By Trad Dill

West Virginia Ducks Unlimited State Chair

Nonprofits fulfill a multitude of missions in West Virginia. Ducks Unlimited and partners like the National Wild Turkey Federation, Ruffed Grouse Society and Trout Unlimited build habitat and help bolster the state's outdoor recreation economy. Veterans of Foreign Wars helps support our state's heroes and their families when they return home. The West Virginia Firefighters Association helps provide resources to firehouses protecting their neighbors. But for many of us, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll.

In fact, the far-reaching consequences of the pandemic have affected nearly every aspect of our communities. In-person events that Ducks Unlimited and many other nonprofits have traditionally relied on to fundraise for our mission have all but vanished. This makes it incredibly difficult to raise the necessary funds to conduct our critical habitat conservation work in West Virginia and across the country. Even in instances where events can be held, many people are understandably hesitant to gather in groups, meaning in-person events no longer pack the same fundraising punch they once did at least for the foreseeable future.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught or more accurately, forced the world to embrace technology like never before. Because of this, nonprofits must adapt to this new way of life and better embrace 21st century methods of fundraising, even after the pandemic is eventually behind us. But in West Virginia, an outdated law prevents us from doing that, and we need a bit of help from the legislature.

The most straightforward solution is to simply legalize online raffles for charitable organizations. After all, most of our in-person events already feature raffle components, enabling DU to raise money while providing our members with a fun way to support a cause they are passionate about. Migrating this fundraising method online would create a safe system for our members to support the causes they care about without the same concerns when gathering in-person.

Currently, the West Virginia legislature is considering a bill, S. 263, that would legalize online raffles for nonprofits. This legislation would greatly improve the ability of nonprofits to fundraise during these trying times while also adding a modern component to complement our traditionally successful practices in the long term.

The bill would specifically amend the definition of raffles permitted for charitable organizations to include raffles conducted online. While a minor change to the existing law, it would have far reaching implications for most of West Virginia's 10,000 nonprofits. Providing this relief would also greatly benefit West Virginia's economy. Nonprofits employ nearly 13% of the state's workforce and represent the third largest employment sector, after retail and manufacturing. Ensuring the thousands of people employed by these organizations can keep working and creating habitat for outdoor recreation will help West Virginia's economy get back on track.

Ducks Unlimited strongly encourages the legislature to support S. 263 to legalize online raffles for nonprofits. This relatively simple change to existing laws would serve as a lifeline to many nonprofits when they need it most and it comes with no additional burden on West Virginia taxpayers. This legislation would ensure the organizations on which our communities rely can continue to raise the funds they need to fulfill their mission, while protecting the safety of the very people that support their causes. By passing this bill, the West Virginia legislature can help us navigate a bad situation and come out even stronger on the other end.