The Three Worst Gifts You Can Make to a Charity

In the 2013 version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the main character Heather inherits a mansion from her grandmother.  Heather comes to discover that the inheritance includes a homicidal, chainsaw-wielding maniac.

shutterstock_169101512Had Heather initially known the full extent of her grandmother’s bequest, she might not have accepted it in the first place.  During my days fundraising for various charitable organizations, I would sometimes decline a proposed gift from a donor – when it was obvious that the donation would be more trouble that it was worth.

As a donor, you would never want your gift to be a burden to your favorite charities, right?

Donors, take note.  Not all gifts, however well intentioned, are good for charities.

To save you, the donor, from a potentially embarrassing rejection, I hereby present the Top 3 Worst Gifts for a charity to accept and for a donor to give:

1. Timeshares

Timeshares make awful charitable gifts.  The donor generally is trying to dump the timeshare and get out from under the annual maintenance fee – which, if the charity accepted the gift, would now be the responsibility of the charity!  Getting rid of a timeshare can be costly and there are documented timeshare resale scams out there.

(If you still want to explore donating your timeshare, you may want to consider this organization.)

2. Vacant Land

Many organizations are happy to accept gifts of real estate – when there is a building included.  Without a building, real estate becomes very difficult for a charity to unload should they accept it.  As with timeshares, charities would be responsible for holding costs.  Environmental issues, if they exist, can cause headaches for the organization if it is on the chain of title.  If the land has mineral rights, consider giving those away instead.  

(Some organizations like the Nature Conservancy excel at accepting gifts of undeveloped land.)

3. Gifts with too many “strings” attached

Sometimes a gift is simply not a gift.  A donor, when making a major or planned gift, can expect some quid pro quo with the recipient organization, such as a naming opportunity.   

But there are other times when a donor wants to retain too much control of either the money or the asset being gifted – and that’s when charities need to just walk away from the gift, as tough as that might be.

A donor who wants too much say over the gift is either not ready or not willing to make the gift.

(A well-crafted written gift agreement with a donor can avoid any ambiguity over what is expected of both the donor and the charity with respect to the gift.)

Think Before You Give

It can be difficult for a charity to say “no” to a gift, especially a large one.  Don’t make it more difficult by attempting to give something that is not in the best interest of the charity to accept – especially if a chainsaw is involved.

Comments or feedback?  Do you have other “bad” gifts to add to this list?  Contact me on Twitter @juanros.