December 13, 2012
Ordower: Charitable Contributions of Services
This paper examines the structure of the charitable contribution deduction for donations of cash and appreciated property. It suggests that non-itemizing taxpayers are the donors who have the most “skin in the game” for charitable contributions in terms of personal sacrifice. The paper recommends renewed emphasis on service contributions for non-itemizing donors and for the charitable organizations to which those non-itemizers tend to contribute. Promoting service, rather than money or property, contributions helps maximize the tax subsidy of the charitable contributions. From the perspective of efficient tax planning for low and moderate income taxpayers, the tradition of volunteerism in United States is compelling. Yet, despite the ability to get more “bang for the buck” from service contributions, many charitable organizations that used to rely on volunteers for support increasingly have shifted their operations to reliance on paid staff. This trend toward paid staff may stem from an effort to empower professional volunteers by giving them paid positions or may represent poor marketing of the value and accompanying tax benefits of charitable work.
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