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Out-of-Pocket Contributions

Question:

What constitutes charities given in kind (not money)? When individuals make meals for those ill in their churches or meals for the hospital are they deductible as charitable contributions?

Answer:

Tax law prohibits deductions for contributions (direct and out-of-pocket) to individuals; a qualified charitable organization must be the recipient. However, Internal Revenue Service Bulletin (IRB) No. 1997-5 allows deductions for "volunteers who incurred unreimbursed out-of-pocket expenses while performing services for a charity to substantiate their contributions" particularly those "incurred incident to the rendition of services to a donee organization" (page 9).

I interpret IRB 1997-5 as follows. Taking a meal to a fellow church member at home or to an individual in a hospital is not deductible--a wonderful philanthropic activity, but not deductible. Also, churches organizing dinners for common sharing often ask members to "bring a plate to pass" -- not deductible. However, if a church or other 501 (c)(3) charity sponsors a meal(s) for needy individuals and a donor responds by providing food, thus incurring unreimbursed out-of-pocket costs, then a deduction is permitted.

According to IRB 1997-5 "to carry out the purposes of the statute, volunteers claiming a charitable contribution deduction for an unreimbursed expense of $250 or more are still required to obtain substantiation confirming the type of services they performed for the charity" (page 9). In others, if you give more than $250, request a letter from the organization acknowledging your participation.

See also 2008 Publication 26 entitled Charitable Contributions (pages 5 and 13). The Publication offers one example: "You can deduct reasonable unreimbursed out-of-pocket expenses you pay to allow underprivileged youth to attend athletic events, movies, or dinners. The youths must be selected by a charitable organization whose goal is to reduce junenile delinquency. Your own similar expenses in accompanying the youths are not deductible" (page 5). Presumably, the same rules apply to church donations to send needy youths to Bible camp.

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