March 2006

As a volunteer for a charitable organization (namely, your school or parent group), you may be entitled to some tax breaks for your contributions. Although you can't put a dollar value on the time you give or the services you perform, you can deduct some out-of-pocket expenses. Tax professionals recommend taking deductions only if your group is registered with the IRS as tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the federal tax code.

Karen Lydon, a partner at Raphael and Raphael LLP, a Boston accounting firm, says the deductions volunteers are allowed to take include:

  • Away-from-home travel, including airfare, taxi fare, lodging, and meals. (Expenses are not tax-deductible if there is a "significant element of personal pleasure" associated with the travel.)
  • Gas and oil costs from using your own car. In lieu of tracking these expenses, you can use the IRS' standard mileage rate deduction for charities. (See www.irs.gov for rates.)
  • Tolls and parking fees.
  • Fees paid for training materials, conferences, and workshops that enhance your group's mission.

Keep detailed records of all expenses—receipts plus the date, time, place, amount, and charitable purpose. For deductions greater than $250, submit a statement of expenses (with receipts) to your group's treasurer, and arrange for her to acknowledge the amount in writing.

The overall amount a volunteer can deduct varies according to financial situation.