Are Volunteer Vacations Tax Deductible?

Tanzania-volunteer-school 200pxMany people ask us whether our volunteer vacations are tax deductible. The IRS has been scrutinizing this delicate issue recently — because many international voluntourism programs are using tax deductions as a marketing tool. The key sentence in the IRS rules is:

“Generally, you can claim a charitable contribution deduction for travel expenses necessarily incurred while you are away from home performing services for a charitable organization only if there is no significant element of personal pleasure, recreation, or vacation in the travel.” (We’ve included a longer excerpt below, or you can read IRS Publication 526 for the full text.)

No significant element of pleasure or vacation?! Nope, that’s not Discover Corps.

So, simply put: we do not encourage travelers to deduct our trips from their taxes. Our international volunteer trips are vacations that combine pleasure, sightseeing, and recreation — in addition to volunteering. Our trips are purposely structured so you volunteer for a few hours in the morning, and then spend the afternoons learning about the country, meeting fascinating people, and engaging in hands-on cultural activities.

We are not a work camp where you spend all day constructing buildings. Our mission is to give you a deeper understanding of life in communities around the world, while also helping to improve the lives of the people you visit.

Read more about our unique model of volunteer vacations.


Excerpt from IRS Publication 526 (page 5)

Travel. Generally, you can claim a charitable contribution deduction for travel expenses necessarily incurred while you are away from home performing services for a charitable organization only if there is no significant element of personal pleasure, recreation, or vacation in the travel. This applies whether you pay the expenses directly or indirectly. You are paying the expenses indirectly if you make a payment to the charitable organization and the organization pays for your travel expenses. The deduction for travel expenses will not be denied simply because you enjoy providing services to the charitable organization. Even if you enjoy the trip, you can take a charitable contribution deduction for your travel expenses if you are on duty in a genuine and substantial sense throughout the trip. However, if you have only nominal duties, or if for significant parts of the trip you do not have any duties, you cannot deduct your travel expenses.

Example 1. You are a troop leader for a tax exempt youth group and you take the group on a camping trip. You are responsible for overseeing the setup of the camp and for providing adult supervision for other activities during the entire trip. You participate in the activities of the group and enjoy your time with them. You oversee the breaking of camp and you transport the group home. You can deduct your travel expenses.

Example 2. You sail from one island to another and spend 8 hours a day counting whales and other forms of marine life. The project is sponsored by a charitable organization. In most circumstances, you cannot deduct your expenses.

Example 3. You work for several hours each morning on an archaeological dig sponsored by a charitable organization. The rest of the day is free for recreation and sightseeing.  You cannot take a charitable contribution deduction even though you work very hard during those few hours.

 

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