Q&A: Charging Money for Special Events

Can we set a ticket price for a church concert?

I am on the board of a 501c3 performing arts organization. We plan to sing a concert in a church. The church insists we put “suggested donation” on our tickets. The ticket price is the fair market value and we don’t consider any part of the ticket price to be a tax-deductible contribution to our organization. The church is under the impression they can only have events on their grounds which are by donation. Is this correct? Does it matter whether we are paying rent for the facility? The church’s children’s choir will be performing with us. Relevant to this issue, does it matter whether we are sharing the income with them? Paying them a fee for their participation?

Nonprofit organizations are not restricted to “for donation only” event entry fees. Like other organizations, they may establish a ticket price for an event and sell tickets at that price. Insisting that the wording “suggested donation” be placed on a ticket implies that a person may obtain a ticket for less than the amount of the “suggested donation” as well as implies that the ticket price might be a donation. Depending on the circumstances, both impressions may be misleading.

The primary concern for nonprofit organizations of all types is to determine if the event furthers the organization’s exempt purposes. If this link can be proven, then the organization may price attendance to the event at a reasonable amount to recover all of the fixed as well as the soft costs associated with the event.

Elaine L. Sommerville is licensed as a certified public accountant by the State of Texas. She has worked in public accounting since 1985.

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