes, contested elections, disagreements between directors and members over policy and procedures, and most legal actions between charities and third parties regarding contracts or torts. Persons with complaints in any of the foregoing areas may choose to consult a private attorney to review legal rights and remedies.

The Attorney General's Office receives thousands of inquiries and complaints from the general public, news reporters, and other interested parties regarding possible mismanagement or diversion of charitable assets. All complaints about charities are reviewed by the audit staff of the Attorney General's Charitable Trusts Section. An investigation is conducted in those cases in which there is reliable evidence of a diversion of assets or gross mismanagement resulting in a significant financial loss to the charity. If these improper actions have resulted in a loss of charitable assets, the Attorney General may sue the directors to recover from them the missing funds. The funds recovered by the Attorney General are returned to the charity. Although disclosure procedures prohibit the Attorney General from discussing pending investigations or indicating whether any specific action has or will be taken with respect to a particular organization, you may be assured that the Attorney General seeks to administer the charitable trusts laws equitably and efficiently.