Find Out If Pro Bono Services Are Tax-Deductible

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Pro bono service is work that you do or provide without charge. It is often to benefit a cause or for the good of the general public. Some expenses for performing pro bono services are tax-deductible, but many are not.

Volunteer hours, for example, are generally not tax-deductible. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is also particular about what constitutes professional services. Providing a service doesn't necessarily mean it constitutes pro bono work.

It is important to distinguish between donating professional services and simply volunteering time and labor. Learn what kind of pro bono work is deductible at tax time.

Key Takeaways

  • Charitable contributions are itemized deductions, so you can't take them if you want to take the standard deduction.
  • You can deduct contributions up to 60% of your AGI, but they must be to eligible charities that the IRS recognizes.
  • You can't deduct the standard fee for the time you donate, but you can deduct qualified expenses that you incur to provide those services.
  • You cannot deduct expenses that benefit you more than the charity, such as the cost of equipment you continue to use.

Claiming a Deduction

A tax break for charitable contributions is an itemized deduction. You can't gain any tax benefit from claiming them unless you forgo the standard deduction, and limits apply to how much you can claim. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act virtually doubled standard deductions beginning in 2018. As a result, many taxpayers find that the deduction they're entitled to is more generous than the total of their itemized deductions.

Typically, you would be limited to claiming overall charitable contributions of no more than 60% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). You'd have to add your pro bono time to any other donations you made. You could only claim an itemized tax deduction up to this portion of your AGI.

You're additionally limited to making donations only to eligible charities. This generally includes churches, government entities, and any organization that's listed as qualifying on the IRS website. The agency provides an interactive tool online that allows you to check to make sure the charity you're considering is eligible.

Services and Time vs. Expenses

You generally can't deduct the fees that you would normally charge for your services as pro bono services. But you might be able to take deductions for certain qualifying expenses on your tax return.

For example, you can't deduct $300 for two hours if you normally charge $150 an hour for your services. The IRS clearly indicates that you can't deduct the value of your services or your time that you spend helping others. But you can deduct expenses that you incur in the process of giving your time or services to others.

Maybe you incurred a tangible expense because you paid an employee $500 to make a website template for a charity, then you gave the template to the charity for free. The $500 might be tax-deductible. But your personal time isn't tax-deductible if you're a marketing consultant and donate 50 hours to a charity to help them with their marketing. Your professional time isn't deductible.

Note

Childcare expenses that allow you to provide pro bono services are not tax-deductible, even if you wouldn't have been able to volunteer without childcare.

Now let's say that you had to travel to the charity to meet with them. Travel-related expenses are typically considered tax-deductible because they're tied directly to the donation of your professional services. It's not likely that this will give you a significant break on your taxes, though. The IRS standard mileage rate for driving for charitable purposes was just $0.14 a mile for the tax year 2021.

Expenses That Might Be Deductible

All pro bono deductions must meet two IRS qualifying rules:

  • They must be incurred as a requirement to perform the service for the organization.
  • They must primarily benefit the charity and not the taxpayer.

An example would be the cost of supplies that are necessary to provide or perform the service that directly benefited the charity.

The burden is on you as the donor to prove that you made a donation if you're going to take a charitable deduction. Save all the receipts from your expenses. You should also be sure to get a receipt from the charity recording your donation.

Note

The IRS can deny the deduction if you can't substantiate all expenses.

Expenses You Can't Deduct

You typically can't deduct the cost of equipment purchases that you'd keep. For example, you couldn't claim a deduction for the purchase of a computer to set up a donor-management system unless you also gave the computer to the charity.

Likewise, you couldn't deduct the cost of a postage machine to do a mass mailing more efficiently. But you could deduct the cost of postage.

IRS Red Flags

The IRS will typically deny deductions when the individual or business substantially benefits more than a charity.

Never try to deduct the cash value of your services for professional or service fees without talking to an accountant. You won't be able to take any deduction for such fees in most cases.

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Sources
The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 526 Charitable Contributions," Page 6.

  2. IRS. "Topic No. 506 Charitable Contributions."

  3. Internal Revenue Service. "Be Tax Ready - Understanding Tax Reform Changes Affecting Individuals and Families."

  4. Internal Revenue Service. "Charitable Contribution Deductions."

  5. Internal Revenue Service. "Charitable Contributions."

  6. Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 526 Charitable Contributions," Page 5.

  7. IRS. "Standard Mileage Rates."

  8. Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 526 Charitable Contributions," Pages 4-5.

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