February 12, 2008
What is Charity?
In my tax exempt organizations class today, we tackled the imponderable question, "What is Charity"? To assist our discussion (we only had 85 minutes, mind you), we considered a few sources, including a 2005 New York Times op-ed piece, a wikipedia entry on charity, an online source from somebody named Dr. Wilson, an entry from the Catholic encyclopedia, the meaning of the Jewish word Tzedakah, Zakat, the concept of charity in Islam, and then just our own notions of charity. All very unscientific, of course, but it made for pretty good discussion. After reviewing the precedents pertaining to tax exemption of hospitals, we concluded that charity for U.S. tax purposes is almost any activity that complies with the nondistribution constraint and, more recently, the public benefit admonition. Yep, we pretty much nailed that down.
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