Yes, You Can! How to Set Up Your Public Agency For Fundraising

Heard the one about government agencies not being able to accept monetary donations? For this week’s Innovation Bank, Shelly Simmons, CAWA, debunks that myth. Read her quick tips and listen to the entire recording to learn how Greenville County Animal Care conquered both external and self-imposed barriers to fundraising.

Not sure of the rules? 

“You may have been told by someone that government agencies can’t raise funds,” says Simmons, Greenville County Animal Care’s Division Manager, “but fundraising is not as difficult as you might think. The rules for each city, state, and even county will be different, but there are some general guidelines.”

As a first step, Simmons recommends reaching out to your county or city budget director or treasurer to determine the rules in your area. She also suggests talking to a public agency in your community that is currently accepting donations and find out the steps they took. “That way you’ll be taking into consideration your local and state laws.”

Create a special revenue fund

If you’re at a public agency, you probably know that the most well-known type of revenue fund is the general fund, and this is likely how your budget is funded. “You may also know that if you don’t spend your entire budget, it reverts back to the general fund,” says Simmons. To ensure that donated funds are protected and restricted to their agency’s programs, Greenville County Animal Care set up a special revenue fund to finance and operate smaller-scale projects. 

This kind of fund:

  • will have its own set of books
  • does not revert back to the the general fund

Simmons worked with the county’s budget director to include a statement in the county’s existing budget ordinance that authorized a special revenue fund for the county’s animal care division. 

Keep the Scope of Your Fund Broad

“You will have to define what the fund is for,” says Simmons. “Don’t pigeonhole your agency into one specific use for your donations.” At Greenville County, the Special Revenue Fund has been used for specialized equipment, targeted spay/neuter for community cats, and medical care for owned animals.

Let the Public Know When Their Donations Are Tax-Deductible

Per IRS publication 526, donations made to government agencies can be considered charitable contributions if they are to be used solely for public purpose. That includes programs that benefit the population at large, such as medical services for owned pets and spay/neuter programs. Greenville County puts the following messaging on communications to donors:

For more tips from Simmons—including the benefits of a public-private partnership (i.e. “Friends of..” group) and some tried-and-true fundraising ideas—listen to the complete session, “Raise Money Not Taxes: How to Set Up Your Public Agency for Effective Fundraising.”


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