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 preferred

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.”


Twitter: @chrissnowbeck