Since moving to the Mid-Coast area a few years ago, my wife and I have been called upon many times to help a number of local charities. We are very strong believers that it is our obligation to make our community stronger during our brief stay in this wonderful world so we choose to help where we can. We ask all readers to support their favorite local charities as they are the heartbeat of society, making a difference in all of our lives.
Two of our favorites include the Bath YMCA and Big Brothers Big Sisters. For over 150 years, the Bath YMCA has promoted healthy living and provided youth with a safe place to grow. BBBS has been creating nurturing relationships for children facing adversity since 1904. Clearly both organizations make a positive impact on the lives of youth in our area. What they also have in common is that they are both qualified charitable organizations defined under the IRS Code.
As most already know, donations to nonprofit groups like the YMCA and BBBS are tax deductible if you itemize deductions. By definition, a donation is voluntary and is made without getting, or expecting to get, anything in return. To be deductible, a donation must also meet other strict criteria as outlined in IRS Publication 526.
Most of you reading this column have a good handle on what is deductible. Donations to the annual appeal at church, the building fund at the hospital and expenses paid when you volunteer at the museum are all examples. What you cannot deduct are the cost of raffle tickets bought to benefit a charity, the value of your volunteer time, the value of your blood given at the local blood drive, political contributions or the cost of your girl scout cookies. (…sigh)
Donations can get a little sticky when goods or services are received as a result of the contribution. Take for example, the local fundraising silent auction that you pay $1,000 to stay a beach house. If the fair value of that stay is $1,000, you have not made a contribution and no deduction is allowed. If, however, you pay $1,500 for the same stay you could be entitled to a $500 deduction.
For those who think that there is a safe amount that can be deducted be warned, the IRS has many strict rules for deducting charitable contributions. The rule that impacts most people is the requirement that individual contributions of $250 or more be backed with a written acknowledgement from the qualified organization. The acknowledgement must be in your possession before you file your return, include a description of the gift and a statement as to whether you received any goods or services as a result of the contribution.
My wife and I firmly believe that we all have an obligation to give back. Giving back is the life blood for local charities, and the tax deduction feels good too. The next time you attend a charity auction, bid high and bid often.