The following question was recently posted on the UUmoney listserv:
“Is there a best way for a church to receive the donation of a car and turn it into cash?”

While that’s an intriguing question, a better question might be, “Should a church accept donation of a car?”

Ideally, a congregation has anticipated this second question and has written a clear endowment document. This document provides written policies for a planned giving program and clearly describes what types of gifts can be accepted without review and which gifts require approval of the governing body or the entire congregation.

It is especially helpful to outline a procedure for reviewing gifts of real estate, used cars, or other personal assets that may be difficult to sell. Does the congregation really want to be in the business of managing a piece of real estate, or brokering a deal on a donated car, or assessing the value of Aunt Maude’s priceless bric-a-brac?

It is perfectly acceptable, and even advisable, to refuse a gift if it will distract the congregation from its primary vision and mission. It is also advisable to decline acceptance of a gift that might expose the congregation to expenses or liabilities that could pose a hardship on the financial resources of the congregation.

Chapter nine in Beyond Fundraising provides complete information about creating an endowment fund and instituting a vital planned giving program. The chapter is designed in a way that a congregation can cut and paste the information to customize it to their particular needs. Recreating the wheel is not required!

About the Author
Wayne Clark


  1. Chalicechick

    Ask the congregant if they will give the car to a charity that takes cars and split the tax deduction with you. If the tax deduction is the point, the answer will be “no,” but at least you won’t have a used car you won’t know what to do with.

  2. Masasa

    I get what you are saying.

    All that said, the best car I ever owned was an old but low mileage Dodge Aries (they only made those for a few years) that I bought in 2001 for just $800 from a Methodist church in Seattle.

    The owner of the car was in a nursing home, and I got the feeling that the congregation’s acceptance of her donation of the car was as much a ministry to her as anything. She didn’t want to give the car to “just anybody,” and felt the church could find it a “good home” while benefiting financially :-).

    When the air conditioner was on, the car leaked, and the paint job was wanting, but it actually *had* air condition, it had barely been driven, was in excellent driving condition, ran great, and likely would lasted me for years had I not been rear ended less than a year later. I think the congregation sold it for just a little under blue book. They probably could have gotten a little more for it then they asked, but the church got rid of it very fast, and they had more money than when they started.

    Oh, and I was very poor (the $800 itself was hard) and there was no way I could have otherwise afforded a car. I really needed one because I was moving somewhere with an awful bus system, so it was a ministry to me too :-). We found out about the car through the minister at our own church.

    I would say, churches might be wise not to get in the used car business (unless, I suppose, they find a great way to get money for the cars no matter what they are worth — I don’t see that as all that much different than an annual church auction — or I suppose if there is a trusted member of the congregation who enjoys storing cars, managing the sales, and all that). But sometimes rules are made to be broken, for the ministry end of it :-).

    Besides, I think we are heading into a new economy. Churches are going to need to get creative. I think sometime in the next 50 years, starting as early as 10-20 or so years from now, we will have to base our financial functioning on rules entirely different from the last 50 years or so. Trades may indeed be a part of our future, whether we like it or not :-).


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