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Determining the Right Span of Control for Your Nonprofit

Nonprofits cover a wide range of fields, sizes and organizational structures. There is no way to determine the “right way” of working as a nonprofit, since what works for one, very likely will not work for another. This reasoning stands for many aspects of an organizational structure, but specifical...

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Fundraising Auctions and Events

By Kari Moore, CPA at Jacobson Jarvis & Co PLLC

We are frequently asked by nonprofit organizations about the documentation requirements for fundraising auctions and events. This article is a guide on how to find the answers to key questions about the duties of nonprofit organizations in their dealings with donor gifts. Below is a brief discussion of the most frequently asked questions and links to where you can find answers and more information.

Donations of art, wine, theatre tickets, and other tangible property

Donors may be able to claim a tax deduction for gifts of fine art, wine, tickets (i.e. theatre, opera, sporting events, entertainment, etc.) and other tangible property to be auctioned at a fundraising event. IRS Publication 561 has more information.

Appraisal Rules

Some donated property must have an appraisal to determine the fair market value, such as book collections, fine art, jewelry (gems and precious metals), boats, and real estate. Generally, a donor will need an appraisal for donations of property for which they claim a deduction of $5,000 or more. Please see IRS Bulletin 2006-46 – Guidance Regarding Appraisal Requirements for Non-cash Gifts.

Donating Vehicles

The amount a donor may deduct for a vehicle contribution depends upon what the charity does with the vehicle as reported in the written acknowledgment sent by the charity. Charities typically sell the vehicles that are donated to them. If the charity sells the vehicle, generally the deduction is limited to the gross proceeds from the sale. However, there are certain exceptions, and you can learn more about them in IRS Publication 4303 “Donor’s Guide to Vehicle Donations”.

Donations of Services

No deduction is allowed for the donation of personal or professional services to a charitable organization or the value of time spent volunteering. However while volunteering for a charitable organization a volunteer may be able to take a deduction for travel expenses including air, rail, and bus transportation, out-of-pocket expenses for their car, taxi fares or other costs of transportation. See IRS Publication 526 for more information.

Tax benefits when goods or services are received in exchange for the donation

The IRS limits the amount that can be claimed as a deduction when goods or services are received by the donor in exchange for the donation. For example, if a donor gives a charity $100 and receives a concert ticket valued at $40, the donor has made a quid pro quo contribution. In this example, the charitable contribution part of the payment, that can be a tax deduction, is $60. See IRS Publication 1771 – Charitable Contributions for more information.

Documentation requirement

Generally, donors must have written documentation to support their tax deduction. Varying levels of documentation are required depending on the value of the donation. If the donor claims:

  • $250 or less – written records and a receipt (if practical) from the tax-exempt organization(s) are required to support the deduction.
  • More than $250 and up to $500 – written records and a written acknowledgement from the tax-exempt organization(s), as described on the next page, are required to support the deduction.
  • More than $500 and up to $5,000 of noncash donations – IRS Form 8283 is required as an attachment to their tax return. In addition, written records and a written acknowledgement from the tax-exempt organization(s) are required to support the deduction.
  • More than $5,000 in non-cash contributions – in addition to Form 8283, written records, a written acknowledgement, and a qualified appraisal are required.

See IRS Publication 1771.

Donor Acknowledgement Letter

Tax-exempt organizations generally must provide the donor with an acknowledgement (without stated value of the donated item) to enable donors to claim the tax deduction. The organization is not responsible for determining the fair market value of donated items. A penalty is imposed on a charity that does not provide the required acknowledgement. However, when donors drop off items worth $250 or less at unattended donation locations, an acknowledgement is not practical nor required.

A tax-exempt organization is required to provide written documentation to support the deduction and must include the following information:

  1. The name, address, and tax ID number of the tax-exempt organization
  2. Date and location of the gift
  3. Description (list of items)
  4. Affirmation that no goods or services were received in exchange for the gift.

A written acknowledgement may be provided at the time the donation is made, or by January 31st of the following year. The written acknowledgement can be either a paper document or in electronic format, such as an e-mail addressed to the donor.

IRS Examples of Written Acknowledgments

Here are some examples from IRS Pub 1771:

“Thank you for your cash contribution of $300 that (organization’s name) received on December 12, 201X. No goods or services were provided in exchange for your contribution.”

“Thank you for your cash contribution of $350 that (organization’s name) received on May 6, 201X. In exchange for your contribution, we gave you a cookbook with an estimated fair market value of $60.”

“Thank you for your contribution of a used oak baby crib and matching dresser that (organization’s name) received on March 15, 201X. No goods or services were provided in exchange for your contribution.”

Detailed rules for contemporaneous written acknowledgments are contained in Section 170(f)(8) of the Internal Revenue Code and Section 1.170A-13(f) of the Income Tax Regulations.

(See Resources below for examples of acknowledgment letters.)

IRS From 8283

For gifts of property over $5,000, a donor may present to the charity IRS Form 8283 to support the donor’s tax deductions. The donor is responsible to prepare the form and the charity’s only obligation is to complete the “Donee Acknowledgement” section. For more information see the IRS Instructions for Form 8283 here.

Written documentation requirement for non-deductible items

Charitable donations must meet specific criteria with the IRS to be tax deductible. The IRS does not require a charitable organization to provide a written acknowledgement of a donation that is not tax-deductible. If an organization receives a non-deductible item, then do not provide a donor acknowledgement that might be used to claim a tax deduction, but you can still thank the donor for the gift. For example, some organizations modify their normal thank you letter to state that the item is not tax deductible but that you appreciate the gift.


About the Author

Kari Moore, CPA is the Tax Manager at Jacobson Jarvis & Co PLLC and has over 10 years of experience working for and with non-for-profit organizations. If you have questions about non-cash donations to your organization or about your not-for-profit tax return Kari can be reached at kari@jjco.com.

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How Nonprofits Can Take Advantage of GiveBIG for Fundraising and Awareness

Nonprofits are a difficult market to navigate for all involved. For those that are running the nonprofits, it is often difficult to gain the amount of funding needed to move forward on key ideas and keep employee retention high. For those that are trying to donate to o...

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Selecting an Investment Advisor

By Scott Severs, CFA, CFP at Garde Capital, Inc.

Choosing an investment advisor for an endowment portfolio can be a daunting task for many organizations. Some boards may feel that they lack the investment expertise to begin the process. Others may score high on the financial acumen scale but can’t agree on a strategy that makes sense or have a difficult time prioritizing this activity. Whatever the reason, here are some suggestions that can help your board get unstuck and proceed with the rewarding experience of properly managing an investment portfolio.

Develop an Investment Policy Statement

Managing an investment portfolio means coming to some agreement about risk and responsibilities. The best way to do this is to create a document called an investment policy statement (IPS). Contrary to popular belief, the IPS does not need to be a 20-page manifesto. It can be as simple as one page, but it should accomplish three specific things: (1) Identify your framework for risk, (2) define a spending policy, and (3) state your expectations for the advisor including requirements for performance measurement and frequency of reporting. This document should then be shared with your candidates as you move forward in the process.

Write and Distribute a Request for Proposal (RFP)

An RFP is a list of questions that you will ask several investment advisor candidates to respond to. It is helpful to receive input in the following areas: history and size of the firm and skill set of the team members, experience working with similar organizations, investment philosophy, reporting capabilities, service model and philosophy, and the total fees involved (advisory fees, fund expense ratios, trading and custody costs). With the RFP, your goal is to collect information that will help you decide whether the investment advisor understands and aligns with your organizational values and can customize a wealth management solution that meets your needs. We would recommend sending this RFP to 5-10 firms keeping in mind that it will take some time to read and evaluate each proposal. You may wish to hear from a variety of firms that offer different viewpoints and philosophies. An independent registered investment advisor will often tell a different story than a bank or broker dealer firm.

Interviewing Investment Advisors

Finally, after you have received and read the proposals, it will be time to narrow the list to no more than 5 firms to invite for an interview. To prepare for presentations, we would recommend agreeing on a minimum set of questions that you will ask of all the candidates for comparison. This will be a great opportunity to dig into the investment philosophy and service capabilities of the potential firms. For example, you will want to know whether the advisor utilizes an indexed or active investment approach. Active managers may charge higher fees, but will also attempt to demonstrate that their approach can outperform market indexes over time. Index managers feel that the market is very efficient and outperformance to an index is random and not consistently repeatable. It is helpful to have at least one active and one indexed advisor involved in the final process. To get the most out of the meetings, we would recommend that you lead the advisors in the direction you want them to go by asking questions rather than allowing them to make an open-ended presentation.

Choosing an investment advisor is a wonderful opportunity to make a valuable difference for your organization. Using these suggestions as a guide, you will be able to proceed with confidence and take positive steps to ensure the long-term success of your mission. For sample IPS or RFP templates, feel free to contact me directly.

About the Author:

Scott Severs, CFA, CFP® is a principal and the Chief Investment Officer at Garde Capital, Inc. Garde Capital was founded in 2009 to provide unbiased, independent, and relevant advice to the nonprofit community. Areas of focus include IPS and spending policy design and consultation, discretionary portfolio management services, customized performance reporting, and board and investment committee education.

Scott can be contacted at scott.severs@gardecapital.com or 206-552-7903.

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Does Your Nonprofit Have a Digital Strategy?

If your nonprofit organization doesn't have a digital strategy, you may be missing out on volunteers and donors who want to support your mission. If your digital strategy amounts to hoping something you post will eventually go viral, you really need to rethink how you're approaching the digital worl...

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