Donor Substantiation

Three sets of IRS tax rules govern how a 501(c)(3) organization must acknowledge payments from donors:

1. Section 170(f)(8) of the Internal Revenue Code disallows any contribution of $250 or more unless the taxpayer has contemporaneous written substantiation of the donation from the charitable recipient. There is no IRS penalty to the charity for failing to provide donors with this written substantiation.

2. Section 6115 of the Internal Revenue Code requires charities to provide donors with a good faith estimate of the value of goods or services provided, where a payment of more than $75 is received which is partly a contribution, and partly consideration for goods or services. The penalty for failure to provide the allocation required is $10 per contribution, with a maximum penalty of $5,000 per fundraising event.

3. Revenue Procedure 90-12 provides that “insubstantial benefits” provided to donors may be disregarded, for purposes of determining the deductible amount, when

  • a) the fair market value of all the benefits is not more than 2% of the total payment, or $72, whichever is less, or
  • b) the contribution is $36.00 or more, and benefits are only name- or logo-bearing “tokens” with a cost of $7.20 or less (1999 amounts; new ones, indexed to inflation, issued annually)

Taken together, IRS rules require that an organization’s written acknowledgments to donors should contain at least:

  • a statement of the amount of the donation, if cash
    a description of the property donated, if property (no estimate of the value is required)
  • a statement of whether the donee organization provided any goods or services in return for the payment, and
  • if goods or services were provided, a good faith estimate of value of the goods/services supplied

The information outlined must be provided

  • in writing,
  • in connection with the solicitation, or in connection with receipt of the payment, and
  • in a manner reasonably likely to come to the attention of the donor

These rules do not apply when there is no gift or donation intended, such as a purchase in a museum gift shop.

No estimate of the value of services provided is required where the recipient organization is exclusively religious, and the only benefits are “intangible religious benefits.”

Sample Acknowledgment Letter