Consumer Confidential: You can deduct charitable donations. Why no tax benefit for volunteering?

David Lazarus, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

Time is money, they say. But not if you're donating to charity.

In yet another example of how tax laws favor the rich, contributions of money and property to nonprofit organizations result in tax benefits for the giver. But if you volunteer your time and labor, you get bupkes.

"This goes back to World War I," explained Arthur Rieman, a Los Angeles lawyer specializing in nonprofits. "Congress felt it wasn't worth giving people credit for their time."

Indeed, the Revenue Act of 1917 established an individual income tax deduction for financial contributions made to charitable organizations. The thinking at the time was this would encourage donations as income tax rates were rising to fund the war.

Corporations received the same tax benefit as of 1936.

Obviously this is a good thing. Any law that promotes good works is a boon to society -- and arguably well worth whatever is given up by the government in tax revenue.


But Congress chose not to apply the same thinking to volunteer activities.

"They believed there's no value to your time," Rieman told me. "Or if there is, it's too hard to determine that value."

It isn't. I'll get back to that.

Financial inequality has been at the forefront this week as some of the richest, most powerful people in the world gathered in Davos, Switzerland, for the annual gathering of rich and powerful people, a.k.a. the World Economic Forum.


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