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I recently made a donation to a non-profit organizations that performs humanitarian assistance in places of conflict.

Afterwards I remembered that my employer matches my donation up to a particular limit and I looked into how to accomplish this. My employer stated that I would need a receipt or some proof of the donation.

Other non-profits I've donated to in the past have generally sent me emails containing a receipt or something that looks like an invoice. But the organization I made the recent donation to only provided me with an email that contained the simple description that follows:

Thank you for your generous donation of [price omitted]. Your contribution was received on [date omitted]. Every dollar counts and we appreciate your contribution to our cause.

Naturally, I contacted their support to ask them to provide a receipt or invoice -to which they responded that they do not provide such documents.

This got me thinking- is this behavior normal for big, well known non-profits in the United States? There's another non-profit I donate to regularly and they've always provided a receipt/invoice document. Are they even required to provide any documentation of the donation?

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  • 3
    Would your employer accept that email as proof of contribution?
    – Lawrence
    Sep 1 '21 at 16:54
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    @Lawrence I am waiting for their response to that question :) EDIT: but this question is more about my own curiosity
    – user111548
    Sep 1 '21 at 16:55
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    Non-profit does not necessarily mean charity. Non-profits don't always give formal receipts because contributions to them are not tax deductible. Sep 1 '21 at 19:07
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    A receipt is required by law for contributions of $250 or more. Many nonprofits will give you a receipt for lesser amounts as a courtesy, but it depends on their resources. If they are set up to receive donations online though, there is really no reason not to. Any online system that can process payments can easily send an email acknowledgement (which you received).
    – Seth R
    Sep 2 '21 at 14:58
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    @SethR It's even worse if you are donating goods... the place I donate at always asks if you want a receipt, but it's a blank receipt that you're expected to fill in yourself with values you've computed. For a truckload of stuff, that's not happening!
    – user12515
    Sep 2 '21 at 21:24
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They did send you a receipt, it's just informal and not a separate document like a .pdf file. I can't speak for your employer but at least for the IRS, I think the email should suffice for the tax deduction on the donation.

To directly answer your question: no, non-profits will pretty much always send you something resembling a receipt like an email. The only thing it really needs to contain is the non-profit name, the amount donated, and the date of the donation.

In my experience, I get an email for every donation I make online to non-profits. The only "official" receipt/invoice that I get is a year-end summary with all my donations for the entire year, and is sent by snail-mail or in a separate .pdf document.

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    When one's business model consists of people giving one money in exchange for nothing but one's thanks, one tens to be quite free with one's thanks. Sep 3 '21 at 0:44
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Thank you for your generous donation of [price omitted]. Your contribution was received on [date omitted]. Every dollar counts and we appreciate your contribution to our cause.

That is your receipt.

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In my experience I have received proof of contribution by one or more methods every time I make a contribution:

  • Email from the charity
  • Email from a 3rd party. That is when participating in a charity event such as domore24 or Giving Tuesday.
  • End of year letter or email showing what was contributed for the entire year.

In addition you may be able to use a credit card statement or a cancelled check. Though sometimes the credit card statement isn't clear because it might list the company processing donations.

You will have to check with your employer to see what documentation you require.

This is what the IRS requires:

The written acknowledgment required to substantiate a charitable contribution of $250 or more must contain the following information:

  • Name of the organization;
  • Amount of cash contribution;
  • Description (but not value) of non-cash contribution;
  • Statement that no goods or services were provided by the organization, if that is the case;
  • Description and good faith estimate of the value of goods or services, if any, that organization provided in return for the contribution; and
  • Statement that goods or services, if any, that the organization provided in return for the contribution consisted entirely of intangible religious benefits, if that was the case.

In addition, a donor may claim a deduction for contributions of cash, check, or other monetary gifts only if the donor maintains certain written records.

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Generally, a nonprofit that won't produce such documentation is ungrateful at the very least. That's very bad optics for a non-profit who depends on donations. So any responsible nonprofit manager will cheerfully fulfill your request for any reason, particularly "collecting more money!"

to which they responded that they do not provide such documents.

It's inconceivable that they do not have a process for providing such documents, as that is required for gifts over $250. So they ought to be able to simply "run that process" for your smaller donation because of your request.

However, speaking as a nonprofit manger, I always give acknowledgements... by postal mail if able... however, I would say it's perfectly reasonable to give acknowledgements on the same platform as you donated, i.e. an online donation can get an online acknowledgement by default. (among other things, that removes the requirement for me to collect your street address, which some object to).

Does it actually qualify for charitable deductions?

One possibility you should brace yourself for is that the nonprofit isn't actually one. There are some organizations (or just people) that trot out the word "nonprofit" or "charity", and especially "donation". There are many kinds of nonprofits which are not charitable and don't qualify for deductions or matches (e.g. political committees). There are also foreign non-profits which do work which would qualify for charitable status, but they have not done the paperwork in the US to qualify for that treatment here.

The best way to find out is to either visit a site called GuideStar.org, which is a database of known nonprofits. That site may have a burdensome sign-up process (I wouldn't know, being a member). If so, go to CharityNavigator.org, and start into the process of making a donation, which you can do without setting up an account. Charity Navigator will authenticate the charity at GuideStar, and will stop you if the charity is not IRS-qualified to make a donation.

Generally, companies that do matches rely on the same IRS determination when they decide whether to match.

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If it's a charity, and they accepted the donation as a charity then they are required to give you a receipt for your donation.

Here is an example of a receipt and what it should contain:

Example of car donation receipt

Not all receipts are tax-deductible though and not all charities are able to provide you with a tax-deductible receipt.

It's always a good idea to visit the IRS website and look at the type of legal status the charity must have in order for you to get your tax deduction.

This is the quote from their site that will help you understand more about this:

To determine if the organization that you contributed to qualifies as a charitable organization for income tax deduction purposes, refer to our Tax Exempt Organization Search tool. For more information, see Publication 526, Charitable Contributions and Can I Deduct My Charitable Contributions?

Keep in mind that there are two types of giving - cash and none cash contributions like real estate donations.

This makes a difference on your tax return.

Last point about your encounter.

I don't know what this organization is, but even as a non-profit, they don't always provide receipts because they don't have the right legal status to do so.

Another example: A lot of online public fundraising campaign websites collect donations on behalf of someone but they are a "FOR PROFIT" organization that will not give you a receipt.

So the campaign looks like you are donating to a charity and you really might be, but since it's through a third party, you can lose your receipt.

These laws can be a bit complex and tricky sometimes.

If you are giving a reasonable amount to charity and the tax return is important, then it's ideal that you know who you are donating to and what legal status they have.

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