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Tripped Up

How to collect gifts to fund short-term missions legally.

It's an all-too-familiar scenario: A person wants to participate in an upcoming short-term missions trip and asks the church for the financial support they need in order to go. Donors from the church respond with a heartfelt desire to support the cause and the individual.

The question is, Can someone make a gift to support an individual going on a short-term missions trip?

It depends, says Dan Busby, president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.

A gift restricted for a particular missions trip generally qualifies for a tax deduction; it's no different than a gift restricted for the building fund, he says. The challenge comes when a gift for a missions trip is identified with a specific individual. If the donor only expresses a preference or desire that the gift be used to fund a certain individual, the sponsoring church generally has sufficient discretion and control over the gift to qualify it for a tax deduction. "However, a gift that is restricted for an individual ...

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