The Senate Finance Committee estimates that 74 percent of U.S. taxpayers do not itemize on their federal income tax and therefore cannot take charitable deductions. Because legislation to rectify this situation was introduced in both chambers of Congress this fall, the November Question of the Month asked, "Do you support allowing taxpayers who do not itemize on their federal income tax to take charitable deductions?" Newsletter readers responded overwhelmingly: "Yes." (For an update on Senate action on this proposal, see "Senate Approves Charitable Giving Legislation.")
ResultsNine out of ten Question of the Month participants supported allowing non-itemizers to take charitable deductions. Only 8 percent said they opposed the measure, and 2 percent stated they did not know. Some 83 percent of these respondents were associated with nonprofit organizations.
Why such tremendous support for this initiative? Susan Gardynik of Matrix Human Services, Inc. expressed the opinion of many when she commented, "It would certainly provide another incentive to donate to charities [which] need all the help they can get especially with the current economy." Evie Hakeem noted that many people "who file simple tax forms would contribute more to the causes of charitable organizations if they could benefit from the tax write off."
Mary Kay Tortorice of Holy Name Retreat Center agreed. A charitable deduction, she observed, "would give us even more to contribute." An anonymous non-itemizer also supported the idea: "I'm a single, middle-aged woman, who rents and has no deductions, but pays plenty of taxes. I give, give, give to charity and would like to be able to deduct some of it."
Other readers also raised the issue of fairness to non-itemizers. Sarah Morrison remarked, "Those who have lower incomes are still charitable, but lose out on the tax breaks of those with greater incomes." Susan Sanford of the Memphis Food Bank maintained that the current system unjustly "[penalizes] generous givers." An anonymous respondent contended, "This type of tax incentive should be available to everyone, regardless of income."
ObjectionsOnly a complete grinch would oppose allowing non-itemizers to take charitable deductions, right? Not necessarily. The respondents who said they do not support the proposal gave thoughtful reasons for their views.
Many shared the opinion of Janet Fifer, who stated, "Non itemizers are allowed a standard deduction which, in many cases, is probably more than the amounts actually paid for the items normally reported on Schedule A. To give them an additional deduction without adjusting the standard deduction would allow them a double deduction." An anonymous respondent expressed doubt "that those who do not currently itemize will [find] a tax deduction [an incentive] to increase their level of charitable giving."
Bob Ornstein spoke for several readers when he wrote, "This system may be too susceptible to abuse." Deborah Varallo, a Girl Scouts board member, asserted that abuses could be prevented only by requiring that "everyone who wants to take a tax deduction for donations must provide details and accountability."
Thinking Long-TermNumerous participants cited the positive impact this initiative could have in the long run. Jen Bero, a freelance grant writer, pointed out, "Many young, single people do donate to worthy causes, but do not benefit from an itemized return. As the income of these same people grows, then charitable giving will be a habit for them." Gregory Perrin stated, "I think this will give [donors] more incentive to continue giving and to consider increasing their philanthropy."
Several readers observed that allowing non-itemizers to take charitable deductions could also affect nonprofits' survival and success in the short term. Theresa Sargent, executive director of Coateville Area Senior Center, summed it up well: "Non-profits are struggling to survive and we need the assistance of all means to help in our mission of service. What would our country be without the services of non-profits?"
Lauren Nicole Klapper-Lehman, December 2005
© 2005, Philanthropic Research, Inc. (GuideStar)
Lauren Klapper-Lehman is an undergraduate at the College of William and Mary. She is currently a communications intern at GuideStar.