Because donations to charity of cash or property generally are tax deductible (if you itemize), it only seems logical that the donation of something even more valuable to you — your time — would also be deductible. Unfortunately, that is not the case; however, you can potentially deduct out-of-pocket costs associated with your volunteer work.

The basic rules

As with any charitable donation, for you to be able to deduct your volunteer expenses, the first requirement is that the organization be a qualified charity. You can use the IRS’s Tax Exempt Organization Search tool to find out.

Assuming the charity is qualified, you may be able to deduct out-of-pocket costs that are:

Supplies, uniforms and transportation

A wide variety of expenses can qualify for the deduction. For example, supplies you use in the activity may be deductible. As well as, the cost of a uniform you must wear during the activity may also be deductible (if it is required and not something you wear when not volunteering).

Transportation costs to and from the volunteer activity generally are deductible, either the actual cost or 14 cents per charitable mile driven, but you have to be the volunteer. If, say, you drive your elderly mother to the nature center where she is volunteering, you cannot deduct the cost.

You also cannot deduct transportation costs you would incur even if you were not volunteering. For example, if you take a commuter train downtown to work, then walk to a nearby volunteer event after work and take the train back home afterwards, you will not be able to deduct your train fares. But, if you take a cab from work to the volunteer event, then you potentially can deduct the cab fare for that leg of your transportation.

Volunteer travel

Transportation costs may also be deductible for out-of-town travel associated with volunteering. This can include:

Lodging and meal costs also might be deductible.

The key to deductibility is that there is no significant element of personal pleasure, recreation or vacation in the travel. That said, according to the IRS, the deduction for travel expenses will not be denied simply because you enjoy providing services to the charitable organization. But you must be volunteering in a genuine and substantial sense throughout the trip. If only a small portion of your trip involves volunteer work, your travel expenses generally will not be deductible.

Volunteer Time

Donations of time or services are not deductible. It does not matter if it is simple administrative work, such as checking in attendees at a fundraising event, or if it is work requiring significant experience. Regardless of the service being costlier to the charity if it had to pay for it, such as skilled carpentry or legal counsel, this volunteered time is still not deductible.

Keep careful records

The IRS may challenge charitable deductions for out-of-pocket costs, so it is important to keep careful records. If you have questions about what volunteer expenses are and are not deductible, please contact your tax adviser.

Charitable giving may help some filers reduce tax liability, particularly for high-income earners or those who have itemize deductions in excess of the new standard deduction. This 18 minute webinar shares a brief overview of tax reform and illustrates three approaches to planning for charitable giving.

With the end of the year on the horizon, your supporters may be thinking about making charitable contributions they can deduct on their 2017 federal tax returns. If a nonprofit wants to keep donors on its side, it needs to explain that different types of donations can carry different tax benefits and that some donations are not deductible at all.

What can be deducted?

Generally, donors can deduct contributions of money or property. The amount of the allowable deduction varies based on the type of donation:

Cash. Cash donations are 100% deductible, including donations made by check, credit card or payroll deduction.

Ordinary income property. Donations of this type are generally limited to the donor’s tax basis in the property (usually the amount the donor paid for it). Specifically, donors can deduct the property’s fair market value less the amount that would be ordinary income or short-term capital gains if they sold the property at fair market value (FMV).

Property is ordinary income property when the donor recognizes ordinary income or short-term capital gains if he or she sold it at FMV on the date of donation. Examples include inventory, donor-created works of art, and capital assets (for example, stocks and bonds) held for one year or less.

Capital gains property. Donors of capital gains property can usually deduct the property’s fair market value. Property is considered capital gains property if the donor would have recognized long-term capital gains had he or she sold it at FMV on the donation date. This includes capital assets held more than one year. But there are certain situations where only the donor’s tax basis of the property may be deducted, such as when the donation is intellectual property (for instance, a patent or copyright) or, interestingly, “certain taxidermy property.”

Tangible personal property. As the name implies, tangible personal property can be seen or touched. Examples include furniture, books, jewelry and paintings. If your nonprofit uses the donated property for its tax-exempt purpose — for example, a museum displays a donated painting — the donor can deduct its fair market value. But if the property is put to an unrelated use — for example, a nonprofit children’s hospital sells the donated painting at its charitable auction — the deduction is limited to the donor’s basis in the property.

Vehicles. Generally, if a vehicle has an FMV greater than $500, the donor can deduct the lesser of the gross proceeds from its sale by the organization or the FMV on the donation date. But if the nonprofit uses the vehicle to carry out its tax-exempt purpose — for instance, an animal welfare organization that uses a donated van to transport rescued dogs and cats — the donor can deduct the FMV. Make sure you provide Form 1098-C, which your donor must attach to his or her tax return to take the deduction.

Use of property. Say a supporter donates a one-week stay at his vacation home for an auction. Unfortunately, he cannot take a deduction because generally only donations of the full ownership interest in property are deductible. The right to use property is considered a contribution of less than the donor’s entire interest in the property. But there are some situations in which a donor can receive a deduction for a partial-interest donation, such as with a qualified conservation easement.

Donors also might want to claim a deduction for the donation of their services, such as when a hair stylist donates one free haircut and color for your auction, or a graphic designer lays out each issue of your quarterly newsletter for free. These types of donations are not deductible as contributions, only as normal costs of doing business. But the related out-of-pocket costs, such as supplies and miles driven for charitable purposes (14 cents per mile), are deductible as charitable contributions.

Help donors help you out

Be aware that there are additional limits on charitable deductions. Proposed tax law changes could also affect charitable deductions, though most likely not for 2017. So keep an eye on federal developments in Washington.

While tax education may seem beyond your responsibility, you cannot afford disgruntled donors. Taking the time to make sure your donors understand the tax implications of their gifts can avoid unpleasant surprises down the road, and keep donors on board as long-term supporters.


What other limits apply to charitable deductions?

As you probably know, there’s a limit to the amount of charitable deductions a taxpayer can claim in a given year. The taxpayer’s total deduction generally cannot exceed 50% of his or her adjusted gross income (AGI). (A higher limit applies for certain qualified conservation contributions.) But donations of capital gains property are generally limited to 30% of AGI.

In some cases, the limits are even lower. For example, deductions for contributions to certain private foundations, veterans’ organizations, fraternal societies and cemetery organizations are limited to 30% of AGI. And capital gains property contributions to such organizations are limited to 20% of AGI.

Donations to qualified charities are generally fully deductible, and they may be the easiest deductible expense to time to your tax advantage. After all, you control exactly when and how much you give. To ensure your donations will be deductible on your 2016 return, you must make them by year end to qualified charities. 

When’s the delivery date?

To be deductible on your 2016 return, a charitable donation must be made by Dec. 31, 2016. According to the IRS, a donation generally is “made” at the time of its “unconditional delivery.” But what does this mean? Is it the date you, for example, write a check or make an online gift via your credit card? Or is it the date the charity actually receives the funds — or perhaps the date of the charity’s acknowledgment of your gift?
The delivery date depends in part on what you donate and how you donate it. Here are a few examples for common donations:

Is the organization “qualified”?

To be deductible, a donation also must be made to a “qualified charity” — one that’s eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions. 
The IRS’s online search tool, Exempt Organizations (EO) Select Check, can help you more easily find out whether an organization is eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions. You can access EO Select Check at  Information about organizations eligible to receive deductible contributions is updated monthly.
Many additional rules apply to the charitable donation deduction, so please contact us if you have questions about the deductibility of a gift you’ve made or are considering making. But act soon — you don’t have much time left to make donations that will reduce your 2016 tax bill.


Planning on making charitable donations before the end of the year?

If you are, you should know that a charitable contribution of long-term appreciated securities — i.e. stocks, bonds and/or mutual funds that have realized significant appreciation over time — is one of the most tax-efficient ways to give.  The IRS has generous rules governing the treatment of charitable donations of appreciated securities, increasing the popularity of this method of giving in recent years. By simultaneously allowing you to maximize your charitable impact and minimize taxes incurred, this best of both worlds situation provides you with greater flexibility in planning how to utilize your charitable resources.

Key Advantages

Donating long-term appreciated securities directly to charity — rather than selling the assets and then donating the cash proceeds — has two key advantages:

The Basic Rules

The general rule when contributing to public charities is that taxpayers are allowed to take a deduction for the full FMV of donated securities, held for a period greater than one year, rather than deducting only their basis in the property. This deduction is allowed for up to 30% of the donor’s adjusted gross income (AGI). The best part is that the taxpayer does not have to recognize, or pay taxes resulting from, any gain in value on the donated security. This essentially allows you to take the same amount of deduction as you would if you had sold securities and donated the cash proceeds, but without being taxed on the gain resulting from the sale of appreciated assets. Also, deductions from FMV contributions allowed for regular tax purposes are not decreased for computing alternative minimum tax.

Donations to Private Foundations 

The rules are slightly different when the contribution is made to a private foundation. Donations to private foundations, other than private operating foundations, must consist of “qualified appreciated stock.” Donations of publically traded securities with a holding period greater than one year, such as stocks that do not exceed 10% in value of the corporation’s total outstanding stock, shares in mutual funds and American Depository Shares (ADSs)  generally meet the requirements to be considered qualified appreciated stock. The primary requirement is that the items are actively traded and/or the value of these items is readily available through an established securities market.
Please feel free to contact us and we can help you to maximize your charitable impact during this holiday season and beyond.