Can I donate to US charities from abroad?
May 17, 2019 6:24 AM   Subscribe

A foreign national can't donate to a US political party (rightly enough). As a citizen of another country I think I can donate to a US-based charity happily enough, but are there any situations this might not apply and how do I spot them?

I think it should be fairly straightforward for most charities - I think those would be 501(c)3 groups? But it isn't completely clear to me if that's right, and if it's different for 501(c)4 organisations. Or if there are other things I should look out for.

I'd expect a charity to check such things, but especially at the small scale of donations I'd be looking at I would want to keep their life simple.

Note that I'm not expecting to claim any sort of tax relief.
posted by edd to Law & Government (4 answers total)
I (a Canadian) have donated small amounts to the Southern Poverty Law Centre (US) and never had a problem. As you said, you don't get a tax credit, but that's not always important. It shouldn't be hard to check with the specific organization you want to donate to.
posted by arcticwoman at 7:11 AM on May 17, 2019

Edit: I misread your question the first time and I’m not sure that my comment really applies-apologies!

I can’t speak to being a foreign national but the difference between 501(c)3 is that they do not participate in partisan political activities (so they can do voter registration but not support a specific candidate). Planned Parenthood Federation is a 501(c)3. 501(c)4 can work on partisan political work. The Planned Parenthood Action Fund is a 501(c)4. Off the cuff, I can’t see any issues with you donating to a 501(c)3, no clue if there would be any issues or if you’d be allowed to donate to a 501(c)4.
posted by raccoon409 at 7:18 AM on May 17, 2019

I am a nonprofit management consultant, but I am not your nonprofit management consultant. This is a great question and it's surprisingly uncommon enough that there isn't much documentation on it. You are correct that you cannot donate to organizations that do political work related to voting/candidates/the democratic process - so you are in the clear 100% to donate to a 501(c)3, and depending on the 501(c)4, you could possibly be okay but maybe not depending on their mission.

Specifically, Bluman v. FEC, 800 F. Supp. 2d 281, 290 (D.D.C. 2011), aff’d 132 S. Ct. 1087 (2012) ruled that the foreign national ban "does not restrain foreign nationals from speaking out about issues or spending money to advocate their views about issues. It restrains them only from a certain form of expressive activity closely tied to the voting process—providing money for a candidate or political party or spending money in order to expressly advocate for or against the election of a candidate." I found this info on the FEC website.

In order to help your donation be processed with maximum efficiency, I would recommend the following:
    1) Make your donations online, rather than writing a check (or cheque, since you're British). This puts your donation into US dollars from the get-go rather than the nonprofit having to pay fees from their credit card processors to accept foreign currency. 2) If the online site has an opt-in, opt out so that they do not have to worry about scrutiny as it relates to further soliciting you, should laws change. 3) Some US-based nonprofits have online payment processors that cannot accept foreign transactions due to their donation processing infrastructure. But many can and do, just keep looking. It's not worth it to reach out to a nonprofit and ask them to please change their entire payment processing contract for one foreign donation.
Thanks for asking! A few of my clients get limited donations from people abroad. It's very uncommon, and most are from ex-pats who still have US-based bank accounts.
posted by juniperesque at 7:47 AM on May 17, 2019 [8 favorites]

Thanks all. Seems it's safest for me to make sure it's a 501(c)3. It's very useful to know there are sometimes related but distinct funds of each kind too, and paying online is certainly easiest for me and very glad if it makes it easiest for the charity too!
posted by edd at 9:01 AM on May 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

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