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NPS Donations Policy

Donations to the NPS

Any individual, group, corporation, or association can make a contribution for National Park Service purposes. Donations to the National Park Service are considered donations to the United States under the Internal Revenue Code (IRS Pub 526).

The authority to accept donations has been delegated by the Secretary of the Interior to the Director of the National Park Service. This delegation is shared by the Director or his or her designee, Regional Directors, Managers of the service centers, and Park Superintendents.

The National Park Service Policy Statement, citing 16 USC 6, states that "the Service has the authority to accept donations that are consistent with NPS goals and objectives," and that "donations can be and are accepted to fund portions of any program authorized by law that are funded by appropriations." There are no restrictions other than that donations be used for "the purposes of the national park and monument system." For more specific information on donations see Director's Order 21: Donations and Fundraising July 11, 2008.

Donations cannot be used to pay salaries except for salaries of term or temporary NPS employees and permanent NPS employees engaged in a capital improvement project funded by donations, if the employee normally charges time to project accounts. Further, the Cooperating Associations Guideline (NPS - Director's Order 32, states that cooperating association funds be used only to pay salaries of temporary personnel working on a specfic interpretive, educational or research project and for certain employees of Harpers Ferry Center. When salaries are funded by donations, the funds must be provided to NPS (not to the employee). The funds would then be paid to the employee through the required accounting process. This is one exception to the use of donated funds for salary purposes.

Donations In Lieu Of Fees Are Not Donations

A fee is a payment made for a consideration. Something is received in exchange for a fee. In contrast, a donation, according to Ballentine's Law Dictionary, is "the act by which the owner of a thing voluntarily transfers the title and possession of the same without any consideration." Under this definition of a donation, it is not permissible for a park to waive an existing fee on the condition that the person or entity make a donation. Under these circumstances, money received is not voluntarily given, and it is therefore a fee rather than a donation.

There are times when the Service has the legal authority to charge a fee, but chooses not to do so on a particular occasion, such as NPS Founder's Day or a special park celebration. Under circumstances in which there is a general waiver of fees, donations may be accepted from visitors if they are in fact truly voluntary. Appropriately signed donation boxes are suitable for collecting contributions.

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