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Tax Deductibility and Voluntourism – It Should Go...For Now!

Posted by Randy LeGrant | Oct 13, 2009 10:07:00 AM

Yesterday I reposted from various Blog sites on deducting your voluntourism program from your taxes.  The question was, "Tax Deductibility and Voluntourism-Should It Stay Or Should It Go." Today I'm making a case against tax deductibility and voluntourism in my own Blog.  It Should Go.  At least for now.

I don't want to rant, so I'm providing you 2 sources with independent links to use to evaluate on your own where you are volunteering and how you are spending your money.  Because if anyone is telling you that you can deduct the program fees or your trip because you're volunteering, they are leading you down the wrong path and setting you up for an unhappy financial outcome, should you be audited by the IRS.

I went to several non-profit web sites to see how this is handled.  I found this quote from one website: “100% of the payments towards the program fee are deductible for federal income tax purposes.”  Another one has this on their home page: "All your program costs are tax deductible**"

What I want to do now is give our readers some actionable and independent tips.  Here you go:

1. PLEASE if you don’t do anything Publication 526 from the IRSelse, download IRS Publication 526, Charitable Contributions at http://www.irs.gov. That is your guide because if and when you are audited, and this deduction comes up, the IRS will follow, to the letter, this publication and will assume you have read it. Keep in mind the expenses must be directly related to the volunteers’ work, and incurred only because of that work. The expenses can’t be personal, for family, or for living items or activities such as meals. Volunteers must keep reliable written records of the expenses. Most importantly, The volunteer cannot gain significant personal pleasure, recreation, or vacation from the travel.  And there are total hours you must be working, etc.  Without good records and receipts, you'll pay the money back.

Download Form 9902. Next do your homework. Download Form 990 for each non-profit volunteer program provider you have an interest in. Any non-profit who takes your money should display a link to their Form 990 which tells you how much money they make, how much money they spend, who is on the Board and their relationship to one another along with other interesting tid bits required by the IRS. If you pay any money to any non-profit and you have not read their Form 990 you have thrown your money out on the street.

Because some non-profits will not want you to see their Form 990, they won't make it available on their website.  So here is a link you can use.  Click on this link below and type in the name of the organization you want to volunteer with and download their most recent Form 990.  Their expenses are there, salaries, benefits, what they spend on programs abroad, Board Members and any compensation, etc.  Look at their income (your money) and then total up what they spend on the projects.  Then ask them where the rest of the money went.  They are a public charity afterall.  Find them all right here:

Foundation Center Form 990 Finder

Here at GeoVisions we think it’s distasteful to deduct your trip.  At a time when our Government is Trillions of dollars in debt, and with rising unemployment, asking the Government to pay for your trip abroad is unthinkable.

For anyone to spend their hard-earned money and their precious time volunteering to make life better for someone else and then at the end of the calendar year hold their hand out to our government and expect the government to reimburse them for volunteering is unbelievable to me. It is the height of hypocrisy and the very definition of narcissism. To think that much of yourself that you offer to volunteer and then expect money back from the government because of your offer to volunteer is simply an act that reverses the very definition of volunteering.

If I donate $500 to your charity and then deduct that $500 on my taxes, I didn’t donate to you. I loaned you $500 until the government repays me. How is that volunteering or donating? It isn’t. You’re not a volunteer. You’re working because you’re getting paid. Not there on the spot. But you’re deducting what you paid “to volunteer” and you’re getting a financial consideration from Uncle Sam. You got paid. You didn’t volunteer. Even on my most generous day you put yourself out on loan.

In the end, GeoVisions made a conscious choice to be a for-profit company and not a 501 c 3 charity. We certainly had a choice. We provide great opportunities for people. And for host communities. And I am so proud of each and every volunteer that comes through our doors. THEY CANNOT DEDUCT A DIME. They are truly volunteering their money, their time and their talents. They are the true heroes that make the world a better place.

Written by Randy LeGrant

Randy is the Executive Director of the GeoVisions Foundation. He has spent the last 44 years managing organizations that send people abroad on cultural and educational exchanges.

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