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Thanks for the reading the 25 Days of Giving series. Each day through December 25, I’m covering different aspects of charitable giving for both donors and nonprofit leaders. Have a topic you want covered or question you want answered regarding charitable giving? Contact me.

I’ve covered the term quid pro quo in a previous legal word-of-the-day blog post and much of that applies to understanding quid pro quo donations. In short, quid pro quo (now you know Latin!) translates to “something for something” and means an exchange of goods or services, where one transfer is contingent upon the other. In the case of nonprofit organizations, sometimes a good or service is offered in exchange for a donation. When the donor makes a charitable donation more than $75 and the nonprofit offers a good or service in exchange for said donation, the tax-exempt charity must provide a written statement to the donor disclosing the following:

  • Statement of the good(s) or service(s) received in exchange for donation
  • A fair market value (FMV) of the good(s) or service(s) received.
  • Information for the donor that only a portion of the total contribution (the portion that exceeds the FMV) is eligible for a federal income tax charitable contribution deduction.

What Nonprofits Need to Know

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As a nonprofit organization offering a quid pro quo donation situation, there’s a penalty for not making the required disclosure of contributions great than $75. The penalty is $10 per contribution up to $5,000 per fundraising mailer or event. If your nonprofit fails to disclose, but can prove the failure was due to a reasonable cause, the penalty may be avoided.

Offering a good or service as an incentive for a donation can be a great way to spark donor interest, but you’ll definitely want to determine the FMV and have a reasonable method, applied in good faith, for doing so. This can be easier said than done for goods and services that are not generally or commercially available. If that’s the case it’s recommended to estimate the FMV off of similar/comparable products and services that are available. Let’s consider a couple examples:

Example 1. For a contribution of $20,000 a history museum allows a donor to hold a private event in a ballroom of the museum. The museum doesn’t typically rent out this room, so how can a FMV be determined if there’s no standard rate? Looking at other similarly sized and quality ballrooms in the surrounding, general area cost $3,000 a night to rent. So, even though the museum’s ballroom has unique artifacts, a good faith estimate of the FMV of the museum’s ballroom is $3,000. The donor would then have a charitable contribution deduction total of $17,000.

Example 2. Your charity offers a one-hour golf lesson with a golf pro at the local country club to anyone who donates $500 or more. Usually the golf pro can be hired for a one-hour lesson for $100. An estimate made in good faith of the lessons’s FMV is $100.

Example 3. What if the service offered is unique, but is typically free? A state park foundation fundraiser advertises that a donation of $200 or more entitles you a spot on one of four different guided nature hikes with a volunteer park ranger. Typically the foundation doesn’t offer guided hikes to the general public, but hiking in the state parks is otherwise free. So, the FMV made in good faith for the hike is $0 and the charitable contribution eligible for deductions would be the full amount.

The only time you wouldn’t need to disclose the quid pro quo donation is when the good(s) or service(s) are of insubstantial value. The IRS also says disclosure is not required when the donor makes a payment of $75 or less (per year) and the exchange is only membership benefits that equate to, “Any rights or privileges (other than the right to purchase tickets for college athletic events) that the taxpayer can exercise often during the membership period, such as free or discounted admissions or parking or preferred access to goods or services.” The contribution can also stay undisclosed if the good/service is, “Admission to events that are open only to members and the cost per person of which is within the limits for low-cost.”

Basics of What Donors Need to Know

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As a donor, if you’re making a contribution to an organization and receive something in exchange, know that it’s almost like you’re paying for the good/service you receive, but then can deduct the rest of the contribution.

Let’s say you make a charitable contribution of $100 to a 501(c)(3) organization that helps mistreated farm animals. To celebrate their anniversary, the organization is offering donors that gift $80 or more a large coffee table book filled with stories, poems, and photographs of the animals the organization has helped over the years. The book’s fair market value is $30. This FMV is based on the price if you were to buy it outright from the organization’s online shop. In this situation you as a donor would need to receive a written disclosure detailing your contribution amount ($100), FMV of the good (the book) received ($30), and the portion that is considered a tax-deductible charitable contribution amount ($70).

Even though the tax-deductible charitable contribution amount is $70 (less than the $75 threshold), the total donation was $100, so the charity is still required to provide a written disclosure.

Whether you’re a donor or a nonprofit leader, I’m here to help promote and maximize charitable giving in Iowa. Questions about written disclosure compliance or FMV calculation? Don’t hesitate to contact me.