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Nonprofit Law/Question on Non-Profit


My daughter Tori has worked as a volunteer with the Campus Crusade organization (Cru) at the university where she attends for the past two years.  She was recently asked to consider going on mission trip (they call it a Summer Mission Project) to work with inner city school children.  One of the details for being able to go was she would need to raise monetary support in the amount of $3495 before May 23.  She was able to raise about $1100 towards this amount from friends and family but after discussion with the project coordinator she has decided she will not be able to raise the remaining amount in time and will not be able to participate.  She had already turned in about $975 to the organization, $200 of which was a non-refundable deposit.  She asked about getting the other $775 back so she could return it to the people that had given the money to her so she could go.  She was told that that money could not be refunded due to the organization's non-profit status.  I just need to know what the law actually is regarding this money so I know that this organization is not keeping money that can be and should be returned since it was given specifically for my daughter's participation in the mission trip.

First I would need to look at any written agreement (contract) between your daughter and the Campus Crusade.  I am assuming that your daughter has attained to majority age (18).  Let me know if she has not. Also I am assuming there is no written or oral agreement about refunds.

The statement of the organization that money can not be refunded due to the organization's nonprofit status is not based upon any federal or state law.  In fact, most legitimate 501(c)(3) organization's give back money upon request, especially when the money has been donated.

    Please see which is an article "The
Importance of Respecting Donor Wishes" from, which
"is the leading source of information about U.S. nonprofits"

    In that story about its February of 2005 "Question of the
Month", Guidestar asked nonprofit leaders, "Should charities be
able to use earmarked donations (those given for a specific purpose
or program) for other things?" The answer was a resounding "No" (
65%). For example, Mary Ferrell of the Fairmount Park Conservancy
...spoke for many in the "No" camp when she asserted, "Ack! This is
fundamental to the trust people have in our sector! We do what the
donor tells us with their money, or we send it back to them.

If your daughter wants the refund she should send a letter to the organization, certified mail, requesting the refund and cite to the above. If she does not receive the refund within a reasonable period of time, she should file a claim in small claims court.  Her claim would be based upon what is called unjust enrichment and the small claims court would be able to
decide on the matter, but, generally, the claim under unjust enrichment would not apply if there is a contract that addresses the issue of refunds.

I also suggest that your daughter present to the organization the facts in a chronological manner, including the fact that the organization's requirement for her to raise funds, in exchange for a mission trip, means that the funds given are probably not going to be treated by the IRS as charitable donations that may be deductible by the donors. See
starting in the middle of page 18 as to missionary programs down to the end, on page 26.  The approved program starts on page 21.

If they are not "donations", then the IRS treats the requirement for your daughter to give $3495 as a simple requirement for goods and/or services, like a travel agency's requirement for funds to enable someone to travel and stay in another country.

Harvey Mechanic
Attorney at Law

P.S. This response is intended to be a general statement of law, should not be relied upon as legal advice and does not create an attorney/client relationship.

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Harvey Mechanic


I am an attorney and I volunteer time to answer general questions about U.S. Federal income tax issues of nonprofit 501(c)(3) public charities only. Those questions could be about establishing and maintaining legal requirements for such non-profit organizations in the United States, including Internal Revenue service filings and requirements. I will not be working on this free forum to answer questions about Nonprofit's possible unrelated or for-profit businesses or how to fill out forms. This forum is only for general questions about federal tax law, not as the law applies to your specific situation. If you do not make your question public then I will not be spending much of my donated time on answers that would not benefit the public. If you have other questions, please contact me at I will reply from my email. In any case, do not reveal confidential information to me until after I have contracted with you to provide personal legal services. My responses on this forum are intended to be general statements of law, should not be relied upon as legal advice, and do not create an attorney/client relationship. For me to consider your individual situation and how the law applies, I would need to gather extensive information about the situation. To search my previous answers you can do a Google search by "" without the quotes and then add your search terms before hitting enter.


I have been practicing law and especially the law of nonprofit organizations since 1990 when I was admitted to the New York Bar and I have maintained my status with the Bar since that time.


B.S. Columbia University in New York City, 1970

J.D. (Law Degree) Brooklyn Law School, 1990 -- Cum Laude.

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