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Holiday donations–what’s your responsibility?

I’m a store owner and someone approached me recently about putting a donation box near my register for holiday donations. Am I responsible for protecting a food or toy box’s contents from theft or damage? I want to help, but don’t want liability for a charitable act.

Placing a donation box by the cash register is an easy way to engage your customers in supporting popular community causes. Donation boxes and their eventual contents belong to the nonprofit receiving the donations.

Make sure that the organization’s bin is fire- and weather-proof, and difficult to move. I would insist that the nonprofit provide documentation proving that the bin is insured, and would ask for a liability waiver as well.

You should not incur any expenses to host a donation box. Be wary of anyone who asks you to pay maintenance fees for the bin.

Find out from the nonprofit how often someone will come around to check the container. Boxes should be emptied frequently to discourage theft, and food boxes should be emptied at least once a day to discourage vermin. At least two people should be present when counting money.

I can’t imagine someone depraved enough to steal a toy from a child, food from the hungry, or money from the poor, but it does happen. If you have a donation bin in your store and you think someone has stolen from it, immediately contact the police, and then notify the box’s owner.

For many, the holiday season means the return of the Salvation Army red kettles and their classic bell-ringing. Unfortunately, every year a few kettles are stolen.

Who is liable for the money if a kettle is stolen? The Salvation Army has to pay about $300 to replace the kettle, but the real liability is felt by the needy families, seniors and the homeless of our community, who rely on those donations.

Don’t forget that tons of food and groceries are wasted each year, and the Napa Food Bank always welcomes donations. The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act protects you from liability when you donate food to a nonprofit organization, even if what you donated in good faith later causes harm to the needy recipient.

December is a great time to embrace the holiday spirit and give to our neighbors in need. If you are planning to make a charitable donation, be sure that it’s to a reputable charity and that your donation will actually reach its recipient. Only donations to charities on the IRS list of qualified charities are tax-deductible.

Mary Luros is a business law attorney with Hudson & Luros, LLP, in Napa, and can be reached or 418-5118. The information provided here is not intended as legal advice, nor does it form an attorney-client relationship with the author. The author makes no representations as to the reliability or accuracy of the above information. In a perfect world we wouldn’t need disclaimers — or attorneys.

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