Whether your non-profit organization has been operating for a few months or several decades, the board of director and senior leadership should ensure there is a carefully considered written policy governing the review and acceptance of donations and planned gifts. The practical reasons are evident: with a gift acceptance policy, your organization’s leadership and staff can better maintain clear standards and consistency for the evaluation and acceptance of gifts, especially non-cash donations, while allowing your organization to enhance donor relations and undertake targeted marketing initiatives. However, complex laws and rules apply to charitable donations and planned giving that have the potential to affect the amount of, or even completely deny, a donor’s charitable contributions tax deduction––depending upon the nature of the gift and property donated, the substantiation and valuation of the donation, and the type of the donee organization. For that reason, any gift acceptance policy should be created with specific reference to the interests and needs of your organization and in consultation with your organization’s professional advisors, including attorneys and accountants.

While the details of a gift acceptance policy will differ from one organization to the next, any such policy should include certain basic provisions. The purpose of the policy should be stated clearly. The policy should be designed to ensure that all donations and gifts to your organization are aligned with your organization’s charitable mission. The policy should also expressly reserve to your organization the right to retain independent professional advisors for the purpose of evaluating and advising on any proposed donation or gift.

While unrestricted cash gifts are seldom problematic, non-cash gifts can also bring unanticipated costs and risks to your organization.

The gift review process should be set forth in the policy, including the identification of the individuals who are responsible for rendering the final decision to accept or reject a gift, such as the Executive Director for all routine cash gifts or a special committee for all non-routine gifts. The policy should also delineate as between your organization and the donor the costs and responsibilities of obtaining any appraisals, valuations, and other documentation required for the donor to take a tax deduction for the contribution.

Your organization’s Board and leadership should determine whether there are any certain types of gifts that are, by definition, not aligned with your organization’s mission and whether there are any certain types of gifts that would pose unreasonable administrative costs or risks, and will therefore not be accepted under any circumstances or at least not without satisfying certain conditions. If there are any such restrictions, they should be stated in the policy in order to provide clarity to donors and avoid potential missteps during the evaluation process. Types of gifts your organization may consider when preparing a gift acceptance policy can include cash, tangible personal property (such as art, vehicles, equipment), publicly traded and marketable securities, restricted stock, closely held securities, real estate, life insurance benefits, retirement plan benefits, deferred gifts (such as charitable remainder trusts, charitable lead trusts, bequests, charitable gift annuities, deferred gift annuities, pooled income funds, retained life estates), bargain sales, and other miscellaneous gifts (such as memorials, honorariums, intellectual property). Whether and to what extent a donor can take a tax deduction for the charitable contribution depends upon complex laws and rules that differ depending upon the type of gift donated.

While unrestricted cash gifts are seldom problematic, non-cash gifts can also bring unanticipated costs and risks to your organization. Before accepting a non-cash gift, your organization should consider the non-cash gift’s marketability, whether there are any liens or restrictions that would impair or prevent its liquidation, whether there would be any carrying costs such as insurance or maintenance requirements, and whether the gift could result in your organization incurring potential liability to a third party (especially with respect to environmental contamination of real property). The extent of the evaluation will necessarily depend on the type of gift offered.

After the final decision on whether to accept or reject the gift, your organization should ensure that the decision is communicated to the donor in writing – especially if the gift is accepted. In order for the donor to take a charitable contributions tax deduction, your organization must provide a contemporaneous written acknowledgement stating your organization’s name, date, and location; stating whether the gift was cash or a description of the non-cash contribution; and stating that no goods or services were provided in exchange for the contribution, if so, or a description and good faith estimate of the value of goods or services, if any.

After your organization adopts a written gift acceptance and planned giving policy, the policy should be reviewed at least annually to ensure that it remains aligned with your organization’s mission and interests while continuing to account for changes in applicable laws and rules. By having such a policy in place, your organization will be better positioned to undertake a targeted marketing initiative by knowing what types of gifts to pursue and accept while controlling potential legal risks and fostering positive relationships with donors.

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The following materials, and all other materials on this website, are intended for informational purposes only, are not to be construed as either legal advice or as advertising by Cuddy & Feder LLP or any of its attorneys, and do not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Cuddy & Feder LLP. Please seek the advice of an attorney before relying on any information contained herein.


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