Nonprofits usually get cash donations, but some gifts could be found wrapped under a Christmas tree — at least, a really big one.
The Minneapolis-based Allina Health System last year received about $20,000 in donated sports equipment.
A donor gave the Minneapolis Institute of Arts a mobility scooter worth about $2,500, while the Rochester-based Mayo Clinic scored a Town Car valued at $17,000.
At Carleton College in Northfield, donors gave a number of items described as “historical treasures,” including letters from Civil War generals and a painting of Thomas Jefferson. The University of St. Thomas received more than $1 million in art work.
The disclosure of these and other “noncash contributions” come from an obscure filing that some nonprofits make each year with the Internal Revenue Service. For some nonprofits, the value of donated goods can run into the millions of dollars in a given year.
From gift cards and coffee grounds to clothing and household goods, the contributions beg the question: What do nonprofits do with all this stuff?
“It’s kept among the fleet cars at Mayo Jacksonville,” Elaine Eberhart, associate chair for gift planning at Mayo Clinic, said of the Town Car. “Mayo personnel are driving it around Jacksonville now, to make trips around town for business purposes.”
“A large number of our visitors are seniors, so it provides them mobility,” Mary Mortenson of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts said of the scooter. “We actually have one of our docents who uses the scooter when she does her tours.”
Cash gifts are easier for nonprofits to use, charitable groups say. But in some cases, a nonprofit will take a noncash gift that fits with its mission, or can be sold to generate financial support.
“It’s harder to process physical gifts,” said Matt Viola, senior program analyst with Charity Navigator, which evaluates nonprofits for donors.
Each year, nonprofits file financial information with the Internal Revenue Service, and the forms were adjusted about five years ago so that charities provide more detail about noncash giving, said John Pratt, executive director of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits. The IRS wants to make sure that neither charities nor their donors are inflating the value of noncash gifts.
“Cash is the most common,” Pratt said. “Usually, it’s a subset of nonprofits that receive the noncash donations. The larger the organization, the more likely they are to have a gift acceptance policy.”
Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, for example, often hears from people who want to donate toys to kids in the hospital, particularly during the holidays. But the hospital only accepts toys that are newly purchased, due to concerns about possible infection risk, said Annie Waters, the director of annual giving.
The hospital also doesn’t take toy guns or violent video games, Waters said.
“While we love getting the financial donations, because it gives us a lot of flexibility, there are people in our community who want to have an experience of giving something,” Waters said. “It just seems to maybe feel a little more tangible for some people.”
Art, gift cards and land
At the University of St. Thomas, the art work was primarily a collection of 249 works of art from a single donor, said spokesman Jim Winterer. They’re being used by art history students who are studying to become curators, he said.
A couple of years ago, St. Thomas received nearly $26,000 in gift cards that were then used in a fundraiser to create a scholarship, Winterer said. During the 12-month period ending June 2013, the university received a pledge of commercial real estate in California with a value of more than $18 million.
The real estate will come to St. Thomas upon the donor’s death, Winterer said, adding that real estate gifts usually are sold.
At St. Olaf College in Northfield, an alumnus donated a 16-foot Smoker Craft fishing boat and trailer with a value of about $2,000. It’s used in biology classes, so faculty and students can gather water and plankton samples among other research tasks, said Kari VanDerVeen, a spokeswoman for the college.
Across town at Carleton, the portrait of Thomas Jefferson came with an etching of the former president, and an undisclosed item with his signature related to the Second Continental Congress.
“All of these gifts of real property — paintings, photographs, jewelry, maps, special books — those are all used in our academic program,” said Gayle McJunkin, associate vice president for external relations. “We need to be able to use those gifts in our academic mission.”
At Allina, spokesman David Kanihan said the sporting goods included skis, snowboard equipment and lift tickets for a sports and recreation program at Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute.
$13 million in gifts
Allina also received nearly $12,000 worth of donated medical equipment that included a commode and wheelchairs.
“Many of these miscellaneous contributions of equipment (medically related or otherwise) are donated by patients and their families when they no longer have a use for it,” Kanihan wrote in an e-mail.
Taken as a whole, the value of noncash donations can add up to some real money. At the Mayo Clinic, for example, the gifts in 2013 had a value of more than $13 million.
During the 12-month period ending June 2013, the Minnesota Historical Society received 1,312 gifts of historical artifacts, according to the group’s IRS filing, but the value is listed as “N/A.”
“It’s hard for us to put a dollar amount on that,” said Brian Szott, head of collections and curator of art at the Historical Society. “The vast majority of our collection each year is through donations from individuals or organizations. It’s the backbone of our collection.”