Can a church give non-taxable gifts to its pastor(s)?
Typically, there are two ways members of a congregation can give gifts to its pastor(s) and staff member(s). One involves corporate action and the other involves personal and individual action.
1. The church can take up a collection for its pastor(s). In this case, the contributions are deductible to the donors, but must be reported by the pastor since they are deemed payments received from an employer as compensation for his services. Any gifts paid by employers to their employees are considered taxable income and must be reported together with other earnings on Forms 941 and W-2.
Additionally, churches should be aware of the Internal Revenue Service's "De Minimis Fringe Benefits" rules. According to IRS Publication 15-B, a de mininis benefit is any property or service provided to an employee that has so little value that accounting for it would be unreasonable or impractical. However, cash and cash equivalent fringe benefits (e.g., gift certificates, gift cards), no matter how little, are always taxable income.
In determining whether a benefit is de minimis, one should always consider its frequency and value.
Accordingly, the typical Christmas bonus collected by many congregations and given to their pastor(s) represent fully taxable compensation. Of course, as participants in a church-sponsored collection, donors may write-off their contributions as tax-deductible donations.
2. Church members can give directly to the pastor(s). In these cases, the donations are not deductible to the donors, but the pastor(s) does not have to report the gifts as income. This action cannot be orchestrated as a corporate activity of the church/employer (as the pastors' employer), but rather as the personal choices of individual members to other individuals.
Sources: IRS "De Minimis Fringe Benefits", IRS Publication 15-B, and IRS Publication 5137