Bar News - October 14, 2011
Blenkinsop Is New Director of Charitable Trusts Unit
By: Beverly Rorick
"Charities and non-profits are a large and important part of our daily lives here in New Hampshire," said Senior Assistant Attorney General Anthony J. Blenkinsop, new director of the stateís Charitable Trusts Unit. In a recent interview with Bar News, Blenkinsop, appointed in June, said he hopes to provide outreach and support to those charities and non-profits. "We want to offer guidance wherever needed Ė for both attorneys and for boards of directors."
Senior Asst. Attorney General Anthony Blenkinsop recently became director of the AGís Charitable Trusts Division.
Blenkinsop heads a staff of eight people, six of whom are full-time and two part-time. He is the only attorney.
After graduating from Suffolk University Law School in 1998, Blenkinsop went into private practice with Getman, Schulthess & Steere in Bedford. In 2004, he joined the attorney generalís office and became senior assistant attorney general in 2007. As director of the Charitable Trusts Unit (CTU), he follows Michael DeLucia, who held the position from 1994-2010. Anne Edwards, now chief of staff at the department of justice, served as interim director during 2010-11. Said DeLucia, "Anthony has an excellent set of legal skills to bring to the unit. He will find that attorneys in New Hampshire are well-informed about the non-profit sector and that leaders of the sector are very effective in defining and achieving their charitable missions."
The CTU oversees all the non-profit organizations in the state, from the largest, such as the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and other hospitals, to the smallest, such as the Friends of the Old North Cemetery in Concord, where President Franklin Pierce is buried. It embraces all types of charities; in addition to the stateís hospitals and other medical entities, it oversees private schools, organizations such as the SPCA and the YMCA, games of chance Ė and private and professional fund-raising.
"We are somewhat limited in our ability to regulate professional fund-raising," said Blenkinsop, "but we do our best. While most are legitimate, there are occasional scams. Right now, veteransí causes are a hot topic. Ohio and Florida have had recent high-profile cases involving such scams, and we do intend to look into the issue here in New Hampshire."
Professional fundraisers often engage in telemarketing. "Overseeing such activities can be difficult," said Blenkinsop. "Itís really up to donors to ask the right questions, such as what percentage of the collected funds actually go to the charity and how effective the charity is in meeting its stated purpose. We donít want to discourage giving," he continued, "but we do want people to be informed."
There are roughly 8,300 registered non-profits in the state, 5,300 of which are based here. The rest, while based in other states, do business in New Hampshire and must be registered here as well. As of the 2008-09 biennial report (the latest), the value of the registered charities was estimated to be $18.8 billion. This figure excludes the assets held by churches and other religious organizations, by municipal trusts and by the smallest charities in the state.
The CTU was established in 1943 through the efforts of Frank Kenison, then attorney general, in order to protect the publicís interest in the use of property and assets designated for charitable purposes. The unit attempts to do this through "effective registration, education and enforcement." (See the NH DOJ Biennial Report 2008-09 at www.doj.nh.gov/site-map/charities.htm for further commentary.) New Hampshire was the first in the nation to establish a charitable trusts unit and it has served as a model for other states.
Itís early days for Blenkinsop in this position, but, he says, directors of the CTU usually serve a long time. "I am only the fourth director since the position became full-time in the 1980s."
Asked what effect the tight economy has had on charities, Blenkinsop said that with cutbacks in government spending, more is expected from the non-profit sector. "There are heavier demands on the existing charities now," he said, "and it can be harder for them to raise money in this economy, too."
A lot of the unitís work is done in the stateís probate courts. "We are a necessary party to many procedures [in the courts] which involve non-profits," said Blenkinsop. "Much of the business of the CTU can be resolved through agreements without going to court, but frequently we must appear to represent the public interest."
"And, of course, there are the cy- pres cases, which must be decided by the court," said Blenkinsop. When the original charitable purpose can no longer be carried out, or the purpose is not clear, the judge has to play Solomon. One such case involved a bequest to a cityís SPCA in which each of its 12 branches all claimed to be the designated recipient. The judge wisely gave all 12 equal shares.
Board education and training is also a priority for the CTU. Itís very important for the boards of charities to have close oversight of their charities, he emphasized. For instance, when directors are busy Ė and most are Ė they might delegate certain responsibilities to well-meaning but less well-informed staff or subordinates. He says, while infrequent, the misuse of funds can occur, because it can be very easy for people to take advantage of their responsibilities, for personal gain.
"All charities need a system of checks and balances; minor issues can become major problems," said Blenkinsop. "So the CTU, N.H. Center for Non-Profits, and the Bar Association all offer educational seminars. We hope non-profits and attorneys that work with them will take advantage of these opportunities to become better informed."
Blenkinsop also encourages any attorneys who are working with charities or non-profits and who may have questions, to contact the CTU at 271-3591 or visit its website at www.doj.nh.gov.
Beverly Rorick is a freelance writer and editor from Concord, NH, and is former managing editor of the NH Bar News.