We held a fundraising auction. Some patrons paid more than the value of the items. Can I issue charitable donation receipts?

Only under specific circumstances.

Charitable donation receipts can be issued only for gifts. They cannot be issued for purchases of goods or services. Your auction patrons have bought something; that’s different from an outright gift. (Here’s the citation from the CRA website).

In the case where an auction patron has paid more than the fair market value of the item, a charitable donation receipt can be issued for the portion of the auction price in excess of fair market value if these three conditions are fulfilled:

  1. It must be possible to determine the item’s fair market value
  2. The value must be posted before the start of the auction
  3. The fair market value cannot exceed 80% of the purchase price

Here are two references to CRA articles that discuss receipting:

To restate point #3 in a different but equivalent way, the buyer must pay 25% (or more) over the fair market value of the item.

Let’s say one of your auction items is a camera with a fair market value of $400. In order to qualify for a charitable donation receipt, the successful bidder must pay at least $500. If you do the math, you’ll find the $400 fair market value is 80% of $500. A $500 successful bid is 25% over the $400 FMV.

If the successful bidder paid you $500 for the camera, they would be entitled to a charitable donation receipt for $100, the amount in excess of fair market value.

What if the bidder paid more than $400 but not quite as much as $500? Well, if they fail to meet the test, then they’ve just bought themselves a very expensive camera! In the CRA’s eyes, that 80% rule is the threshold for establishing that a donation has been made.