Charitable Contributions

  • A receipt, official acknowledgment – contemporaneous written acknowledgement (CWA) issued by the charity is required to be in your possession before, absolutely before, timely filing your tax return or before the due date of filing your tax return (which ever comes first) in order to allow you to take a tax deduction.  😐
    • and for per §170(f)(8)(B)(ii) contributions in excess of $249.99, the receipt or official acknowledgment must, must, must state that no goods or services were provided in consideration for the contribution made (or state the dollar value that was provided and that is not deductible).  😐
      • §170(f)(8)(B) it must show: the amount and description (but not the value) of the donation; whether the charity provided anything in return; the value of what was provided or that the value was of an intangible religious nature.
      • TC Memo 2016-53 the CWA was dated in June, two months after the tax return was filed. Deduction denied!
      • Second argument: on the land records there was a possible substitute for the CWA. There was contemporaneous evidence of the donation on the deed that was filed. But the deed did not indicate that that “no goods or services were provided.”  Deduction denied!
      • TC Memo 2012-140 CWA did not say “no goods or services were provided” and a substitute 2nd CWA was not in the taxpayers’ hands contemporaneously.  Deduction denied!
    • A controversial proposal that could have eliminated the CWA requirement was withdrawn by the IRS on January 8, 2016.
  • For monetary donations under $250, a canceled check payable to the charity, that is deposited and cleared during the year, may serve as a receipt. 🙂
  • Cash (currency) donations without a receipt are not deductible. 🙁
  • Clothing and household items left for “Goodwill” without retaining a receipt, are not deductible. 🙁
  • Donations by C-corporations are severely limited, 🙁 therefore most charitable giving should be done by individuals, via Form 1040 as an itemized deduction on Schedule A (donations through partnerships, S-corporations, LLC’s may also be passed through to Form 1040, Schedule A). 🙂

Make sure that you receive a contemporaneous written acknowledgment that includes all three of these items:

  1. the amount of cash contributed or a description (but not value) of any property other than cash contributed
    • if the property value is stated by the taxpayer as more than $5,000, a qualified appraisal must also be submitted
  2. the date of the contribution
  3. whether the charitable organization provided any goods or services in consideration for the property or cash received, and, if they did provide anything, the value of the goods or services that the charity provided.

The contemporaneous written acknowledgement must be received prior to the earlier of the filing of the tax return for the year in which the charitable contribution is made and the due date for the return (including any extensions).

If you fail to obtain the acknowledgement timely, or if the acknowledgment does not contain the “no goods or services” language (or a qualified appraisal, if required), then upon audit, your contribution will be completely disallowed, even if you have proof that the charity received the contribution.

Brief summary for non-monetary donations (such as clothing or household items given to Goodwill, for example)
Non-monetary donations must be in “good used condition or better” and must be documented with a receipt showing the charity name, date, description and value. 😐

If the total of non-monetary donations for the year is under $500.01, then just the charity name(s) and value is shown on the tax return. 🙂

If the total of non-monetary donations for the year is over $500 and under $5,000.01 then more information must be listed: full address of the charity and a description on how the current value was determined (independent appraisal, looking at comparable sales, using the thrift shop value or…) 🙁

If the total of non-monetary donations for the year is over $500 and under $5,000.01 and any individual charity receipt is over $500 then additionally for that receipt, more information must be listed: age of the donated property, original cost and how the items were originally acquired. 🙁 🙁

Over $5,000 per item or group of related items requires an appraiser to sign your tax return and the charity also needs to sign the tax return, as well as other requirements. Please contact your CPA to discuss before making such a large donation to make sure all requirements needed to be done ahead of time are understood. 🙁 🙁 🙁

There is an exception: the appraiser and charity signatures are not required for donations of marketable securities held over one year. 🙂

Note: For a donation of marketable securities that were held less than one year, the deduction is limited to your cost or the FMV on the day of the transfer, whichever is lower – which is the same rule for all non-monetary donations. 🙁

See IRS Form 8283 and see IRS Form 8283 Instructions

Note: For more restrictive rules regarding a tax deduction from the donation of your motor vehicle, artwork, collectables, real estate, or boat, see additional information further below. 🙁 🙁 🙁

Marketable securities, held longer than one year:
If held in an IRA and the taxpayer is older than 70 and he may donate up to $100,000 from the IRA directly to a qualifying charity. This method can be preferable because counts as the annual RMD and it does not cause AGI to increase along with an increase in itemized deductions.

If you hold the marketable securities personally, outside of a retirement plan and you have a paper gain on the position, consider donating these securities in lieu of donating money. This method can be preferable because it does not cause AGI to increase along with an increase in itemized deductions and you do not have to pay capital gains tax on the paper gains.

If you hold the marketable securities personally, outside of a retirement plan and you have a paper loss on the position, then do not donate these securities in lieu of donating money. Rather sell the securities, take the capital loss and then donate the net proceeds to charity.

What donations are tax deductible?

To get a charitable tax deduction, your donations generally need to be made to a non-profit §501(c)(3) charitable organization.

Donations to most churches and religious organizations give you a charitable deduction.

Every non-profit organization (also called NPO or not-for-profit) is not necessarily a §501(c)(3) charity. For example, donations to not-for-profit sports associations or not-for-profit professional associations are usually not tax-deductible.

Conversely, all §501(c)(3) charities are not necessarily considered “non-profit.” For example, is a for-profit charitable organization.

Most not-for-profit lobbying groups and political campaigns do not qualify you for a charitable deduction on your donations.

When donations are tax deductible?

Starting with 2007 A donor must receive any required acknowledgment from the charity by the earlier of: the date on which the donor actually files his or her individual federal income tax return for the year of the contribution; or the due date (including extensions) of the return. Meaning, for example, that waiting until an IRS audit to then ask the charity for a receipt, technically, permanently disallows the tax deduction, by definition.

Requirements – 16-page IRS booklet (Publication 1771)

Rules for deducting Charatible Contributions (23-page Publication 526)

Determining the Value of Donated Property (15-page Publication 561)

Update of the old 1982 Rules for Contributors (4-page Revenue Procedure 2011-33)

Year-End Planning For Charitable Gifts

Nine Tips for Charitable Taxpayers

If you make a donation to a charity this year, you may be able to take a deduction for it on your 2011 tax return. Here are the top nine things the IRS wants every taxpayer to know before deducting charitable donations.

  1. Make sure the organization qualifies Charitable contributions must be made to qualified organizations to be deductible. You can ask any organization whether it is a qualified organization or check IRS Publication 78, Cumulative List of Organizations. It is available at
  2. You must itemize Charitable contributions are deductible only if you itemize deductions using Form 1040, Schedule A.
  3. What you can deduct You generally can deduct your cash and monetary contributions and the fair market value of most property you held over one year and that you donate to a qualified organization. Special rules apply to several types of donated property, including clothing or household items, marketable securities, artwork, collectables, real estate, cars and boats.
  4. When you receive something in return If your contribution entitles you to receive merchandise, goods, or services in return – such as admission to a charity banquet or sporting event – you can deduct only the amount that exceeds the fair market value of the benefit received.
  5. Recordkeeping Keep good records of any contribution you make, regardless of the amount. For any cash or monetary contribution, you must maintain a record of the contribution, such as a cancelled check, bank or credit card statement, payroll deduction record or a written statement from the charity containing the date and amount of the contribution and the name of the organization.
  6. Pledges and payments Only contributions actually made during the tax year are deductible. For example, if you pledged $500 in September but paid the charity only $200 by Dec. 31, you can only deduct $200.
  7. Donations made near the end of the year Include credit card charges and payments by check in the year you give them to the charity, even though you may not pay the credit card bill or have your bank account debited until the next year.
  8. Large donations:
    1. For any contribution of $250 or more, you need more than a bank record. You must have a written acknowledgment from the organization. It must include the amount of money donated and pursuant to §170(f)(8)(B)(ii) it must say whether the organization provided any goods or services in exchange for the gift. If you donated property, the acknowledgment must include a description of the items and a good faith estimate of its value. Also see 1993. See P.L. 103-66, Sec. 13172(a).
    2. For items valued at $500 or more you must complete a Form 8283, Noncash Charitable Contributions, and attach the form to your return.
    3. If you claim a deduction for a contribution of non-monetary property worth more than $5,000, you generally must obtain an appraisal and complete Section B of Form 8283 with your return.
  9. Tax Exemption Revoked Approximately 275,000 organizations automatically lost their tax-exempt status recently because they did not file required annual reports for three consecutive years, as required by law. Donations made prior to an organization’s automatic revocation remain tax-deductible. Going forward, however, organizations that are on the auto-revocation list that do not receive reinstatement are no longer eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions.

For the list of organizations whose tax-exempt status was revoked, visit For general information see IRS Publication 526, Charitable Contributions, and for information on determining value, refer to Publication 561, Determining the Value of Donated Property. These publications are available at or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

Some older information that still has value follows:

This is a charities’ organizational annual Date Of Gift message:

In the United States the IRS does not require any date of gift on acknowledgments/receipts. In Canada two dates are required: the date you received the gift and the date you printed the receipt. NOWHERE IS A “DATE OF GIFT” REQUIRED IN EITHER COUNTRY. In the most recent version of IRS Publication 1771, however, the IRS does imply or suggest to provide a “date of the contribution.” My personal preference, however, remains “date processed.” The acceptability of reflecting a processed date has been confirmed with the IRS.

We are often faced with the dilemma of donors sending in last minute end-of-year contributions and being frustrated when they get a receipt mentioning a “gift date” in January. I would be too. In fact, it is not the donee’s responsibility to assign a date of gift. That responsibility clearly falls on the donor. Were you, as a donee, to state a gift date on a receipt you could, in theory, be required to produce evidence supporting that date during an IRS audit of one of your donors. Stating gift dates on receipts would necessitate your keeping envelopes with postmarks, for example, for the required IRS statute of limitations. That is why the only time I suggest mentioning a gift date is for gifts of securities IF you feel like providing a value for them (not required per IRS Publication 1771 as securities are gifts of property). However, if you choose to do so, make sure that you include a disclaimer advising the donor that the value – and date – are being used for internal purposes only and to seek official guidance from their tax advisor. My suggested receipt language for these instances is as follows:

“Thank you for your gift of X shares of Y stock, which we have valued for our internal purposes only at $Z as of MM/DD/YY. For tax purposes you will want to seek guidance from a tax professional in determining your deductible amount.”

Duke University, during my nearly 15 years there, rarely received a complaint from a donor about showing a processed date and not a gift date. The phone calls literally went away 15 years ago when, for the first two weeks of January, Duke began including the following message on receipts in lieu of the normal fund, department, or school-based message and/or signature (I believe Duke no longer even needs to add this reminder):

“May we remind you that the date above reflects when we processed your gift, and does not imply the date your gift was made. While you should consult with your CPA or tax preparer to determine the tax consequences of your donation, the date you delivered or mailed your donation is generally recognized as the gift date. The determination of the contribution date is entirely your decision. Should you have any questions concerning this matter, please contact me.”

Don’t get caught up trying to ascertain gift dates for your donors. But, since I am asked “When is a gift a gift?” every year, here are some common answers, and misconceptions:

The date on the check HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH REALITY. It’s not a legal date of anything. Why some institutions find a need to record this date in their system is unclear (although many software packages include this field). Entering this date is a waste of time, IMHO, and certainly cannot be used to represent the date of gift, the date received, or the date processed. To save data input efforts, and to standardize gift processing, the only date I suggest you reflect for most gifts is the date the gift was entered on your system – which is usually automatically inserted – hence the phrase “processed date” recommendation I offer.

The customary “legal” date of gift for mailed contributions is the date of postmark. This, however, is not true for metered mail. Nor does a postmark reflect the legal date of gift for some other non-cash forms of gifts like credit card payments and stock donations. For credit cards, regardless of when or how the donor tells you to debit their account, the legal gift date is the date the charge hits their account. For stock, things get a bit more complicated. If the donor mails it in, the gift date is the later of the two USPS (not metered) postmarks for the certificate and stock power. If DTCed, it’s the date of DTC and NOT THE DATE THE DONOR TOLD THEIR BROKER TO TRANSFER THE GIFT. For the gift to be consummated the stock MUST be registered in your name or in the control of you or your legal agent.

For items sent via third parties, like FedEx and UPS, the gift date is the date you sign for, or take into your possession, the package, not the date it was sent (a donor can recall items “mailed” this way until you have signed for it – thus the item is still in their control until control is yours).

From Crescendo regarding gifts by check: “These “check” rules apply despite the fact taxpayers could hypothetically stop payment on the check and negate the actual gift. One word of caution: postdated checks are not deductible when hand delivered or mailed. A postdated check is a promise to pay in the future and, thus, not deductible at time of delivery.”

From Crescendo regarding credit card gifts: “Gifts by credit card are deductible in the year when the charges are made on the card owner’s account.”

From Crescendo regarding electronic delivery of stock gifts (dealing with a broker not acting on a transfer request when it is made): “Stocks are frequently transferred by electronic delivery. For instance, stocks are usually held in “street accounts” with financial services firms. While a taxpayer may irrevocably instruct his or her broker to

transfer the stock to charity, the gift is not complete until the stock is delivered to the charity’s account. This means that the gift date for tax purposes may be days and possibly even weeks after the taxpayer’s instructions to transfer. This poses a potential problem to last minute charitable contributions.”

I hope everyone has a happy holiday season and few, if any, frustrated donors! Feel free to call/write if you have specific questions. A more “official” source than me for this topic is IRS Publication 526 as well as IRS Publication 1771.

Verify IRS qualifying charities here or here.

Look up charities at: GuideStar and BBB’s and Charity Navigator.

IRS Publication 78, Lists of Charitable Organizations

Eligible Organizations

Other Eligible Donees

Salvation Army Donation Valuation Guide

Salvation Army Value Guide

A/N Group Valuation Guide

Goodwill Valuation Guide


New rules effective 2006/2007
New limitations in deducting donations to charity were enacted August 17, 2006 (for tax years beginning after this date i.e. 2007).

Monetary, cash-money donations of any amount are no longer deductible unless you have a written communications from the charity indicating the dollar amount of the donation and the date received. This marks an end of claiming that a taxpayer put $20 cash “in the basket” on Sunday, the cash dropped into the Salvation Army bucket, or cash contributed to organizations knocking on your front door..

Recordkeeping. For any contribution of money, regardless of the amount, you must maintain as a record of the contribution a bank record (such as a canceled check) or a written record from the charity. The written record must include the name of the charity, date, and amount of the contribution. Do not attach the record to your tax return. Instead, keep it with your other tax records.

A special rule allows taxpayers older than 70½ to make donations during 2006 & 2007 directly from their IRAs without increasing their AGI.

Other Than by Cash or Check
Enter your contributions of property. If you gave used items, such as clothing or furniture, deduct their fair market value at the time you gave them. Fair market value is what a willing buyer would pay a willing seller when neither has to buy or sell and both are aware of the conditions of the sale. For more details on determining the value of donated property, see Pub. 561.

If the amount of your deduction is more than $500, you must complete and attach Form 8283. For this purpose, the “amount of your deduction” means your deduction before applying any income limits that could result in a carryover of contributions. If you deduct more than $500 for a contribution of a motor vehicle, boat, or airplane, you must also attach a statement from the charitable organization to your return. The organization may use Form 1098-C to provide the required information. If your total deduction is over $5,000, you may also have to get appraisals of the values of the donated property. This amount is $500 for certain contributions of clothing and household items (see below). See Form 8283 and its instructions for details.

In 2003 donations of clothing to charity amounted to 48% of all donations reported on IRS Form 8283. The figure probably is even higher considering that in 2003 non-cash donations totally under $500 were not require to be listed on Form 8283. Clothing items are is no longer deductible unless they are in “good” condition or better. Household items (furniture, home electronic, kitchen appliances, linens, etc) must also be in “good” condition or better.

Special rules encouraging contributions of inventories of food and books are extended through 2007 for all businesses, not just regular C corporations.

The Act increases certified appraiser accountability by strengthening penalties for substantial overstatements of valuations of property used for charitable donation, gift tax and estate purposes.

  • no deduction is allowed for charitable contributions of clothing and household items if such items are not in good used condition or better;
  • the IRS may deny a deduction for any item with minimal monetary value;
  • these restrictions do not apply to the contribution of any single clothing or household item for which a deduction of $500 or more is claimed if the taxpayer includes a qualified appraisal with his or her return;
  • in the case of a charitable contribution of money, regardless of the amount, a deduction is denied, unless the donor maintained a cancelled check, bank record, or receipt from the donee organization showing the name of the donee organization, the date of the contribution, and the amount of the contribution.

Recordkeeping. If you gave property, you should keep a receipt or written statement from the organization you gave the property to, or a reliable written record, that shows the organization’s name and address, the date and location of the gift, and a description of the property. For each gift of property, you should also keep reliable written records that include:

  • How you figured the property’s value at the time you gave it. If the value was determined by an appraisal, keep a signed copy of the appraisal.
  • The cost or other basis of the property if you must reduce it by any ordinary income or capital gain that would have resulted if the property had been sold at its fair market value.
  • How you figured your deduction if you chose to reduce your deduction for gifts of capital gain property.
  • Any conditions attached to the gift.

Contributions of clothing and household items. A deduction for these contributions will be allowed only if the items are in good used condition or better. However, this rule does not apply to a contribution of any single item for which a deduction of more than $500 is claimed and for which you include a qualified appraisal and Form 8283 with your tax return.

Here are a few tips for taxpayer itemizing their deductions:

  • Consider making your charitable contributions at the end of the year. This will give you use of the money during the year and simultaneously permit you to claim a deduction for that year.
  • You can use a credit card to charge donations in 2006 even though you will not pay the bill until 2007. But a mere pledge to make a donation is not deductible, unless it is paid by the end of the year.
  • Note, however, for claimed donations of cars, boats and airplanes of more than $500, the amount available as a deduction will significantly depend on what the charity does with the donated property, not just the fair market value of the donated property. If the organization sells the property without any significant intervening use or material improvement to the property, the amount of the charitable contribution deduction cannot exceed the gross proceeds received from the sale.

Here are a few tips suggested by the IRS to ensure your contributions pay off on your tax return:

  • You cannot deduct contributions made to specific individuals, political organizations and candidates. Nor can you deduct the value of your time or services and the cost of raffles, bingo or other games of chance.
  • To be deductible, contributions must be made to qualified organizations.
  • Only contributions actually made during the tax year are deductible.
  • If your contributions entitle you to merchandise, goods or services, including admission to a charity ball, banquet, theatrical performance or sporting event, you can deduct only the amount that exceeds the fair market value of the benefit received.
  • Donations of stock or other property are usually valued at the fair market value of the property.
    • ○ gainers – do donate appreciated securities
    • ○ losers – sell your losses and donate the cash proceeds
  • See special rules that apply to donation of vehicles.
  • For a charitable contribution of $250 or more, you can claim a deduction only if you obtain a written acknowledgment from the qualified organization.
  • If you claim a deduction on your return of more than $500 for all contributed property, you must attach IRS Form 8283, Noncash Charitable Contributions, to your return.
  • Taxpayers donating an item or a group of similar items valued at more than $5,000 must also complete Section B of Form 8283, which requires an appraisal by a qualified appraiser.,,id=106990,00.html

See the new IRS automobile donation rules (first effective in 2005) here or here.

Generally: before you can determine how much you can deduct as the value of that old automobile you have to know how the charity is going to use your vehicle. In most cases, the charity will arrange to have it sold at a used car auction. In this case, the fair market value of your car and the amount of your tax deduction is the amount that your car sold for. You should receive a statement from the charity verifying this.

$500 maximum deduction is a general rule of thumb, unless charity provides a contemporaneous written acknowledgement (Form 1098-C) documenting a higher value. (see IRS Publication 4303 for more information)

IRS Publication 4303 – Donor’s Guide
IRS Publication 4302 – Charity’s Guide

Charitable contributions of vehicles, November 2012:

For vehicles with a claimed value of $500 or less, but more than $250, only the general substantiation requirements under Sec. 170(f)(8) apply: Principally, the organization must provide the donor a contemporaneous written acknowledgment describing the vehicle (but not necessarily its value) and stating whether the organization provided the donor any goods or services in consideration for it and, if so, a description of them and a good-faith estimate of their value.

For charitable contributions of property worth more than $5,000, the substantiation requirements under Sec. 170(f)(11)(C) generally require the donor to obtain a qualified appraisal and attach it to the return. However, vehicles are an exception, as long as the written acknowledgment by the organization states that the vehicle was sold without significant intervening use or material improvement and the donor deducts no more than the amount of the sale proceeds. If the vehicle has a claimed value of more than $5,000 and the organization does not sell the vehicle, the appraisal requirements apply.

By Kamala Raghavan, CPA, CGMA, DBA, CFP

The following items were written before the significant tightening up rules enacted August 17, 2006. They are still valuable reading, though, just remember that the rules for tax deductions today are even more restrictive than as indicated below.

Documenting Your Charitable Contributions
by Jenny Wei

Note: the 2006 Pension Protection Act (H.R. 4) tightens up the rules discussed in the following article, which was written prior to 2006.

One source of continuous questions from individual taxpayers is that concerning the need to substantiate charitable contribution deductions. For this reason, we have outlined the rules in this area. As a general rule however, keep in mind that while all contributions must be substantiated, contributions of $250 or more require a written receipt from the charity. Similarly, if you donate property valued at more than $500, additional requirements apply.

Contributions of less than $250: For charitable contributions of less than $250 in cash, you must keep one of the following:

  • a cancelled check, credit card receipt, or electronic funds transfer receipt;
  • a letter from the charity acknowledging receipt of the contribution and its date and amount; or
  • another reliable written record showing the name of the charity and the date and amount of the contribution.

If the contribution was of property rather than cash, you must keep a receipt from the charitable organization showing:

  • the contribution date;
  • the charity’s name;
  • the location of the contribution; and
  • a detailed description of the property (but not its value).

A receipt isn’t required if it’s impractical to get one, such as where property is left at the charity’s unattended drop site. In that case, for each item of donated property, you must keep reliable written records that contain the above information, plus the value of the property.

Recordkeeping for contributions for which you receive goods or services: If you receive goods or services, such as a dinner or theater tickets, in return for your contribution, your deduction is limited to the excess of what you gave over the value of what you received. For example, if you gave $100 and in return received a dinner worth $30, you can deduct $70. But your contribution is fully deductible if:

  • you received free, unordered items from the charity that cost no more than $7.90 in total;
  • you gave at least $39.50 and received only token items (bookmarks, key chains, calendars, etc.) that bear the charity’s name or logo and cost no more than $7.90 in total; or
  • the benefits that you received are worth no more than 2% of your contribution and no more than $79.

If you made a contribution of more than $75 for which you received goods or services, the charity must give you a written statement, either when it asks for the donation or when it receives it, that tells you the value of those goods or services. Be sure to keep these statements.

Contributions of $250 or more: For charitable contributions of $250 or more, a cancelled check isn’t enough. Instead, you need a written receipt from the charity that includes:

  • the amount of cash contributed and a description (but not the value) of any property other than cash contributed;
  • whether the donee organization provided any goods or services in return for the contribution; and
  • a description and good-faith estimate of the value of those goods or services.

If you received only “intangible religious benefits,” such as attending religious services, in return for your contribution, the receipt must say so. This type of benefit is considered to have no commercial value and so doesn’t reduce the charitable deduction available.

If you make separate contributions of less than $250, you won’t be subject to the requirement to get a written receipt, even if the sum of the contributions to the same charity total $250 or more in a year. Also, if you have contributions withheld from your wages, the deduction from each payment of wages is treated as a separate contribution for purposes of the $250 threshold. However, IRS is supposed to issue “anti-abuse” rules (which haven’t been published yet) aimed at preventing taxpayers from avoiding the written receipt requirement by, for example, writing several checks on one day to the same donee for a total of $250 or more.

You must have the receipt in hand by the time you file your return (or by the due date, if earlier) or you won’t be able to claim the deduction.

Cash contribution made through payroll deductions: A contribution that you make by withholding from your wages may be substantiated by a pay stub, Form W-2, or other document furnished by your employer that shows the amount withheld for the purpose of a payment to a charity. You can substantiate a single contribution of $250 or more with a pledge card or other document prepared by the charity that includes a statement that it doesn’t provide goods or services in return for contributions made by payroll deduction.

The deduction from each wage payment of wages is treated as a separate contribution for purposes of the $250 threshold.

Substantiating contributions of services: Although you can’t deduct the value of services you perform for a charitable organization, some deductions are permitted for out-of-pocket costs you incur while performing the services. You should keep track of your expenses, the services you performed and when you performed them, and the organization for which you performed the services. Keep receipts, canceled checks, and other reliable written records relating to the services and expenses.

As discussed above, a written receipt is required for contributions of $250 or more. This presents a problem for out-of-pocket expenses incurred in the course of providing charitable services, since the charity doesn’t know how much those expenses were. However, you can satisfy the written receipt requirement if you have adequate records to substantiate the amount of your expenditures, and get a statement from the charity that contains a description of the services you provided, the date the services were provided, a statement of whether the organization provided any goods or services in return, and a description and good-faith estimate of the value of those goods or services.

Contributions of property with a value greater than $500: If you contribute property worth more than $500, you must maintain written records that include:

  • the information described above for contributions of property over $250;
  • how you acquired the property (purchase, gift, inheritance);
  • the date you acquired the property; and
  • cost or other basis of property (other than publicly-traded securities) held for less than 12 months before the donation, and, if the information is available, of property held for 12 months or more before the donation.

Contributions of property with a value greater than $5,000: If you contribute property of an item or group of similar items exceeding $5,000, you must keep written records that include:

  • the information described above for contributions of property over $500;
  • a qualified appraisal made no more than 60 days before the appraised property’s contribution;
  • an appraisal summary, which must also be attached to your tax return;
  • the cost basis of the property; and
  • the date you acquired the property.

A qualified appraisal isn’t required for publicly-traded securities for which market quotations are readily available. A partially completed appraisal summary and the maintenance of certain records are required for (1) nonpublicly-traded stock for which the claimed deduction is greater than $5,000 and no more than $10,000, and (2) certain publicly-traded securities for which market quotations are not readily available.

If you have any questions on the tax treatment of charitable expenditures or the substantiation rules, please contact Jenny Wei at 917-472-5016.

Tips on Tax Deductions for Charitable Contributions

Note: the 2006 Pension Protection Act (H.R. 4) tightens up the rules discussed in the following article, which was written prior to 2006.

While helping the charity of your choice, you can also receive a federal income tax deduction for your contribution. There are several things to keep in mind if you do intend to claim a tax deduction. In some situations, you may need professional advice about the rules that apply to the kind of donation you want to give and to whom. However, the following guidelines will get you started.

1. What kind of organization can receive donations that are tax deductible?
The IRS has many categories of organizations related to taxes. You may have heard the term “tax exempt.” This is not the same thing as “tax deductible.” Organizations that are tax exempt do not have to pay income taxes because of the type of work that they do. Your donations would be tax deductible only to some tax exempt organizations–not all. The category of organization you are looking for is what the IRS calls 501(c)(3). The purposes of an organization have to fall into one of the following areas to be designated 501(c)(3): science, religion, education, charity, literature, prevention of cruelty to children, prevention of cruelty to animals, amateur sports competitions, and testing for public safety. Your contribution to any of these 501(c)(3) organizations would be tax deductible–except for those that test for public safety. In addition, there are now prohibitions on giving to 501(c)(3) organizations that have been recently identified as connected with or supporting terrorist groups. Any donations to these organizations are not tax deductible.

2. How can I find out whether the organization of my choice has applied for and received a 501(c)(3) status from the IRS?
One of the easiest ways to check is through Guidestar, a national database of 850,000 IRS-recognized nonprofit organizations. You can find them on the web at The IRS also publishes an annual listing of thousands of tax-exempt organizations to which contributions are deductible as charitable donations–IRS Publication 78: Cumulative List of Organizations. At the IRS web site you can search through Publication 78 for the name of the organization of interest to you.

3. Is there a ceiling on how much I can deduct?
Publication 78 will also tell you what the limitations on your donations to any organization are. For instance – for most nonprofits, you may deduct contributions representing up to 50% of your adjusted gross income. The figure generally changes to 30% when you are donating to a private foundation.

There are several special limits or ceilings on annual charitable deduction.  And c-corporations have their own more restrictive limits. And most political organizations provide zero charitable deduction.

IRS Publication 526 “Limits on Deductions”

IRM (01-01-2016) “Cumulative List Coding Specifications”

4. What kinds of records do I need to keep?

When making a donation of money, it’s a good rule of thumb to pay by check, rather than cash, and make sure that the check is payable directly to the charity–not the person collecting the money or a company of another name. Also be sure to get a receipt for your donation and keep it with your cancelled check.

If you give a donation of more than $75 and receive goods or services in exchange for a donation, the charitable organization is required to provide you with a written statement of your donation and the value of the goods or services you received. You must subtract the fair market value of what you received (see 8 below) from the amount you claim as a deduction. You don’t need to send the receipt in with your tax return. Simply keep it in your records.

If you give more than $250 – either in cash, property, or expenses you had to pay in order to volunteer, you must obtain a written acknowledgement or receipt describing what you gave from the charity itself. If you received goods or services in exchange for a contribution of $250 or more, the acknowledgement should describe them and estimate their value (unless they would be considered insubstantial –see 7 below). You will need to subtract their estimated value from the amount you claim as a deduction. You should not attach the acknowledgment to your income tax return, but must keep it in your personal records in case you are asked to substantiate your contribution later. There are additional rules regarding gifts of non-cash items worth more than $500.

5. I made a donation to my town’s volunteer fire department. Don’t I get a deduction?
Though they are not 501(c)(3), in most cases, you can claim donations to volunteer fire departments, as well as donations to war veterans’ organizations, as charitable donations. Check with your tax advisor to be sure. There are, in addition, several other kinds of organizations other than 501(c)(3) that are eligible to receive contributions, deductible as charitable donations. These include cooperative hospital associations, cooperative service organizations of educational organizations, and some others. Depending on the kind of work you do, contributions to some organizations may be deductible as business expenses.

6. I am making a financial commitment to my church that extends into the next year. Can I claim the total amount on this year’s tax return?
You must claim the deduction in the year that you make the contribution. Promises or pledges of future donations, even if made in the form of a written commitment, are not deductible until you have paid them.

7. I received a free book about the work of the organization as a “thank you gift.” Do I need to subtract its value from the amount I claim as a deduction?
Chances are you don’t. If your contribution was at least $38, and the gift item bears the organization’s name or logo and cost the organization no more than $7.60, it is considered an “insubstantial gift” by the IRS and you do not have to subtract its value from what you claim as your contribution to the organization. The IRS will also consider goods or services you receive “insubstantial” if they are not worth over 2% of what you’ve given or more than $75.

8. I donated furniture to a thrift store. Can I get a deduction?
If the thrift store is operated by a 501(c)(3) organization to raise money for its cause, you may claim a tax deduction for the “fair market value” of the items. “Fair market value” means what the used items might sell for in their current condition. Thrift store staff usually assess this amount for you and write it on your donation receipt.

9. I bought several candy bars from a nonprofit that was selling them as a “fund raiser.” Can I claim what I spent as a deduction?
If the candy bars normally sell for $1 and you paid $1.50 for them, you can claim 50 cents each as a donation.

10. I flew back to my home state to volunteer for a relief organization after a flood. They told me I could take my airfare as a deduction. Is that right?
Yes. When you pay for your own expenses that are directly related to volunteering for a qualified charitable organization, you can deduct these expenses from your taxes. In this case, you will need not only receipts, but a statement in writing from the charity acknowledging your volunteer contribution.

Note: This information has been compiled from a number of sources. Accuracy and completeness of any of the information cannot be guaranteed by the Institute of HeartMath or any of its affiliates. Consulting with your financial advisor is recommended and may be necessary to address your specific situation.


What expenses can I deduct when I do volunteer work for a charity?

Note: the 2006 Pension Protection Act (H.R. 4) tightens up the rules discussed in the following article, which was written prior to 2006.

Q. I spend 20 hours every week cooking meals and delivering them to an organization that feeds the hungry and homeless. Am I entitled to a deduction for my time and the food I pay for out of my own money?

A. Generally, if you do volunteer work for a charity, you are not entitled to deduct the cost of services you perform for the charity. However, if in connection with the volunteer work you incur out-of-pocket expenses, you may be entitled to deduct some of those expenses.

Qualifying expenses

If the amounts that you pay for food and other supplies used in the preparation and packaging of the meals are not reimbursed by the charity, generally you may deduct these expenses as contributions to the charity.

In addition, if the amounts that you pay to travel by car or other means to deliver the meals are not reimbursed by the charity, and you derive no personal benefit from the travel, the expenses are deductible. Qualifying expenses include gasoline for your car and fares for taxis or public transportation.

Special mileage rate

If you drive your own vehicle to deliver the meals, you can use a special IRS mileage rate to calculate charitable contribution deductions involving use of your car. This special rate is currently 14 cents per mile. Very complicated Hurricane Katrina related charity mileage rates started August 25, 2005.

Other expenses

Other out-of-pocket expenses incurred in connection with services you provide to a charity that are deductible include costs related to uniforms, travel, meals, and lodging. Sometimes, expenses incurred while serving as a charity’s delegate to a convention may be deducted.

Keep receipts

If you take a deduction for out-of-pocket expenses you incurred incident to your performance of services for a charity, it is important to have receipts to document expenses. It is also a good idea to get a written acknowledgement from the charity for the services you provide.

Three Steps

No charitable deduction is allowed for a contribution of $250 or more unless you substantiate the contribution by a written acknowledgment from the charitable organization.  The acknowledgment generally must include the amount of cash, a description of any property contributed, and whether you got anything in return for your contribution.

This presents a problem where you as a volunteer make a contribution on behalf of rather than directly to a charity. One way around this is for the charity to pay for the expenses and then be reimbursed by you (or you can make the donation before the expense is incurred).

If this isn’t possible, you can safeguard your deductions as follows:

  • Get written documentation from the charity about the nature of your volunteering activity and the need for related expenses to be paid. For example, if you travel out of town as a volunteer, get a letter from the charity explaining why you’re needed at the out-of-town location.
  • If you are out-of- pocket for substantial amounts, you should submit a statement of expenses and, preferably, a copy of the receipts, to the charity, and arrange for the charity to acknowledge in writing the amount of the contribution.
  • You should maintain detailed records of your out-of- pocket expenses- receipts plus a written record of the time, place, amount, and charitable purpose of the expense.