Our 501(c)(3) performing arts center provides each board member with 60 free show tickets a year, plus unlimited discounted tickets. The 60 tickets have a value of about $3,600 and can be used for any performance, including sold out shows. Should the organization be issuing 1099's with the value as income?
Probably yes. This sounds like compensation to me. You might be able to justify a ticket or two each year to let the directors check out the quality of the programming and have it considered part of their oversight duties rather than compensation. But I don’t see how you can justify 60 tickets as not being compensation. You have to be particularly concerned that if you don’t treat the value as compensation in the year given and the IRS ever concludes that it is. In that case, the IRS could consider it an “automatic excess benefit” and impose excess benefit taxes on the recipients and the managers (who are also the recipients) who approve it. (See Ready Reference Page: “IRS Issues Tips to Agents on Collecting ‘Automatic’ Excess Benefits Taxes from Nonprofits”) The best way to assure that it is declared as income by the board members is to file the 1099. I suspect that you will give away a lot fewer tickets when you do that.