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What do we tell winners of lottery or auction?

Your Legal Questions Answered

What do we tell winners of lottery or auction?

If our 501(c)(3) nonprofit has a raffle and the prize is worth more than $600, do we have to advise winner and tell the IRS of the winnings?  If we offered the same items through an auction format, and the value of each item was less, would there be an obligation to advise the highest bidder of any tax burden. We are currently raffling sports tickets that have a value of either just under or just over $600.

This is an important question to show the differences between gambling and an auction.  A lottery or a raffle is a game of chance where the participant has to pay to play.  A sweepstakes is normally a game of chance where the participant does not have to pay to play.  (Either of them may be regulated under local law, so a charity using either of them should understand the regulations and seek to comply.) The IRS generally requires the person running the lottery, raffle or sweepstakes to report gambling winnings of $600 or more and the winner will have to pay federal income tax on the net winnings.  (If the winnings are more than $5000 or if the winner refuses to give his or her social security number, the organization has to withhold the tax.)  For a charity, the potential benefit of a lottery is that a lot of people will play so that the amount wagered is significantly more than the value of the item.  If a lot of people don’t play, of course, the take could be less than the value that could be realized by a straight sale.

An auction is simply a sale — at more or less than the fair market value of the item, but a sale nonetheless.  There is no element of “chance” and no gambling winnings for the successful bidder to report.  If the purchaser pays more than the fair market value of the item, the purchaser can deduct the difference as a charitable contribution.  The charity is obligated to tell a purchaser who pays more than $75 the value of the item and confirm the amount paid.  (See Ready Reference Page:  “Charities Must Set Value on ‘Quid Pro Quo’ Gifts”)  A purchaser who wins the bid at less than fair market value has just gotten an item “on sale” at a reduced price and cannot claim any deduction.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017


I realize the issue is reporting gambling/lottery/sweepstakes to the IRS. My question goes a step further. Suppose we are required to withhold tax on the winnings. If the winner refuses to give his or her social security number, it becomes problematic on how to submit the withheld tax to the IRS as they do not look kindly on such submissions without the taxpayer ID. Any thoughts on what we should do in that case?


I wouldn't release the winnings until I  got the necessary information.  I suspect that would get the winner's attention.   —Don Kramer

If a person in a paid position with the non-profit organization (director) claims to purchase a donated valuable item specifically sent for a silent auction days before the auction happens and does not offer it to attendees or display it at auction, are they liable for legal or ethical repercussions?

Great question - we've added your query to our "Your Legal Questions Answered" list. Here's a quick link to our answer - --Lisa Chatburn, Managing Editor Nonprofit Issues

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