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The Five Conditions That Make Charitable Contributions Deductible

Written by Eva Rosenberg on January 27, 2015 in Newsletter  |   27 comments

If you made charitable contributions last year, you may be hoping for a tax deduction come tax time. However, not all contributions qualify—certain conditions must be met before you can reap the tax benefits. Here’s what to know.

the-five-conditions-that-make-charitable-contributions-deductibleThe National Center for Charitable Statistics reports that more than half of charities and foundations said they received the majority of their donations in October, November, and December.

If you made charitable contributions over the holidays and you want to receive tax deductions for them, how you made your donations is important.

Situations that don’t generate deductions include giving money to a homeless person on the street; helping a victim of an accident; helping your friend whose house just got flooded; arranging to buy books or clothing for a child in need; putting cash into a collection box at the market or church.

These do not qualify because in order to get a tax benefit from your contributions or donations, you must meet the following five conditions:

1. The donations must go to a valid, registered U.S. 501(c)(3) exempt organization or a recognized religious institution, and the organization must be in good standing with the IRS. You can look it up on the IRS website. Donations to individuals such as a homeless person or friends who need clothes do not qualify.

2. You must have a receipt for your donation, especially if any single donation is $250 or more. The same applies if your annual donations to an organization are $250 or more. Donations to religious organizations are eligible for tax deductions with a receipt. Keep in mind that you must have your receipt in hand before you file your tax return. Without that, even if you made a legitimate $10,000 cash donation, you will lose the deduction.

3. You may not receive a direct benefit from the donation. For instance, if you contribute $150 to your local PBS station and in return they give you a Doc Martin DVD collection valued at $125, you must reduce your deduction by the value of the incentive. If you pay $500 a plate at a fundraising banquet, the receipt must show the value you received (perhaps $75 for the meal). If you bid $300 for a vintage beaded purse at a silent auction, and the value of the purse is $500, you won’t receive the deduction because you paid less than the value of the purse.

4. The donation must not benefit a specific individual. Instead, it must be for the general use of the exempt organization to which the donation is given. For example, if you learn about an accident victim on the local news, and you send money to a fund specifically for that victim, that donation is not deductible. However, it could be considered a deductible donation if you sent the money to a charity that helps all accident victims or people in trouble.

5. When making a non-cash donation, you still need a written receipt. It’s not that important for donations under $250, but for anything more, keep details (even photos or videos) of the items donated, and definitely get receipts. For donations of individual items (or an aggregate of items) worth $5,000 or more, you need a signed, professional appraisal in addition to the charity’s receipt. The appraiser must sign Part III of the Form 8283. Finally, there are special rules for donating vehicles. Frankly, they are so stringent that it may be easier to sell the vehicle and donate that money to your charity.

To learn more about charitable contributions and tax implications, be sure to read Publication 526, authored by the IRS.

Eva Rosenberg, EA is the publisher of TaxMama.com ®, where your tax questions are answered. She is the author of several books and ebooks, including Small Business Taxes Made Easy. Eva teaches a tax pro course at IRSExams.com and tax courses you might enjoy at http://www.cpelink.com/teamtaxmama.

The information contained in this blog post is designed to generally educate and inform visitors to the Equifax Finance Blog. The blog posts do not give, and should not be assumed to provide, personalized tax, investment, real estate, legal, retirement, credit, personal financial, or other professional advice. Before making any financial decision, you should always consult with the appropriate professionals who can explain your options, rights, and legal responsibilities, and advise you on any tax, legal, credit, or business implications that may result from those decisions. The views and opinions expressed by the authors of blog posts are their own views and may not be the views or opinions of Equifax, Inc. and/or its affiliates.


  1. Joel I. says:

    This is very insightful.

  2. Sally N. says:

    How about doing volunteer work at a hospital that states they are for profit hospital. My CPA says we can deduct the mileage driven to do volunteer work at the hospital. We haven’t been doing this because we are confused about doing so.

    • Judith says:

      As far as I know you can claim mileage and your food, if you buy you lunch, but not your time.

  3. Richard says:

    Do you have to itemize to claim charitable deductions?

  4. STEVE S. says:

    I believe my credit score should be based solely on how I pay my bills. Not on computer projections on how I conduct business

    • Paula says:

      I agree. I haven’t missed a payment EVER! Yet, I am considered “Fair” because I use my credit cards often. Of course the balances are so old on the report..

      My Amex account shows up as a credit care.. it isn’t. It is paid in full every month.

  5. Anonymous says:

    how about if you donate to a priest is that tax deductible or you have to write the check to the church?

  6. Liz says:

    I prefer to file my taxes as soon as I have my W2 (which I get online in late January) instead of waiting for all my receipts and forms to arrive in the mail (I have a very basic tax filing each year and file online). Are email receipts that I get each month from my favorite charity sufficient to deduct the donations, or do I really have to wait until I get a hard copy of my full year’s total donations in the mail?

    • Tax Gal says:

      Your monthly email receipts are fine proof of your donation. Just be sure to keep that annual receipt and put it with your tax paperwork in case IRS ever asks.

  7. Freddy S. says:

    Information I just read was extremely helpful and it answered the question I had in mind regarding donations to religious institutions.

    • EFX Moderator says:

      Hi Freddy,
      Thanks for the comment. Glad this information was useful to you.

  8. Ray V. says:

    Great Article. Thanks for the info, super helpful. Does anyone know where I can find a blank IRS 709 form to fill out?

  9. Joan says:

    I tried to print the above information on donations for a tax deduction.
    the print is very faded, I am a senior citizen. And it would not print.

  10. skp says:

    What if I donate a medical device, or aka durable medical equipment valued at less than the $5000 limit for appraisal? Will the irs allow the entire $5k, or just a percentage?

  11. shaltio says:

    Goodmorning! Can I file for someone that’s 49 and have been out of work for the past year. Even though the person not related to me but have been living with m with me

  12. Gigi says:

    What about raffle tickets for a 501c3 organization if you don’t win the item?

  13. KR says:

    I am serving a full-time overseas humanitarian mission for my church. I pay all my own expenses including transportation, lodging, utilities, food, supplies, etc. I have a home in the US which I am paying to keep up also including mortgage, utilities, etc. How much of what I am spending is tax deductible? I have kept receipts for everything. Expenses run between $3000 and $3500 per month….

  14. Tom T says:

    Good overview or guide to deductions, key here is MUST have a reciept.

  15. Maria K says:

    What about food purchased at Sam’s Club that is then given to our church food drive (about $125 worth). I write “for church food drive on top of the Sam’s Club receipt). It is canned vegetables and canned meats we never eat ourselves. And we do this about 6x a year. Is that deductible? Thank you!

  16. would rather not say says:

    add to your list of what makes something deductible a sighting of the income limits

  17. Bruce W says:

    Donations to 501(c)(19) veterans organizations are also tax deductible

  18. Anonymous says:

    My daughter & her 2 girls live with me in my house. I buy my granddaughter’s school supplies & uniforms. I also pay my daughter’s car insurance yearly premium because she is unemployed. Is this deductible on my taxes?

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