Dear Nonprofiteer, How can we reduce the effort of acknowledging event-based donations?

Dear Nonprofiteer,

I have been a long time reader, and appreciate your blog tremendously!

I have a question, and if you choose to publish it, I would prefer to remain anonymous.

My organization is the fundraising agent for a couple of state funded organizations (the state only funds salaries & utilities—and the foundation I work for was founded a long time ago to raise funds for educational programs, content, etc.).  Recently, as a means to save ourselves ample amounts of time, energy, and overhead in administration, we began contracting with another local NPO that is first and foremost a performing arts space, but also the most comprehensive ticketing agent in our town.  This has become vastly beneficial because our own staff is so limited that we just don’t have the time and support staff to administer ticketing for ALL of the events for ALL of the organizations we support.  This saves us a great amount of time prior to these events, but we still have to process funds transferred to us from the ticketing agent post-event, and then send letters for any tax deductible value to the patrons.

So, here’s the question that has arisen in our office—can we just put something on the ticket itself that states the tax deductible value of the ticket to save ourselves from having to also send letters? Or, is it just best practice to send those letters post event to the event patrons?

Signed, Overwhelmed and Understaffed

Dear Overwhelmed:

Without being sure of the details, the Nonprofiteer recalls that actually tearing tickets is considered best practice in the management of for-profit events as a protection against employee theft of proceeds: the stubs are compared to the sales numbers and everything has to balance out at the event’s conclusion.  So it seems like a mistake to put the tax receipt or other acknowledgment on the ticket itself, when you’re going to want to physically retrieve at least part of it.

Of course, it’s possible to print a detachable ticket stub and leave that in the hands of the donor, and that stub could contain the necessary language for tax purposes.  (“Ticket price: X.  Tax-deductible value: X minus value of event’s benefit to patron.  Helping [nonprofit’s] clients: Priceless.”)  And if you’re using electronic tickets, which can be scanned and then returned in full to the patron, that same language can appear anywhere on the ticket’s face.

But the Nonprofiteer is a little puzzled about your role in the process.  Given that you’ve transferred ticket-processing to another nonprofit, why not transfer the entire fiscal agency to that nonprofit?  Does being the fiscal agent confer some other benefit on your foundation?  If not, it may be that a relationship that once made sense no longer does, now that the agencies you’re shepherding have become so active in their event-based fundraising.

Even if your foundation needs to remain fiscal agent for the purposes of state contracts, it should be possible to transfer fiscal agency for events to the ticketing nonprofit.  In that case, the task of sending tax-receipt acknowledgment to the patrons would fall to it.

In either case, of course, the task of actually thanking the patrons falls to the nonprofit whose event it is.  If the Nonprofiteer understands the situation correctly, donors have no particular interest in you: by their attendance at events, they intend to benefit the nonprofits for which you’re the agent.  Therefore, they don’t want to hear acknowledgment from you—they want to hear it from the benefited agency.  That’s what’s priceless!

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5 Responses to “Dear Nonprofiteer, How can we reduce the effort of acknowledging event-based donations?”

  1. Tweets that mention Dear Nonprofiteer, How can we reduce the effort of acknowledging event-based donations? « The Nonprofiteer -- Topsy.com Says:

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  2. Joe Says:

    We use a computerized ticketing service for our shows and one of the things it does is print a receipt for credit card transactions on the ticket stock right after the actual ticket. We have the people sign the receipt for our records. Presumably a donation receipt could be included right along with the tickets.

    You just have to make sure to include all the information the IRS requires for substantiation of gifts over $250 – http://www.irs.gov/charities/charitable/article/0,,id=123211,00.html

    • Nonprofiteer Says:

      Excellent input from someone much closer to the actual operations issues than the Nonprofiteer–thanks so much.

    • Mishael Says:

      It sounds to me like an opriotunpty to meet with the sponsor, take your financials and program reports and explain what you do, how funding is used and how their support has helped you reach those goals.Then I would thank them for their interest in your and the other organizations and after having demonstrated your inability to fund other orgs ask them if they’d like to sponsor a collaborative program with you and the organizations they referred to you.I see this as a great opriotunpty to further engage a wonderful sponsor.

      • Nonprofiteer Says:

        You’re right about the approach to sponsors, but I believe the question was about acknowledging each event attendee. Because there are so many of them it poses a particular technical challenge, but Joe (below) has proposed a good solution to that difficulty.

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