Be careful if you donate to charity for a specific purpose

Bernard and Jeanne Adler donated $50,000 to an animal shelter in their hometown of Princeton, N.J. The gift was to finance a new structure for large dogs and older cats (whose prospects for adoption are limited), and the structure was to be named for the Adlers.

Before construction began, however, the shelter merged with another organization. After the merger, the new organization announced plans to build a smaller structure in another town, without specific facilities for large dogs and older cats and without naming anything for the Adlers.

The Adlers went to court and demanded that the shelter return their $50,000 gift.

The shelter argued that it had fulfilled the Adlers’ intent as well as it could under its changed circumstances. But an appeals court said that didn’t matter – the Adlers had made the gift with specific conditions, and if the conditions weren’t met, the charity had to return the funds.

The moral of the story is that if you’re making a charitable gift and you intend for the money to be used for a specific purpose, this needs to be very clearly spelled out in a contract or gift agreement, so that you have legal recourse if the charity takes your money and uses it for something else.