tangible property donationsA new refugee resettlement charity had only just begun operating when its director realized something: She wasn’t sure how to value the many donations of clothing and household goods community members had dropped off. Was value simply the price her not-for-profit would charge if it sold the goods in a rummage sale or on an auction website?

Even established organizations may not know what value to assign tangible property donations — particularly if they don’t receive them very often. Here’s a quick rundown for startup and long-operating nonprofits alike.

Defining FMV

Assuming the property is related to the charity’s tax-exempt function, most tangible property donations are valued based on fair market value (FMV) — generally, the price that property would sell for on the open market. For example, if a donor contributes used clothes for a charity to distribute to refugees, the FMV would be the price that typical buyers pay for clothes of the same age, condition, style and use.

However, if the donated property is subject to any type of restriction on use, the FMV must reflect it. So, if a donor stipulates that a painting must be displayed, not sold, that restriction affects its value. Restrictions on the use of real estate can dramatically affect the value of such gifts — for example, land that isn’t eligible for commercial development.

Factors and Exceptions Related to Tangible Property

There are three particularly relevant FMV factors. The first is the cost or selling price. This is the amount the donor paid for the item or the actual selling price received by your organization. But because market conditions can change, the cost or price becomes less important the further in time the purchase or sale was from the contribution date.

Another factor is comparable sales, or the sales price of property similar to the donated property. The IRS may give more or less weight to a comparable sale depending on the:

  • Similarity between the property sold and the donated property,
  • Time of the sale,
  • Circumstances of the sale, and
  • General market conditions.

Finally, there’s replacement cost. FMV should consider the cost of buying or creating property similar to the donated item. However, the replacement cost must have a reasonable relationship with the FMV.

There are exceptions particularly related to businesses that contribute inventory. Also know that with certain large donations of tangible property the donor is required to meet additional IRS requirements regarding value to claim a tax deduction.

Contact Us

Understanding the value of tangible property donations is critical to preparing accurate financial statements. Donors will also generally need this information for their tax records, so be sure to include the value of donations in your donation acknowledgement letters. Contact us if you need help.

© 2023


Helen Weeber headshot

Helen Weeber, CPA
HW Nonprofit Advisors


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