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Am I allowed to deduct a fundraiser as a charitable contribution?

November 8, 2010

The topic of today’s post comes from a reader. Remember, if there’s a tax topic you’d like to see covered in an upcoming edition of the Clergy Tax Law Blog. E-mail your topic to our office and it may be included in an upcoming edition.

Dear Clergy Financial,

Just a question on deducting charitable donations.  We do a lot of fundraisers like most churches.  There is disagreement about whether people can deduct certain donations on their taxes.  I’ve always thought that if you get anything in return, none of it is deductible while others think you can deduct some of all of it. For example:

A Spaghetti Dinner Mission Trip Fundraiser with a free will offering:  people donate $5-$100 per meal-  is any of that deductible?
A Car wash with a free will offering:  No way to determine our actual costs- is any portion of donations deductible for the givers?

I’ve always chosen to not give to these kinds of fundraisers and simply write a check directly to the church in the offering for youth scholarships, rather than risk not being able to deduct it on taxes.  Is there a way for me to support the fundraiser and still have the deduction?


According to the IRS, you can deduct some of the amount you contribute. If you pay more than fair market value to a qualified organization for merchandise, goods, or services, the amount you pay that is more than the value of the item can be a charitable contribution. For the excess amount to qualify, you must pay it with the intent to make a charitable contribution. Below are some examples from the IRS:

Example 1.

You pay $65 for a ticket to a dinner-dance at a church. All the proceeds of the function go to the church. The ticket to the dinner-dance has a fair market value of $25. When you buy your ticket, you know that its value is less than your payment. To figure the amount of your charitable contribution, you subtract the value of the benefit you receive ($25) from your total payment ($65). You can deduct $40 as a charitable contribution to the church.

Example 2.

At a fund-raising auction conducted by a charity, you pay $600 for a week’s stay at a beach house. The amount you pay is no more than the fair rental value. You have not made a deductible charitable contribution.

Athletic events.   If you make a payment to, or for the benefit of, a college or university and, as a result, you receive the right to buy tickets to an athletic event in the athletic stadium of the college or university, you can deduct 80% of the payment as a charitable contribution.

If any part of your payment is for tickets (rather than the right to buy tickets), that part is not deductible. In that case, subtract the price of the tickets from your payment. 80% of the remaining amount is a charitable contribution.

Example 1.

You pay $300 a year for membership in an athletic scholarship program maintained by a university (a qualified organization). The only benefit of membership is that you have the right to buy one season ticket for a seat in a designated area of the stadium at the university’s home football games. You can deduct $240 (80% of $300) as a charitable contribution.

Example 2.

The facts are the same as in Example 1 except that your $300 payment included the purchase of one season ticket for the stated ticket price of $120. You must subtract the usual price of a ticket ($120) from your $300 payment. The result is $180. Your deductible charitable contribution is $144 (80% of $180).

Charity benefit events.   If you pay a qualified organization more than fair market value for the right to attend a charity ball, banquet, show, sporting event, or other benefit event, you can deduct only the amount that is more than the value of the privileges or other benefits you receive.

If there is an established charge for the event, that charge is the value of your benefit. If there is no established charge, your contribution is that part of your payment that is more than the reasonable value of the right to attend the event. Whether you use the tickets or other privileges has no effect on the amount you can deduct. However, if you return the ticket to the qualified organization for resale, you can deduct the entire amount you paid for the ticket.

Clergy Financial Resources

Clergy Financial Resources is a national accounting and finance organization serving churches and clergy since 1980. They have an unparalleled tax expertise on the complex issues associated with clergy tax law, clergy taxes, clergy compensation and church payroll. Clergy Financial Resources is a valuable resource for clergy, churches and denominations.


From → Clergy Tax Law

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