Peter Okonski

Gifts in kind offer a ‘fair’ challenge

  • November 2, 2019

A gift in kind to your favourite charity is always good for a tax receipt, but arriving at the gift’s fair market value can be difficult.

Peter Okonski is familiar with the difficulties that arise when someone expects a significant receipt to offset their taxes. He recalls when someone donated what they thought were original drawings by the Spanish Surrealist painter Salvador Dali.

“It turned out not to be,” said Okonski, manager of Planned Giving and Personal Gifts with the Archdiocese of Toronto’s Office of Stewardship and Development.

Likewise, he’s seen cases where someone has picked up a painting they liked at a garage sale, not thinking that the piece was anything of value, just something that caught their eye and gave them pleasure, only to find out it was worth thousands of dollars more than the $5 they parted with that spring weekend so long ago.

“There are both kinds of stories,” said Okonski.

“The worst thing is when the donor thinks he or she is donating something that is extremely valuable then it turns out not to be so.”

It’s best to temper your expectations, said Okonski.

“If you don’t know how much it’s worth, it’s better to expect less and not to expect it’s a da Vinci.”

A sure way to do this is knowing or having a rough idea at the least of what your gift is worth. That could mean getting your gift — be it a piece of art, a car, jewelery, coins or any number of potentially valuable items — appraised yourself before making your donation. That way, said Okonski, there are no surprises.

For the development office, it’s the nature of the beast though that its staff will often have to take on the appraisal process themselves, although the cost is typically covered by the donor. Like most charities, the office has appraisers who will determine the true value of the gift. 

But there are instances where this can be difficult. A recent case that did not involve Okonski inovlved a work of stained glass donated to St. Mary’s Parish in Barrie, Ont. It was a homemade piece, and the donor was the creator who does stain glass as a hobby and not for commercial gain. It raised the issue of just what is fair market value of the piece. 

Canada Revenue Agency rules around such gifts are vague and led to a long process, making its way through the the planning and property, archives and accounting offices of the archdiocese before arriving at a fair value. Questions arose as to how this should be assessed. It may not have a clear fair market value, but there was a cost to making it in labour and materials. And advice from a lawyer said it would be an insult to the hobbyist/donor who selflessly gave his work to the church to have it assessed at a fraction of the cost had he sold it himself.

In the end, it was decided that a market value would be assigned to the tax receipt that was lower than a professional artist might have received but not so low as to be an insulting treatment of the gift.

Such examples show why it is often a good idea to speak with someone from the development office before making a donation, said Okonski. Staff can help people make the right decisions when sharing a gift in kind with the archdiocese, and ultimately can save a donor money. 

Okonski notes the gift of securities as a donation where development office advice can help the donor. Some will redeem the security and donate the proceeds, but Okonski said that could cost them money at tax time. He gives the example of a stock purchased at $1,000 that over the years has grown to be worth $10,000. By cashing it in and donating the proceeds, the donor will be hit with capital gains tax on the stock’s increase in value. But by donating the stock itself, capital gains tax is waived so they will get the full value as a tax receipt.

“The worst thing a person can do is to sell the stock and donate the profits.”

To learn more, contact the development office at (416) 934-3412.

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