Recently one of our donors gave our 501(c)(3) charity a substantial donation and then turned around and asked us to write out a check in the amount of donation, less $200, to an NGO that we are not affiliated with and is not within our mission. Is this legal and what might he be up to?
When you say that the donor wants you to give to an NGO, a Non-Governmental Organization, I assume that you mean a charity in another country. If that is so, it sounds like your donor is trying to get a deduction from his U.S. income tax for a gift to a foreign organization that would not be deductible if he gave it directly. U.S. taxpayers may claim deductions only for gifts to U.S. charities, not to foreign ones. That is why many foreign charities create U.S. “friends of” organizations to raise deductible money here.
If your donor made the gift unconditionally and subsequently asked you to re-grant the money, it may technically be permissible for him to claim the deduction since you have the discretion about whether or not to make the gift.
But he is essentially offering to pay you $200 for your trouble in participating in a transaction which is probably significantly more beneficial to him and for which the rationale is undisclosed to you.
If the IRS looked, it might argue that the gift was “earmarked” and therefore not deductible (which would probably be the case if he asked you to re-grant the money before he gave it to you) or that your acknowledgment was inadequate because it did not value the benefit to him of the anticipated re-grant. But even if the IRS would not deny the deduction, I would be reluctant to use a charity for the private benefit of a donor for a grant that is unrelated to the charity’s exempt purpose.