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Raising Funds for Short-term Mission Trips

Summer is just around the corner and many churches and mission organizations have begun putting together short-term mission trip opportunities for their congregations and donors. Whether it is spending several weeks in the inner city ministering to the homeless or sharing the Gospel in a foreign country where you don’t know the language, the experience of living and ministering for a short time in a different environment without all the creature comforts of home can be both difficult and rewarding. Seeing how God is working in the lives of the people in other parts of the work can be a life-changing experience.

Most programs require participants to cover the cost of participation. For some this can be a challenge (think high school and college students, single parents, individuals on fixed incomes), so along with all the other preparations that go into planning for such a trip, organizers often have to help individuals raise the funds that will be needed to cover their participation costs. One solution is to allow participants to raise financial support from friends and family to help offset the cost. Sometimes called, “self-support raising” or “deputation,” the church generally determines an amount each individual is responsible to come up with to participate in the trip and then allows them to raise some or all of the funds by soliciting gifts from others. Funds raised are most often recorded in a support account with the Church and charges are then made against the account to fund the costs of the trips, including; program expenses, travel, and material costs. They may also include amounts to help cover the church’s overhead expenses, including the cost of staff leading the event.

The IRS has acknowledged fund-raising of this sort as a legitimate practice and acknowledges that gifts raised by this method may even be tax-deductible to the donor if certain practices are followed.[1] As you might expect, however, the practice has occasionally been controversial because of the tendency on the part of some fundraisers (misguided or otherwise) to represent that contributions will only be used to support the work of the individual doing the actual fund-raising. When this occurs the exact nature of the transaction can easily become blurred, with donors being led to believe that the organization is a mere conduit of funds that will be reserved for the exclusive use of the fundraiser.[2] The goal when raising funds for a ministry event such as this is to be able to have the gifts treated as tax-deductible to the donor, even if the person making the donation is the participant. Consequently, getting it right is extremely important.

[1] This acknowledgment first appeared in the Technical Instruction Program
for Fiscal Year 1999, designed specifically for training IRS agents on
practices related to religious non-profits, and has been affirmed several
times since then in their training

[2] It is important to understand that the IRS has
specifically noted on several occasions that where contributions are solicited
for specific individuals the gifts are deemed to be private gifts and are not
considered tax-deductible, even if the gifts are given through a local
church.  I should also be noted that a
church that helps facilitate private giving can face significant penalties if
the funds are not accounted for properly, up to and including loss of their
tax-exempt status. 

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