Ordinarily, the only way to donate IRA assets during life is by first withdrawing the funds and then donating them. In this case, the donor must declare the withdrawn assets as income and then may take an offsetting charitable deduction for the gift. Depending on the donor's tax situation, the deduction may or may not entirely offset the additional income the donor must report.
In particular, the withdrawn funds are subject to ordinary income tax to the extent that they represent income earned within the IRA account or pre-tax contributions to the IRA (typically 100% of the funds) and to the 10% penalty tax if the owner withdrawing the funds is less than 59 ½ years old.
If the IRA funds are donated outright to charity, the donor will receive an offsetting deduction equal to the value of the donated assets. If the donor is over 59 ½ and the deduction is not limited by the donor's adjusted gross income or the 3% deduction reduction rule, the deduction will exactly offset the ordinary income tax on the IRA assets and the donor will owe no additional tax.
On the other hand, if the IRA funds are used to fund a planned gift, such as a charitable remainder trust or a gift annuity, then the charitable deduction will be less than the value of the assets funding the gift and the donor will owe additional ordinary income tax on the amount by which the value of the IRA assets exceeds the charitable deduction available for the gift. For this reason, donors rarely use IRA assets to fund a planned gift during lifetime.