October 20, 2012

Re-classifying Designating Church Gifts

Question:

Can a church that received funds designated for one ministry/purpose use those funds for another ministry/purpose, or must it use all designated funds for their designated purpose even if the funds would be useful elsewhere?

Answer:

It is our belief that this is not a matter of IRS regulatory concern. It is more a matter of legal and ethical concern. Obviously, donors who give, for example, to a fund to acquire musical instruments will be greatly discouraged to see those funds spent for something other than their intentions.

When a church receives funds from its congregation, those funds are no longer under the individual's control, but under the church's control, meaning that the church has the authority to use these funds as it sees fit.

It is our understanding and experience that it is the Secretary of State’s offices in most states that address donor complaints. Donors have sought resolution of their complaints by going to outside agencies such as this when they believe their contributions have been mishandled. Of course, no church wants to take this route.

This is not to say that formal and public church action could not address a proposal to reclassify designated gifts for other purposes. Obviously, churches should tread very carefully and are well advised to consult the original donors. In some cases, church officials have opted to counsel donors about their gift designations, if deemed inappropriate, or to even return the contributions to them.

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