Deductibility of Your Church Giving on Federal Taxes


Did you know that your generosity can help you during tax season? It’s true! By simply making contributions to a qualified organization like your church, you could lower the amount of your taxable income. Keep reading to learn all about IRS rules for church offerings and donations, including what donations count as qualified contributions, the filing process for charitable donations and the specific rules you need to know to maximize your tax deductions.

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Navigating Church Donations and Tax Deductions

Filing taxes is already an overwhelming and daunting task for most Americans. Adding deductible church donations to the process may feel like another unnecessary layer of confusion, but the rules are simpler than you might think. And the benefits on your tax return will be very much worth the extra effort. 


IRS Rules on Charitable Donations

As with any other part of the tax filing process, the IRS has a distinct set of rules when it comes to reporting donations to charitable organizations. These rules are designed to ensure that taxpayers report their contributions accurately and qualify for the associated tax benefits. Let’s briefly highlight some of the key parts of those rules before we look at them in greater detail. 

  • Eligible organizations: Only donations made to eligible organizations qualify for deductions. Qualified organizations generally include religious, charitable, educational, scientific and literary organizations plus government agencies. 
  • Itemizing deductions: To claim a deduction for charitable contributions, you must itemize deductions on Schedule A (Form 1040). This is an alternative to taking the standard deduction. We’ll explain this in greater detail later. 
  • Documentation requirements: For cash donations, you need a bank record (such as a canceled check or bank statement) or a written communication from the charity that includes the charity's name, the donation amount and the date of the contribution. For donations of $250 or more, you must obtain a written acknowledgment from the charity. 
  • Non-cash contributions: If you donate non-cash items such as clothing, furniture or household goods, you must determine the fair market value of the items. Special rules apply to donations of property, and additional documentation, such as Form 8283, may be required for non-cash contributions exceeding certain thresholds. 
  • Limits on deductions: There are limits on the total amount of charitable contributions you can deduct. Generally, the deduction for charitable contributions cannot exceed 60 percent of your adjusted gross income (AGI). Some organizations and contributions may have lower limits. 
  • Recordkeeping: Keep thorough records of all charitable contributions, including receipts, canceled checks and written acknowledgments. It would be wise to retain these records for at least three years from the date you file the tax return. 

Once you understand these rules, making the most of your tax benefits becomes much easier. It’s important to note that, in some cases, rules may vary from person to person. Rules can also change from year to year, so remember to stay informed, check for updates and consult with a professional for help when needed. 


The Importance of Understanding Tax Benefits for Church Donations

Understanding tax benefits for church donations is important to both members of the congregation and church leaders.  

  • Church leaders can encourage giving among community members by demonstrating the potential benefits donors could receive. Some churches may even choose to offer classes about filing taxes taught by tax experts who can showcase the tax benefits of making regular donations. Churches can also incorporate an online giving platform like Vanco that makes it easy for donors to keep track of their contributions for recordkeeping purposes. 
  • For church members, contributing to the church is fulfilling in terms of both faith and finances. Churches rely on donations to support activities, including community outreach, educational programs, maintenance and more. Thanks to the tax benefits that come with making contributions, donors can feel excited about helping the church without worrying too much about finances. They can also plan their charitable contributions to make the most of those benefits, considering the timing and type of contributions to optimize deductions. 


Eligibility Criteria for Deductible Church Donations

Now that we understand the general rules and importance of deductible donations, let’s figure out what makes church donations eligible for deductions. 


IRS Definition of Recognized Churches and Religious Organizations

In order for a church or religious organization to be given tax-exempt status, it must meet a list of requirements defined by the IRS. Those requirements are: 

  • These organizations must be organized and operated exclusively for religious, educational, scientific or other charitable purposes. 
  • Their net earnings may not result in a benefit to any private individual or shareholder. 
  • No substantial part of their activity may be attempting to influence legislation. 
  • Organizations may not intervene in political campaigns. 
  • The organizations’ purposes and activities may not be illegal or violate fundamental public policy. 

If a church or religious organization fails to meet any of these requirements, it may be denied tax-exempt status or have the status removed by the IRS. 

Churches that meet these requirements will be considered automatically tax-exempt. However, many churches choose to formally apply anyway to reassure church leaders that the organization successfully qualifies. This also makes it easier to ensure that donors will be aware that their donations will most likely qualify as tax-deductible contributions. 

Some churches may be part of larger parent organizations. Parent organizations can apply for a group ruling that states that one or more of the subordinate organizations have tax-exempt status. If the church is included in the list of organizations that fall under the group ruling compiled by the parent organization, the church is automatically considered tax-exempt and will not need to take any further action. 

Unlike churches, most other religious organizations seeking tax-exempt status will have to formally apply with the IRS. The main exception is any religious organization whose gross receipts do not regularly exceed $5,000 annually. 

To manually search for tax-exempt organizations, you can use the IRS’s online search tool. 


Types of Donations Eligible for Deductions

Church contributions come in many different forms. From volunteer work to donations to a clothing drive, members of the congregation often contribute in their own unique ways. It’s important that donors are aware of the types of charitable donations that are eligible for tax deductions. Let’s go over a few examples. 



Cash donations are perhaps the most common form of church contributions. As long as the church has tax-exempt status, monetary contributions from church members are tax-deductible. However, you must make sure you have a record of each donation if you want to be able to deduct them. Writing a check, using a credit or debit card or transferring money electronically will leave an automatic paper trail that you can use as a record. Keep in mind that those making one-time cash donations that exceed $250 must ask for receipts. 



When you donate goods to your church, those items may be eligible for tax deductions as non-cash contributions. Typically, you will deduct the fair market value of a donated item. Fair market value is not equivalent to how much you paid for the item when it was new. Rather, it is the price you would pay for the item secondhand or in a thrift store. When donating expensive items, it may be beneficial to have them appraised first to understand their fair market value. As in the case of cash donations, if you make a one-time donation of items that exceed $250 in value, you must ask for a receipt. 



Unfortunately, charitable donations in the form of time and services may not be deducted. However, the IRS may sometimes allow donors to deduct expenses accrued while volunteering that were not already reimbursed by the church. These expenses must be non-personal and can include office supplies, equipment, postage, transportation, travel expenses and more. Travel expenses are not deductible if the travel was for recreation, vacation or personal pleasure in any way. 


How to Itemize and Claim Church Donations on Tax Returns

When you file your taxes, you will have the option to either take the standard deduction or itemize your deductions. The standard deduction is a flat amount that the IRS adjusts with inflation each year. It is based on your filing status. Most people can take the standard deduction, unless: 

  • They are married and filing separately from a spouse who itemizes their deductions 
  • They file a tax return for a period of less than 12 months 
  • They were a nonresident alien during the year 
  • They are filing as an estate, common trust fund or partnership 

The standard deduction amounts for 2023 and 2024 according to filing status are as follows: 

  • Single taxpayers or married individuals filing separately: $13,850 (2023) and $14,600 (2024) 
  • Heads of households: $20,800 (2023) and $21,900 (2024) 
  • Married individuals filing jointly: $27,700 (2023) and $29,200 (2024) 

Unlike the standard deduction, the amount claimed for itemized deductions will change from taxpayer to taxpayer. Itemized deductions are the expenses that can be subtracted from your AGI. If the total amount of your itemized deductions exceeds the standard deduction for that year, you should itemize your deductions instead of taking the standard deduction. 


Itemizing Donations on Schedule A (Form 1040)

To itemize church donations, you must fill out Schedule A (Form 1040) for Itemized Deductions. Church donations go in the Gifts to Charity section of the form, beginning at line 11. Follow the instructions by entering the amounts you donated by cash or check, by other means, and any carryover from prior years. 

If the amount you donated exceeded the limit of the amount you could deduct in a previous year, you can carry over that donation to the next year. For most contributions, you will have five years to use up the contributions from earlier years. Remember that contributions may be subject to different limitations each year. 

Once you fill out each line with the corresponding amount, add all your contributions together and enter the sum in line 14. This is the amount you can deduct for the year. 

You can find more detailed instructions on how to fill out Schedule A (Form 1040) for Itemized Deductions here. 


The Importance of Maintaining Records

Anyone who has ever filed their own tax return knows the importance of maintaining records. Records are important to various aspects of the tax filing process, including sorting out charitable donations. In most cases, you will be asked to provide records that verify the contributions you claim on your forms. If you fail to present those records, your claims may be disallowed. 



Receipts are necessary for verification of cash donations. When you contribute to your church using cash, make sure to get a receipt for your tax records. All donations over $250  require a receipt. 


Bank Statements 

Bank statements can also be used as verification of donations. These are particularly useful for verifying online cash transfers or donations made with a credit or debit card. 

Whether you use bank statements, receipts or a combination of both, be sure to keep an accurate record of your contributions if you intend to include them in your tax return. 

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Understanding Limits and Restrictions on Deductions

As with any form of tax benefit, there are limits and restrictions on charitable deductions. Those looking to maximize their benefits should pay careful attention to these limits and take steps to make sure they stay within the legal guidelines outlined by the IRS. 


Explanation of AGI Limits for Different Types of Donations

The total amount of charitable deductions you can claim generally cannot exceed a specific percentage of your AGI. The limits vary depending on the type of donation and the organization receiving the contribution: 

  • 60 percent for cash contributions to a public charity 
  • 30 percent for contributions of capital gain property to a public charity 
  • 20 percent for contributions of capital gain property to a semi-public or private charity. 

Most donors will likely fall into the first category, with 60 percent of their AGI as the maximum. Remember that if a taxpayer's contributions exceed the applicable AGI limits, the excess can be carried forward for up to five years. This allows individuals to use the deduction in future tax years when their income may be higher. 


Common Errors and Pitfalls to Avoid When Claiming Deductions

Keep an eye out for these common mistakes as you go about claiming your charitable deductions: 

  • Incorrectly valuing donated items: Don’t overestimate the value of donated items. You must stick to the fair market value. 
  • Missing documentation: Without proper documentation, the IRS may disallow the deduction. Maintain proper recordkeeping by retaining receipts, canceled checks and written acknowledgments from the church for all cash and non-cash contributions. 
  • Ignoring substantiation rules: Some deductions, especially for larger contributions, require specific substantiation. If you don't follow the rules, such as obtaining a qualified appraisal for high-value property donations, the IRS may disallow the deduction. 
  • Not checking eligibility: The majority of churches will most likely be eligible for tax deductions, but it’s important to check just in case. Talk to your church leaders or use the IRS online search tools to find out more information about your church’s eligibility. 
  • Failing to itemize deductions: To claim charitable deductions, you must itemize your deductions on Schedule A (Form 1040). Remember, it may not be beneficial to itemize if your itemized deductions do not exceed the standard deduction for the year. 
  • Incorrectly reporting cash contributions: Ensure that you accurately report cash contributions on your tax return. Incorrectly reporting or failing to include these contributions can lead to discrepancies and potential audits. 
  • Confusing non-cash contributions: Non-cash contributions often have specific rules and documentation requirements. Visit the IRS website to make sure you follow the correct instructions. 
  • Ignoring changes in tax laws: Tax laws can change, bringing updates to the charitable contribution rules with them. Stay informed about these changes so you can make sure you claim deductions in accordance with the latest regulations. 

Avoiding these mistakes requires careful attention to detail, thorough recordkeeping and a good understanding of IRS guidelines. When in doubt, talk to a tax professional for help navigating the process accurately and efficiently. 



How do online event payments ensure IRS compliance for church donations?

Digital platforms help ensure IRS compliance by providing a traceable record of transactions, including dates, amounts and donor information. This electronic trail serves as concrete evidence, aligning with IRS requirements for proper documentation of contributions. They can also generate automatic receipts that donors can use for their tax records. 

Online platforms can help confirm that individual churches are recognized as eligible organizations for tax deductions. 


Can you carry over excess church donations to the next tax year? 

Yes! If a taxpayer's charitable contributions, including those made to a church, exceed the applicable deduction limits based on AGI, the excess amount can be carried forward for up to five years. This means that the taxpayer can claim the unused portion of the deduction in subsequent tax years. That’s part of why it’s so important to retain records from past years. Proper documentation and recordkeeping help taxpayers ensure they can claim their carryover deductions successfully. 


What qualifies as a deductible church donation?

Deductible church donations can be cash or non-cash contributions.  

  • Cash contributions can be made with actual cash, checks, credit or debit cards, through online transfer, etc. All cash contributions must be documented with receipts or bank statements depending on the amounts of the contributions. 
  • Non-cash contributions can take the form of goods donated to the church or expenses accrued while volunteering. Donated goods must have their worth appraised according to their fair market value, not the price they were purchased at when they were new. Volunteer expenses cannot have been used for any personal reasons. 

Do you need to itemize your tax return to claim church donation deductions?

Yes. You can only file for church donation tax deductible claims when you choose to itemize deductions. If you take the standard deduction for the year, you will not be able to claim charitable deductions. Although there can be extenuating circumstances, it is typically not beneficial to itemize deductions when the standard deduction is higher than the amount from your itemized deductions. Keep that in mind as you make your decisions. 

If you choose to itemize deductions, you must fill out Schedule A (Form 1040). Enter any charitable donations in lines 11 to 14. Pay close attention as you fill out the form to make sure you do it correctly. The IRS offers in-depth guidelines for completing the Schedule A form online. 


What records do you need to keep for cash donations? 

For cash donations to your church, you should keep the following records: 

  • Receipts or other written acknowledgments: Obtain written receipts or acknowledgments from the church for all cash donations, regardless of the amount. These documents should include the church’s name, the donation amount, the date of the contribution and a statement confirming whether any goods or services were provided in exchange. 
  • Bank statements and checks: Keep copies of bank statements or canceled checks that show the date and amount of each cash donation. 
  • Payroll records: If you make donations through payroll deductions, maintain records such as pay stubs, W-2 forms or other documents that verify the amount contributed and the designated recipients. 
  • Online payments: For online contributions, save confirmation emails, transaction summaries or any other documentation provided by the payment platform as evidence of the donations. 
  • Communication records: Retain any written communication, such as emails or letters, confirming the church's receipt of the donation. 

Remember to keep records on hand for at least three years from the date you file your tax return, as the IRS may request documentation to verify claimed deductions. 


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