The Dos and Don'ts of Tax Deductions for Volunteers

Do You Volunteer? Let Uncle Sam Know

Volunteer Signup Sheet
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Just because volunteers don’t get paid is no reason they shouldn’t get tax deductions for their out-of-pocket expenses.

Here’s how to get at least a little bit back for your volunteer efforts:

What You May Be Able To Deduct

  1. Either actual gas and oil OR mileage deduction of 14 cents per mile to and from where you volunteer. Parking fees and tolls can be deducted as well.  Normal upkeep and maintenance costs are not deductible nor any share of your car’s insurance.
  1. Round trip public transportation costs such as subway, bus, or taxi fare from work or home to the place where volunteering takes place.
  2. Long distance transportation, lodging, and meal expenses. Going to a board meeting in another city or state? Or representing your charity at a conference? You may be able to deduct airfare or other transportation costs plus hotel expenses and meals if directly connected to your volunteer work.
  3. Out-of-pocket expenses. You might not think of deducting small expenses such as the copying you did to get ready for a board meeting, those personal hygiene items the homeless shelter asked you to bring with you, or the glue, paper and scissors you furnished for your Sunday school class. But keep those receipts. You may be able to deduct those expenses.
  4. Uniforms. Does the charity you volunteer for ask you to buy a special uniform to wear when you’re volunteering? That red polo with the logo you got for the golf tournament probably won’t count since you can wear it for other things, but how about that hospital tunic you needed or the outfit with the special ranger hat that the zoo asked you to buy and wear? Those might be deductible expenses.

    What You Have to Do To Get These Deductions

    • Volunteer for an IRS-recognized charity. Such organizations have applied for and received a tax-exempt designation from the IRS. If in doubt, look for the 501(C) (3) designation on the charity’s website or printed materials. Ask to see the charity’s tax-letter. Or look up the charity at the IRS website.
    • Itemize your deductions on your tax form. If you take the standard deduction, you won’t be able to deduct volunteer expenses. If you’re already itemizing things such as charitable donations and medical expenses, you can probably deduct volunteer expenses as well.
    • Don’t try to deduct expenses that the charity reimbursed you for. That’s double dipping. Don’t do it.
    • Only itemize those expenses directly connected to the work you did as a volunteer and incurred because of it.  For instance, if you were going on a vacation, but stopped in to do a few hours of volunteer work during that vacation, you can’t deduct your travel expenses. If, on the other hand, you travel somewhere specifically to do volunteer work, you may be able to deduct those travel expenses.
    • Don’t try to claim as volunteer expenses, those that are really personal. For instance, you take your child along to your volunteer work and end up buying him lunch.  The lunch is not deductible since it is a personal choice, not one mandated by the volunteer work you’re doing.
    • Keep good written records of expenses related to your volunteer work. Start a mileage log and keep it up to date. Save receipts.
    • Don’t try to take a deduction for your time. That’s the volunteer part!

      For more detailed information about deducting volunteer expenses, check out IRS Publication 526.

      The information in this article is for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal or financial advice. You should always consult an accountant or other tax adviser about tax issues.