Let’s Get Real About Transparency and Donations


“Truth never damages a cause that is just.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

There has been a lot of talk about transparency in the political arena lately. However, my post is focused on transparency in giving. How can you be certain that your donation will serve others and not be used for administrative purposes? Can you earmark specific donations to an organization that has a tax-deductible status? What are the best crowdfunding and fundraising websites? And, how can you be certain that your donation to one of the crowdfunding websites will be used appropriately?

I’ve researched the best way for me to solicit donations for my little La Paloma Library in Nicaragua. I’ve debated on whether to apply for a 501(c)3 tax-exempt status or continue as I have been, seeking small donations through fundraisers and crowdfunding websites.

I am preparing for the future because what will happen to my little library if I move off the island, travel more often, or return to the states? Can it survive without me? I’ve invested my money and time in developing a comprehensive program to meet the needs of the teachers and the students. It is my legacy. So, in preparing for the future, I want to leave a program that will last beyond me with solid plans and financial support.

So, Let’s Get Real about Transparency and Your Donations…

I. Everything you need to know about your donations to a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization

This section gives me a headache! First, you have to determine if an organization is a charitable organization with a 501(c)3 tax-deductible status. According to the IRS tax-deductible donation rules:

The 501(c)3 groups receive the major part of their support from the public rather than from a small group of individuals. They also use the bulk of donated money to further their stated exempt-organization goals. The 501(c)3 groups include churches, hospitals, schools and groups that provide disaster aid, such as the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army and similar organizations.

If you would like to earmark your donation to be used for a specific purpose, it is important to know that charitable organizations welcome recommended designations, but that all gifts go to the organization and are subject to its control and final discretion. 

When a 501(c)3 organization receives a charitable gift the organization is required to submit a written receipt to the donor stating (1) the donee organization has ultimate discretion over the destination of the contributions; (2) a confirmation that the donor intends for the organization, not the individual, to be the gift recipient; and (3) an acknowledgment of the donor’s preference to support a particular individual.

The last point is ambiguous in this area of giving because qualified organizations must remind donors that improperly earmarking gifts may compromise the deductibility of the donation.

For example, if an individual wanted to make a monetary donation to my library, I could partner with a 501(c)3 charitable organization so the gift could be tax-deductible. However, there is no guarantee, according to the IRS laws, that an earmarked donation will be used for my library.

This is where transparency is needed. All donors to a 501(c)3 organization must receive a written receipt of their donation as well as be informed that the charity has the final say about where the money will be used.

It is too complicated for me, a one-woman operator. I can’t see the advantage of partnering with a 501(c)3 organization because of the excessive requirements by the IRS with no guarantee that my library would receive earmarked donations. And because of the tangle of bureaucracy involved in becoming a 501(c)3 organization, I would rather keep it simple. In addition, many of my donors are foreign donors whose donations are not tax-deductible because it only applies to U.S. citizens.

Tax Deductible Donation Rules

Fuego y Agua donations for my library and the La Paloma Elementary School.

La Paloma Elementary students check out the new book donations.


II. Crowdfunding and fundraising websites

Crowdfunding websites allow individuals and businesses to solicit donations for any kind of project by accessing a large number of potential donors. There are advantages and disadvantages to using crowdfunding websites and the potential for abuse is always a concern.

Best Crowdfunding Sites for 2016

I have used YouCaring to Help Los Ramos Rebuild after a devastating landslide that destroyed their community and for donations to support The Divine Women’s Soccer Team.

Transparency in seeking donations on a crowdfunding website is important. I believe it is imperative to respond to each donor, to be specific in how their donations will be used, and to be open, honest, and accountable for  the money spent.

For these reasons, I always write a blog post with photos about how the donations have been spent and help the recipients of the donations write a letter or make a video thanking the donors. Goodie Bags for Los Ramos    Los Ramos Says Many Thanks

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