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Church Not Obligated to Return Undesignated Contributions

There generally is no legal basis for honoring such requests since charitable contributions constitute “gifts,” and gifts represent an irrevocable transfer of all of a donor’s right, title, and interest in donated funds or property.

Last Reviewed: March 19, 2021

Key point. The word contribution is synonymous with the word gift, and since no gift occurs unless a donor absolutely and irrevocably transfers all title, dominion, and control over the gift, it follows that donors who make an undesignated contribution to a church have no legal right to a refund.

A California court ruled that a church is not obligated to return undesignated contributions to donors absent fraud or mistake.

A church member (the “plaintiff”) sued his church seeking a refund of contribution he had made to the church on the ground that his contributions were “converted” from legitimate church use to the inappropriate and unauthorized expenses including the purchase of a home, furnishings, landscaping, cars, clothes, a swimming pool, a Jacuzzi, and other items. The trial court disagreed, and the member appealed.

A state appeals court noted that the elements ...

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Posted:
  • December 20, 2018
  • Last Reviewed: March 19, 2021

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