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Tax Breaks Fuel Oklahoma Lung Association Used Car Drive

The American Lung Association of Oklahoma is using direct mail and the promise of tax breaks to help raise $100,000 in used car donations.

The nonprofit has sent 20,500 postcards to residents of the greater Tulsa and greater Oklahoma City areas asking them to trade in their used cars, recreational vehicles, motorcycles, boats, vans and trucks in exchange for an opportunity to “help yourself with a potential tax deduction.” The vehicles will be resold to help fund Oklahoma programs ranging from asthma education to air quality in schools to smoking cessation.

The campaign, which began last month, targets households in the middle- to high-income category, which in Oklahoma means $50,000 to $75,000 annually for a family of four.

“People who tend to donate cars are in the middle-high category,”said Peggy Striegel of Striegel and Associates, advertising agency of record for the nonprofit. “Itemized tax returns are of interest to that group. People can trade in their old car and get $3,000 cash for it or get a $5,000 cash deduction, which may be worth more to them.”

A direct mail campaign is unusual for this type of fundraiser, which generally relies on print and broadcast advertising. For the past eight years, the nonprofit has been tracking vehicle donations by ZIP codes, and the direct mail campaign is aimed at people in areas that have been identified as having high-return potential.

“This is a big fundraising effort,” Striegel said. “A good used car can bring in over $2,000. One hundred thousand dollars represents 6 percent of their annual $1.4 million budget.”

The donation must be made by the end of December if donors want to deduct the amount from their 2000 tax returns. But financial gain is not the only reason people donate their used cars. The postcard says that donating a used vehicle is easier than dealing with a used car salesman. The postcard adds, almost as an afterthought, that “you'll also help children and their parents control asthma and other lung diseases.”

To donate, car owners need only to call a toll-free number. The lung association will arrange to have the car picked up, evaluate the vehicle's worth and send the donor a tax receipt for the Internal Revenue Service, said Kay Todd, president of the American Lung Association of Oklahoma.

“It really is a very streamlined system that is good for the donor and for the people we serve,” Todd said.

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