Q: At a recent special event many donors sent in contributions to attend the event and did not show. I’m not sure how to handle the acknowledgment letter. Should I recognize their gifts as 100% tax deductible because they did not receive any benefits? Or, should I acknowledge only the deductible amount stated in the invitation, treating it as if they did attend and reducing the tax-deductible portion by the fair market value of the benefits they would have received had they come?


A: This is another one of those questions that must be answered, “It depends.” And, while some of your ticket holders may be unhappy about it, what it depends on is what they themselves did – or didn’t do – prior to the event.

If they told you initially that they’d give you a donation equal to the price of a ticket but that you should keep the ticket – perhaps try to resell it – because they had no intention of actually attending the event, they would be entitled to recognition of their gift at the 100% level. The same would hold true for those that initially accepted the ticket but sent it back ahead of the event, specifying their desire to turn their original ticket purchase into a pure donation. However, anyone that just didn’t show would receive the same recognition letter as someone who did attend. This means that they would get “credit” for only that portion of the ticket price that was beyond the fair market value of the benefits offered that evening.

Actually, when you think about it, this is the fairest for the organization. Undoubtedly, you had to rent a room large enough to hold the expected number of donors, guarantee a certain number of meals and so on. The fact that some people didn’t show at the last minute doesn’t release you from your commitments. Also, just because some of the people that bought the tickets were unable to come, it doesn’t mean that they didn’t give their tickets to others that did benefit. In any case, the IRS says that those that fail to turn back their tickets ahead of time and make their donor intentions clear are to get recognition for the ticket price minus the fair market value of the event, just like everyone else.