So yesterday I got home from a ninth-grade basketball game to find an envelope from a certain Hindu Mandir (temple) in northern California. This didn't surprise me; in fact, I'm surprised more booksellers don't put me on mailing lists of one kind of another, the way you buy one thing from some companies and they, along with like merchants, inundate you for years. Anyway, I assumed they were doing a fundraiser, or promoting some new stuff, and were doing a mailing to all their previous customers.
Interestingly, such was not the case. It was a personalized letter thanking me for my "participation in the Mandir, and for all the beautiful blessings you shared with us throughout the year." Well, thanks, but it was the least I could do. Then there was a specific thanks for my "donations," a reminder of their tax deductibility, and their tax ID number for use in declaring it.
Now, the only contact I have ever had, in any way, with these people, is that earlier this year I bought a single book from their store through the Amazon Marketplace. The amount of my "donations" listed in the letter is the same as what I paid for this book.
Oddly, the letter includes in the statement "No product or service was given in exchange." I think that's because the IRS code says (among other very dull things) that "There is generally no donative element involved in a visitor's purchase from a museum gift shop." Then there's a lot of stuff about if you donate over so much and get such and such goods and services back (which makes me think of pledge week on PBS), the charity has to give some special statement, and my "donations" would be too small to be concerned with there.
But to the untrained eye, it doesn't really look it should be deductible at all. Either way, the notion that "no product ... was given in exchange" is absurd, since our only relationship was of a product given in exchange.
Either they're on the sly side here, or they're just too ethereal to keep the revenue streams separate. Since I was a girl who grew up in the seventies, I can't help being skeptical of California gurus, unfair as that is to what I'm sure are perfectly sincere Swamijis who just like the nicer climate...