“Dear Pastor”: When is a gift not a gift?

This is a series of articles about real world problems that churches often find difficult to handle. They are presented in the form of emails for ease of conversation but can come in many different ways.

Disclaimer: All the names are made up and in no way identify actual people nor does the author assume responsibility for the opinion expressed in the response.

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When is a gift not a gift?

Members or even non-members find themselves with unwanted items and think that the church is a place that can use them whether they want to or not. Notice the tone of this letter, it’s not a question is a declaration that they are coming and when. Sometimes churches just find things dumped in a hallway with a note, “for the church”. Ancient computers and other unwanted technology and décor items seem to be the most frequent items. Also notice that the donor asks for the church to value the items for their taxes.

Hopefully you already have a policy that keeps the church from doing that. You should simply acknowledge the items given in a letter. That is sufficient to allow the donor to claim what they believe is a “fair” value. Unless you have a certified appraisal you should never state a value for ‘real goods” given to the church.

There are also IRS rules for donated items with large values as well as gifts of titled land and cars. Be very careful in accepting these kinds of gifts. Seek professional help from a competent attorney or accountant. Treat them like one of those fake emails from a “Nigerian King” who wants to give you a lot of money.

Be cautious. Delicately letting members know that the church does not receive unsolicited donations is an exercise in tact and grace. Previously I have strongly recommended that all churches established and “memorials committee” or a “décor committee” that is empowered to make decisions as to what the church will accept or refuse. This takes the onus off the Pastor and staff and makes these church decisions.

Content written by contributor, Rev. Paul Johnson, CCA

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