Advisor's Corner

“But it was charity!”
Cautioning Your Clients About Crowdfunding

Your clients might make donations to entities that do not fall under a specific section of the Internal Revenue Code, but feel “charitable” nonetheless because the dollars are helping people in need. Perhaps a client has helped set up a dedicated account at a bank to provide scholarships to the children of an accident victim, or even participated in a GoFundMe fundraiser to help a specific family. These vehicles, along with other crowdfunding platforms, typically do not meet the qualifications for a charitable organization under Section 501(c)(3), usually because the funds are earmarked for a particular person or person. 

The issue is no longer academic or obscure. According to a Lilly Family School of Philanthropy survey, nearly one-third of respondents said they donate at least once a year to a crowdfunding venture, especially responding to family members and close friends in need.

Even with the increase in popularity of crowdfunding and online fundraising platforms, the IRS has only just begun to issue guidance. Consider Private Letter Ruling 2016-0036. Here, the IRS referenced a notion it referred to as “detached generosity” and noted that giving to strangers on a platform such as GoFundMe did not generate the “quid pro quo” that is an automatic knockout punch for charitable deduction eligibility. Still, the IRS indicated that the absence of a quid pro quo is not enough to cause a transaction to rise to the level of a charitable contribution. Taxpayers and professionals still must pay close attention to the circumstances and facts of each situation.