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Church Benevolence Fund Disbursements

Question 1:

Can church benevolence funds be given to a non-profit entity on the behalf of a needy individual who is being treated by that entity?

Answer 1:

Yes, as long as the disbursement is not a private enrichment of that individual or entity (the IRS calls it "private inurement"). Care should be particularly exercised if the individual is a church employee.

Question 2:

Can church members or non-members give gifts to the benevolence fund designating an individual as the one to receive the donation?

Answer 2:

Generally, no. The church must be careful to avoid conditions in which it could become a conduit for recharacterizing personal gifts or payments as charitable contributions. My general advice has been that the church can offer to assist the donor of non-deductible gifts in maintaining his or her anonymity, but that it cannot provide a tax deductible receipt.

Having said this, I do believe it is acceptable for the church to announce its corporate decision to support a needy individual and to subsequently take up a collection. I believe that donors can be given deductible receipts in these cases. Care must be taken however, I believe, to avoid situations in which a substantial portion of the collection comes from a source(s) that are otherwise obligated to pay for the needy individual's costs (e.g., a family member donating a large sum to pay for another family member's medical costs).

Of course, members are encouraged to give deductible donations of any size to the benevolence fund as long as there truly are no strings attached.

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