Donating and gifting to military personnel

Sometimes business people will want to donate their way on to a military base.  They figure that they can gain access to troops and commanders by giving away something of value.

The truth is … you can … and sometimes that is and is not appropriate.

Before we get into the legalities, we’d recommend that first you check your heart.  Wanting to support troops and their families is an amazing thing to do.  It’s worth every penny.  However, if you are only motivated by your bottom line, don’t do it.  It’s not only clear to see and will reflect poorly on you, but it is also manipulative and in poor taste.

Okay, now, let’s say your motivations are pure – you are looking for the win-win.  You would like to support our military, and in turn, you’d like to gain some goodwill for your brand.

The $20 rule

You have likely heard gifts to the military cannot exceed $20.  Yes, and no. 

If you are offering a discount, or any other promotion on your products, or if you have a sweepstakes or prize you are offering every other customer, go right ahead.  Military can win things, and they can use coupons, and more.  If your Military BOGO offer is a $75 savings, and every military person can purchase it … go right ahead.

But, if you want to give a gift to just some military, the amount can’t exceed $20 each time, and over the course of the year, you can’t give more than $50 per person.  These rules apply not only to the service members of any rank, but also family members and government employees.

What constitutes a gift?  According to Federal rules, gifts are favors, discounts to specific individuals, entertainment tickets and access, hospitality and meals, loans, forbearance, or anything else with monetary value. You want to give your base commander your two seats to the Seattle Seahawks?  Nope – too much $$$$$.  Want to give the nurses in the pediatric department at Walter Reed rooms at the Westin … nope.  But, if you would thank those same nurses with a $100 coffee and donut spread, and the money breaks down to $20 or less per nurse, perfectly fine.

Why is this in place?  So you can’t buy your way into government contracts, free advertising, and other ways to get an edge. And, as a special note, you are best to never offer anything, even under $20, to anyone in the government that can influence anything in your company or organization.  Period.  Don’t do it.

Now the exception to the $20 rule

Bulk items can be acceptable, provided they are given to everyone.  For example, if a unit is redeploying home and you want to offer each of them a welcome home gift card for a $100 meal at a local restaurant, that is fine, provided everyone in that unit gets one.  It is legal.  Still, that unit’s lawyers will likely interpret that gift according to their own lens, so don’t be surprised if they say no.  And, if you want to hand out heavy parkas with your logo on it, then the base marketing office, MWR, may want to charge you through an advertising contract.  In other words, while there are rules governing all of this, local bases still have the authority to make their decisions based on how they see things.

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