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

David Lazarus, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

The anti-poverty group Oxfam released a report showing that the world's 2,153 billionaires now claim as much wealth as 60% of the world's population, or 4.6 billion people.

The number of billionaires worldwide doubled over the last decade, thanks in large part to rising stock prices and tax cuts for wealthy individuals and corporations, the report says.

Americans gave about $428 billion to charity in 2018, according to the National Philanthropic Trust. All the donations were deductible for anyone who itemizes their taxes -- an option mostly used by the wealthy.

Yet as the rich grow richer, many ordinary Americans who may lack the financial resources to fund worthy causes still offer time rather than money.

Roughly 63 million Americans -- 25% of the adult population -- donate their time and energy to nonprofit organizations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

None of those donations are tax deductible.


This probably hits close to home for many readers. I've volunteered at food pantries in Northern and Southern California. My wife volunteers regularly at a local animal shelter.

Yet for tax purposes, those contributions of time and labor count for nothing, whereas Uncle Sam would happily reward us if we ponied up some cash instead.

Moreover, I imagine many more people would do charitable work if they were incentivized by a tax benefit. Nothing motivates like personal gain.

"From a tax perspective, you get the same benefit staying on the couch as you do volunteering for charity," observed Daniel Hemel, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago Law School.


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