Charitable Donations From Afar: Are They Tax Deductible?

How should a Section 501(c)(3) organization handle donations received from donors outside the United States? With a thank-you note, of course! And then what? A U.S. public charity should issue a charitable contribution receipt, but refrain from stating that such a donation is tax deductible to the donor. Here’s why, and how the gift’s tax deductibility may vary depending on the donor’s own tax status and situation.

Overview and General Rule

China’s New Nonprofit Law and the Growing Trend Impacting International Philanthropy

Chinese legislators just passed disturbing legislation granting police broad authority to supervise foreign nonprofits.  The Chinese law requires all foreign nonprofits to register with the Ministry of Public Security and authorizes the police to search nonprofits’ offices and summon their representatives at will.  China has joined Russia and India in citing national security concerns as ostensible grounds for adopting increasingly hostile laws to US and other foreign nonprofits operating in their countries.

Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, US mission organizations, disaster-relief groups, and other humanitarian nonprofits have needed to implement numerous safeguards to ensure charitable assets do not fall into the hands of, or incidentally support, terrorists.  Such anti-terrorism measures are amply warranted.  But the changing legal and political landscapes in Russia, India, and China present entirely different challenges for nonprofits engaging in humanitarian or mission work in these countries.  The new regulations in these three countries are forcing US nonprofits to develop new and creative legal solutions to protect the ongoing humanitarian and mission work in these countries.

For example, following President Putin’s re-election in 2012, Russia adopted what is commonly known as the “Foreign Agent Law” which requires nonprofits that receive foreign donations and engage in "political activity" (a broadly defined term) to register and declare themselves as “foreign agents.”  Once registered, the nonprofits are required to disclose their status as “foreign agents” on all official fundraising and other communications and are subject to a number of other hostile provisions.  In 2015, Russia enacted an additional law which bars any nonprofit that the Russian Government determines is “undesirable” as a threat to the constitutional order and defense capability, or the security of the Russian state.  NGOs that do not cease all operations are subject to substantial fines and jail time.

Going Global: Operating Charitable Programs Abroad

Philanthropy in the US has always carried a distinctly global mindset.  US-based nonprofits have a lengthy and impressive history of not only sending money, goods, and volunteers to help those in need, but also operating overseas to directly conduct their missions.  Legal and practical issues may vary considerably. Several basic pro-active steps, however, apply to nearly every nonprofit contemplating international activities.

Research, Research, Research