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Can our PTO raise funds for distressed families?

Your Legal Questions Answered

Can our PTO raise funds for distressed families?

Our high school used to donate to a national nonprofit that helps schools raise money for community members in need, usually families with a child with a medical crisis. The national group is changing its mission. The school has asked our Parent Teacher Organization if they can continue to have fundraising activities but give the money to our PTO (a 501(c)(3) nonprofit), so that we would give the money to the needy family. The family is from the local community but not necessarily a student or staff of the school.

There is no federal tax reason why a local charity can’t raise funds to help families in need.  The trick is having a broad-based program that raises funds for needy situations generally, and not for specific families.  If you ask for gifts to help the Smith family, the contributions won’t be deductible.  The IRS does not consider a gift for the benefit of a specific family or individual to be “charitable.”  If you ask for funds to help families that face such needs and then choose the Smith family if it has a personal tragedy, a gift would be considered charitable and deductible. It is like raising funds for a scholarship program for eligible students, as opposed to asking for gifts for a scholarship for the Smith child.  It is obviously easier to raise funds for a specific heart-wrenching situation than for a general concept, but a fund can be created and supported to provide help when needed. 

As a matter of state law, you may need to change the purpose clause in your governing documents to broaden your mission.   You may also have to deal with the rules of a parent organization if you are part of a national umbrella group.  But this larger purpose is clearly charitable and the IRS wouldn’t have a problem with the idea.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

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