If contributions to a church fund are earmarked by the donor for a particular
individual, they are treated, in effect, as being gifts to the designated
individual and are not deductible. Therefore, placing a check marked "For
Pastor John Doe" in the donation box would not result in a charitable
gift that was deductible. However, if the church accepted the check, then
it would be obligated to return the check or use it as it was intended.
Now, let's suppose a church member wrote a check and earmarked it
for use to buy new hymn books. Clearly, this is not a donation to an individual
and would benefit the church. What then?
In general, earmarked gifts are not deductible. However, it is possible
to split a few hairs here and arrive at a different result. If the donor
simply mentions the particular purpose, but places the donation in an
envelope clearly marked with language indicating that the church retains
full control over the use of the funds and discretion to spend them in
any way beneficial to the church, then the donor is merely "suggesting"
a use, and the church may or may not choose to use the funds in the manner
suggested. The key is that the church maintains full control over the
funds and may exercise its unfettered discretion in how best to use them
to benefit the church.