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Small Business: Deductions for Charitable Giving

03/06/2021

Tax breaks for charitable giving aren’t limited to individuals, your small business can benefit as well. If you own a small to medium-size business and are committed to giving back to the community through charitable giving, here’s what you should know.

1. Verify that the Organization is a Qualified Charity

Once you’ve identified a charity, you’ll need to make sure it is a qualified charitable organization under the IRS. Qualified organizations must meet specific requirements as well as IRS criteria and are often referred to as 501(c)(3) organizations. Note that not all tax-exempt organizations are 501(c)(3) status, however.

There are two ways to verify whether a charity is qualified:

  • Use the IRS online search tool; or
  • Ask the charity to send you a copy of their IRS determination letter confirming their exempt status.

2. Make Sure the Deduction is Eligible

Not all deductions are created equal. In order to take the deduction on a tax return, you need to make sure it qualifies. Charitable giving includes the following: cash donations, sponsorship of local charity events, in-kind contributions such as property such as inventory or equipment.

Lobbying. A 501(c)(3) organization may engage in some lobbying, but too much lobbying activity risks the loss of its tax-exempt status. As such, you cannot claim a charitable deduction (or business expense) for amounts paid to an organization if both of the following apply:

  • The organization conducts lobbying activities on matters of direct financial interest to your business.
  • A principal purpose of your contribution is to avoid the rules discussed earlier that prohibit a business deduction for lobbying expenses.

Further, if a tax-exempt organization, other than a section 501(c)(3) organization, provides you with a notice on the part of dues that is allocable to nondeductible lobbying and political expenses, you cannot deduct that part of the dues.

3. Understand the Limitations

Sole proprietors, partners in a partnership, or shareholders in an S-corporation may be able to deduct charitable contributions made by their business on Schedule A (Form 1040). Corporations (other than S-corporations) can deduct charitable contributions on their income tax returns, subject to limitations.

Cash payments to an organization, charitable or otherwise, may be deductible as business expenses if the payments are not charitable contributions or gifts and are directly related to your business. Likewise, if the payments are charitable contributions or gifts, you cannot deduct them as business expenses.

Sole Proprietorships. As a sole proprietor (or single-member LLC), you file your business taxes using Schedule C of individual tax form 1040. Your business does not make charitable contributions separately. Charitable contributions are deducted using Schedule A, and you must itemize in order to take the deductions.

Partnerships. Partnerships do not pay income taxes. Rather, the income and expenses (including deductions for charitable contributions) are passed on to the partners on each partner’s individual Schedule K-1. If the partnership makes a charitable contribution, then each partner takes a percentage share of the deduction on his or her personal tax return. For example, if the partnership has four equal partners and donates a total of $2,000 to a qualified charitable organization in 2020, each partner can claim a $500 charitable deduction on their 2020 tax return.

A donation of cash or property reduces the value of the partnership. For example, if a partnership donates office equipment to a qualified charity, the office equipment is no longer owned by the partnership, and the total value of the partnership is reduced. Therefore, each partner’s share of the total value of the partnership is reduced accordingly.

S-Corporations. S-Corporations are similar to Partnerships, with each shareholder receiving a Schedule K-1 showing the amount of charitable contribution.

C-Corporations. Unlike sole proprietors, partnerships, and S-corporations, C-Corporations are separate entities from their owners. As such, a corporation can make charitable contributions and take deductions for those contributions.

4. Categorize Donations

Each category of donation has its own criteria with regard to whether it’s deductible and to what extent. For example, mileage and travel expenses related to services performed for the charitable organization are deductible but the time spent on volunteering your services is not.

Here’s another example: As a board member, your duties may include hosting fundraising events. While the time you spend as a board member is not deductible, expenses related to hosting the fundraiser such as stationery for invitations and telephone costs related to the event are deductible.

Generally, you can deduct up to 50 percent of adjusted gross income. Non-cash donations of more than $500 require completion of Form 8283, which is attached to your tax return. In addition, contributions are only deductible in the tax year in which they’re made.

5. Keep Good Records

The types of records you must keep vary according to the type of donation (cash, non-cash, out of pocket expenses when donating your services) and the importance of keeping good records cannot be overstated.

Ask for – and make sure you receive – a letter from any organizations stating that said organization received a contribution from your business. You should also keep canceled checks, bank and credit card statements, and payroll deduction records as proof or your donation. Furthermore, the IRS requires proof of payment and an acknowledgment letter for donations of $250 or more.

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