Even though volunteer hours are not tax-deductible, the volunteer spirit is alive and well in America: about 64 million people volunteered for an organization at least once between September 2010 and September 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Volunteering is beneficial for the organization, the community, the country and the volunteer. Problems get solved, communities get strengthened, lives are improved -- and volunteers gain the satisfaction in helping a worthwhile cause.
Your time and expertise is valuable in the professional world: A waitress might make a few bucks per hour plus tips, and a dentist might more than $75 per hour, but when they volunteer, the value of their time is the same for federal income tax purposes: zero. You cannot deduct the value of your time or professional services as a charitable contribution when you file your federal income taxes.
While you can't deduct the value of your donated time, you can deduct certain costs associated with donating your time. For example, if your volunteer work requires you to wear a uniform that is not suitable for everyday wear, you can deduct the cost of buying, cleaning and maintaining that uniform. While you can't deduct the time it takes you to drive to the location where you volunteer, you can deduct the cost of getting there. The IRS lets you claim either your actual expenses for gas and oil, or you can use the standard mileage rate, which was 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations.
Not all organizations qualify to receive tax-deductible contributions. If you incur tax-deductible expenses while volunteering, you can deduct those expenses only if the organization is listed with the Internal Revenue Service as a qualified organization. For example, you can deduct qualifying expenses while volunteering at your church, community theatre or local animal shelter, but you can't deduct those same expenses while volunteering for your local chamber of commerce or homeowner's association.
Some charitable events where you volunteer are not suitable for children. If you have to pay someone to look after your child while you volunteer, that money will come out of your pocket without the benefit of a tax deduction. The Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit is available if you pay for child care that allows you to earn income or look for a job, but you can't include the cost of child care that allows you to volunteer. You can't claim the cost of child care while volunteering as a charitable donation, even if the organization you volunteer for is a qualified organization.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Volunteering in the United States, 2011
- IRS: Publication 526 Charitable Contributions
- IRS: Publication 17, Table 24-2. Volunteers' Questions and Answers
- Nolo: Tax Deductions for Your Charitable Contributions and Volunteer Work
- Corporation for National and Community Service: Benefits of Volunteering
- PayWizard: 2012 Minimum Wage Tipped Workers per State
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2011 29-1021 Dentists, General
Mike Parker is a full-time writer, publisher and independent businessman. His background includes a career as an investments broker with such NYSE member firms as Edward Jones & Company, AG Edwards & Sons and Dean Witter. He helped launch DiscoverCard as one of the company's first merchant sales reps.