Volunteers and Taxes

What can a volunteer deduct?

You can deduct amounts you pay in giving volunteer services if you meet all parts of these three tests.

  1. Do you itemize deductions?
  2. Are you volunteering for a Qualified Organization?
  3. Are your costs (a) unreimbursed, and (b) directly connected with the services you gave, and (c) incurred only because of the services you gave, and (d) not personal, living or family expenses?

Details and more information are available below.


This page deals with  charity volunteer deductions under the Federal income tax rules. Different rules apply to business and other deductions, and under State income tax laws. For more information contact an experienced and capable tax advisor.


First two questions for you to answer

Tax Return

  • Do you itemize deductions on your Federal income tax return? If you do, keep reading.

If you don’t, continue only for information; you won’t be getting a charitable deduction.

  • Are you volunteering for a Qualified Organization? Many “nonprofit” organizations, however valuable, are not Qualified Organizations.
    • To be a Qualified Organization the organization must be a church or a government unit or apply to the IRS.
    • See FAQ #2 below for how to check if you are dealing with a Qualified Organization.

The basic test, use of your car, record keeping

Your Car?

  • The basic test. You may be able to deduct amounts you pay in giving services to a qualified organization. The amounts must be
    • (a) unreimbursed, and
    • (b) directly connected with the services you gave, and
    • (c) incurred only because of the services you gave, and
    • (d) not personal, living or family expenses.
  • If you use your car in providing services that pass the basic test you can deduct:
    • 14 cents per mile to and from the Qualified Organization location, or actual variable costs related to that mileage (look below for more information).
    • Plus tolls and parking.
  • Be sure to keep good records — you need to be able to show the basis for your deduction.

Frequently Asked Questions

FAQ #1 – I donate time or services. How much can I deduct?

You can not deduct the value of your time or services donated to a charity. Volunteers are often surprised about this. Of course, since the volunteer wasn’t paid for the services, they didn’t receive taxable income. No taxable income, no tax deduction – a simple, clean result.

FAQ #2 – How do I find out if the group is a Qualified Organization?

Remember, you can only charitable contributions made to groups that are eligible to receive them (that is, Qualified Organizations). Many groups, although they are nonprofits, are not eligible. You can quickly check the status of a nonprofit at CharityCheck101.org. When you find the group’s report at CharityCheck101.org, look at the first line of its Tax Status tab.

Do a name based search at CharityCheck101.org.

If you have the group’s 9-digit EIN, do an EIN Magic search.

Note, churches and government units are not required to be recognized by the IRS to be Qualified Organizations.

FAQ #3 – Can I deduct mileage and/or other costs of taking my child to his or her volunteer activities?

Unfortunately, the answer is No. The following is from IRS Publication 526,

“You cannot deduct contributions to specific individuals, including the following.

* Expenses you paid for another person who provided services to a qualified organization.

Example. Your son does missionary work. You pay his expenses. You cannot claim a deduction for your son’s unreimbursed expenses related to his contribution of services.”

FAQ #4 – Can I deduct mileage and/or other costs of helping a friend or neighbor who is in need?

If you are helping a specific person, the answer is No. The following is from IRS Publication 526,

You cannot deduct contributions to specific in­dividuals, including the following.

* * *

Contributions to individuals who are needy or worthy. You cannot deduct these contri­butions even if you make them to a quali­fied organization for the benefit of a spe­cific person. But you can deduct a contribution to a qualified organization that helps needy or worthy individuals if you do not indicate that your contribution is for a specific person.

Example. You can deduct contribu­tions to a qualified organization for flood relief, hurricane relief, or other disaster re­lief. However, you cannot deduct contribu­tions earmarked for relief of a particular in­dividual or family.

FAQ #5 – Can I deduct donations made before the date the group receives its IRS tax-exemption determination?

There are three key dates to know.

  • The date the group is formally organized or created.
  • The date it files for its IRS exemption.
  • The date its IRS exemption determination is issued.

Note: we’re talking about groups other than churches and government units here (they don’t need an IRS determination).

Keep in touch with the organization so you’ll know if and when it receives its IRS determination.

  • You can’t deduct unless the organization actually gets its 501(c)(3) tax-exemption determination from the IRS.
  • Once the determination is issued, however, the organization’s qualified status is retroactive to the date it filed for the exemption (or the date it was created/organized, if it filed within 27 months of being created/organized). See “Effective date of exemption” on page 24 of IRS Publication 557.

Here’s an example: Let’s say the organization was created/organized on Jan 1, 2015 and filed for exemption on May 1, 2015. Whenever it receives its determination from the IRS, you can deduct donations starting Jan 1, 2015.

FAQ #6 – What’s the IRS publication on this subject?

See IRS Publication 526 — Charitable Contributions for more details and for examples.


Many other questions and answers

See the Comments section at the bottom of the page for many more questions and answers. [To come]


Don’t travel to the charity by car?

Take the bus, train, subway, taxi or other public transportation to get to and from the charity’s location? As described in more detail under “Other costs” above, you can deduct those costs so long as: they are directly connected and only incurred because of the services you give; and are not personal, living or family expenses (and of course aren’t reimbursed).

Yes, 14 cents per mile is silly

Undoubtedly you’ve seen the regular updates from the IRS and other sources concerning deducting costs of use of a car. The Internal Revenue Code requires the IRS to adjust the business and medical mileage rates based on changes in costs of operating a vehicle. Beginning January 1, 2018, you can deduct 54.5 cents per mile for business miles driven and 18 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes. The IRS based the standard mileage rate for business on an annual study of the fixed and variable costs of operating an automobile. The rate for medical and moving purposes is based on the variable costs as determined by the same study. The 14 cents is written right in the Internal Revenue Code (without language suggesting it be adjusted for inflation). See IRC Section 170(i) — which is part of the charitable deduction section of the Code. It hasn’t been changed in years. To get it changed, Congress will have to amend it — time to talk with your Congressperson.

You can use actual costs rather than 14 cents per mile

The 14 cents per mile charitable rate is optional. Instead, a volunteer can deduct actual variable costs of operating the car for volunteer purposes. These include gasoline and oil and all taxes thereon. They do not include general repair and maintenance ex­penses, depreciation, registration fees, or the costs of tires or insurance.

  • Actual variable costs are likely higher than 14 cents per mile. For example, if the volunteer’s car gets 20 miles per gallon and gasoline costs $3.00 per gallon, the cost of gasoline alone is 15 cents per mile.
  • By comparison, the medical and moving rate (which is also based on variable costs, but is not limited to a rate set by statute) is now 18 cents per mile.
  • Fixed costs (such as depreciation or lease payments, insurance, and license and registration fees) are not allowed for charitable, medical or moving mileage calculations.

Mileage rate history

Start Date

IRS Standard Mileage Rate (cents per mile)

Business

Medical and Moving

Charity Volunteer

January 1, 2018

54.5

18

14

January 1, 2017

53.5

17

14

January 1, 2016

54

19

14

January 1, 2015

57.5

23

14

January 1, 2014

56

23.5

14

January 1, 2013

56.5

24

14

January 1, 2012

55.5

23

14

July 1, 2011

55.5

23.5

14

January 1, 2011

51

19

14

January 1, 2010

50

16.5

14

January 1, 2009

55

24

14

July 1, 2008

58.5

27

14

January 1, 2008

50.5

19

14

January 1, 2007

48.5

20

14

For rates prior to 2007 (including special Hurricane Katrina rates in effect in 2005 and 2006) see this IRS document.