Giving directly to international charities can involve a steep learning curve. Legal complexity no doubt was at play in the 2.2% (adjusted for inflation) decline in giving to international affairs in 2019, according to Giving USA. An example of one of the many legal issues with international giving is described in the recently-issued Private Letter Ruling 202119002 involving a domestic private foundation with board members who also serve on the board of the foreign organizations ultimately receiving grants from the domestic private foundation. The IRS decided that the domestic private foundation was not engaged in prohibited self-dealing in this particular case, but the IRS’s discussion in the ruling itself illustrates the complexity of supporting international charities.
The rules surrounding charitable gifts to international causes have been a rollercoaster ride for many years, especially with the expansion of anti-terrorism and foreign investment regulations. A glimmer of hope emerged in September 2017, when the Internal Revenue Service released Revenue Procedure 2017-53, allowing practitioners to at least be able to rely on safe harbor guidance that applies not only to international grants by private foundations, but also to distributions from donor-advised funds at the community foundation.
The team at The Foundation for Enhancing Communities can help you and your clients navigate the options for international giving, ranging from compliance with so-called “expenditure responsibility” to “foreign public charity equivalency.” In most cases, though, we help you and your client find a domestic charitable organization–recognized under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code–that works internationally to address the causes your client cares about. Carrying out global grantmaking in this way through a donor-advised fund helps avoid the pitfalls that your clients might encounter using a private foundation or going it alone.
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