Deducting Travel Expenses When Doing Charitable Work

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If you’ve done any charitable work over the past year you’ve likely put in time and money toward the cause. But what if you had to travel in order to volunteer? Are travel expenses to a charitable event deductible? This is a good question and one many volunteers don’t think about. In some cases, yes, travel expenses related to volunteering can be deducted. But before you start adding up all the miles you should take a moment to understand what you can and can’t do.

Charitable Travel
Charitable Travel

First, you have to know whether or not the organization you volunteered for was a qualified organization. No matter what you gave, be it time or money, the IRS only allows you to deduct when it’s been given to a qualified organization. The good news is that most public and non-profit private organizations are qualified, but it is up to you to find out if you aren’t sure.

Now when it comes to travel incurred while volunteering there are a few things to consider. First, the IRS says that 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. The good news here is that most travel expenses will qualify, but keep in mind that you can’t turn one way of volunteering into a week-long vacation with the family and expect to write off all the airfare and lodging costs.

Deductible Travel Expenses

Most common expenses related to travel are allowed. Here is what the IRS defines as deductible travel expenses:

  • Air, rail, and bus transportation,
  • Out-of-pocket expenses for your car,
  • Taxi fares or other costs of transportation between the airport or station and your hotel,
  • Lodging costs, and
  • The cost of meals.

When it comes to using your own car for travel you can do one of two things. You may deduct the actual cost of gas used to get to and from the volunteer site, or you can deduct the IRS standard rate of 14 cents per mile. Unlike using your personal car for business, you cannot deduct expenses such as insurance, maintenance, or depreciation.

As always, it pays to keep detailed records regarding all expenses related to the trip. You may need to substantiate your expenses so keep a log of the miles driven, keep all receipts for meals and lodging, tolls or parking, and anything else related to your time volunteering.

42 responses to “Deducting Travel Expenses When Doing Charitable Work”

  1. Hi – my husband traveled to Kenya for charitable work. His mother paid for the travel and lodging, so she will be writing off those expenses. He was told that he could write off everything else, like donated items he took, clothing he purchased for the trip, but left abroad, shots for the trip, etc. We have all receipts, so how do we write off his individual expenses if we aren’t able to write off the travel portion?

  2. I was reimbursed for travel expenses my spouse incurred while traveling with me on charitable travel. The organization gave me a 1099-MISC form for those reimbursed expenses. My expenses were reimbursed also, but no 1099-MISC was given to me for my expenses. I’m the officer of the organization. Are my spouses expenses taxable?

  3. I am a Boy Scout Leader and was one of 3 adults who took 23 Scouts to Philmont Boy Scout backpacking Adventure 2 week trek in 8/14. The total was $2600 per adult including airfare, lodging and trek expenses. Is the entire amount deductible? I read IRS 526-page 5 and I think so. any thoughts?

  4. I am the director of a social organization that is recognized by the state of Ohio as an unincorporated not-for-profit organization. Can I claim expenses incurred while attending convention and trade shows in order to promote our organization?

  5. I am a volunteer basketball coach and would like to deduct the mileage traveling to and from practices and games. I understand that the deduction is $.14 per mile but is it necessary for my deduction to be over 2% of my income to qualify or is it considered a charitable deduction which can be deducted normally?

  6. I am planning on running the NYC Marathon as a fund raiser for an approved charity (JDRF). Are the travel & living expenses to the event deductible?

  7. I’m a professional photographer and going on a mission trip to Mexico this year. Can I ask if I can be the mission organization’s photographer for the trip, and then deduct my expenses as business expenses?

  8. I traveled in my motor home in while building for Habitat for Humanity how do I take the actual cost for vehicle expenses in turbotax. ?

    • Hi Chuck,
      In TurboTax, when you get to deductions, you will be asked if you donated to charity and you can include the miles driven to help with the charity. TurboTax will do the calculations for you. You can also put the details of your travel into TurboTax ItsDedcutible and it will transfer the information to your tax return.
      Thank you,
      Lisa Greene-Lewis

  9. Where in turbo tax do I enter expenses occurred while being a chaperon for a qualified charity? We flew to our destination, so mileage does not apply. Do I just put the lump sum of everything under the carity under ‘Mileage and Travel expenses’? There does not seem to be a way to itemize these.

  10. My wife and I recently went on a trip abroad to scout out opportunities, locations and make local affiliations for our 501c3 mission group to take a mission trip. Although the purpose of the trip was ‘business’, we also did some recreational stuff, went to the beach one day, etc, We stayed at a nice hotel, so we were planning to not deduct that, but we did want to do our airfare. Is that still okay, even with the recreation?
    Also, he paid for the trip in 2014, but actually took it in 2015, which year can we deduct it?

  11. I travelled as an elected delegate to a religious conference. I know that I can deduct my expenses, but can I deduct expenses for my dependent children (age 18 & 20) if they were also elected delegates?

  12. Would travel costs to a charitable fundraising event be considered tax deductible? For example, I raised several thousand dollars for the Avon Foundation by participating in their Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. Would my hotel and auto mileage be deductible since the event was out of town? Thanks!

    • Hi Karen,
      Yes, as long as your travel was directly related to the fundraising for the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer.
      Thank you,
      Lisa Greene-Lewis

  13. I am a volunteer law enforcement officer for the US govt. I travel for a living and am required to stay overnight every week. I perform my volunteer duties concurrent with my job. I am “on duty” as a Law enforcement officer from the time I leave home till the time I return.

    Can I use my non reimbursed portions of my travel, Fuel and oil expenses, overnight accommodations, parking and tolls etc…. as a deduction?


  14. Thanks for the post. If I have a branch of a qualified non profit in a foreign location, which happened to be my hometown before immigrating to the U.S. (so still have family there), does travel to work there considered tax deductible?
    Thanks again!

  15. So I traveled a total of 6,482 miles in 2013 for volunteer services. If I take that time the .14 cents per mile it comes to $907.48. My Motel Costs for the year while volunteering is $489.21. If my Federal and State Return shows I must pay in $2,700.00 before turning in the above items do I then get to deduct the $907.48 and the $489.21 from the $2,700? Thanks!

    • Hi Robert,
      Not exactly. First you have to make sure you can itemize your deductions so your deductions have to be more than $6,100 if you’re single and $12,200 if you’re married filing jointly. If you can itemize you would take the amount related to volunteering and all your other itemized deductions and deduct them from your adjusted gross income on your federal tax return. Then your tax rate which determines the amount of taxes you pay will be based on your adjusted gross income less itemized deductions. For instance, if your adjusted gross income is $30,000 you would subtract your itemized deductions say $10,000. Your taxable income would be $20,000. The tax rate on $20,000 is 15% so your tax would be $3,000 excluding any credits. Deductions are not a dollar for dollar reduction of your tax liability. If you are eligible for tax credits, credits are a dollar for dollar reduction from your tax liability. The good thing is if you use TurboTax you don’t have to make these calculations and you don’t have to figure out if you can take the standard deduction or itemize. TurboTax will figure it out for you.
      Thank you,
      Lisa Greene-Lewis

  16. My 16 year old daughter and I traveled to Peru this past year on a short term mission trip (10 days), organized through our church. Some church fundraising helped to pay for SOME of our expenses, but not all (air fare in particular was very pricey and not paid for). We also paid fees to cover the cost of our mission work, took supplies with us, etc. How do we document all of this and where do we enter it on our TurboTax software?

  17. Not really could advice per se. EXACTLY how and where does one input this travel? TurboTax only mentions cash and non cash donations. Nothing that says travel?

  18. Can you deduct air and hotel expenses for an annual conference you are required to attend to keep your licensing and ordination status? This a international ministry I am a part of and I am not paid.

  19. I have read that mileage to and from charitable/volunteer work is deductible at 14c per mile.. I am a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, and aside from meetings I attend, I also sometimes chair meetings, arrive early some days to prepare the room and/or make coffee, stay late to clean and remove trash, etc. On days that I function in the capacity of a volunteer worker and not just an attendee, should I be logging my mileage and expect to be able to deduct this?
    As a follow-up, we pass a donations basket every meeting, and most usually drop in $1, but no receipts are given or expected. But if I routinely maintain a personal log of these donations (date and amounts) is this deductible?

  20. Our Boy Scout troop is going to Seabase in July 2014. We will be flying to Florida for this trip. If I go on this trip as a leader (Scout Master) and also as a parent chaperone, is the airfare or anything else deductible? If we don’t have enough adult leadership to go on the trips, the trips don’t happen, so as a parent, these trips are not just for pleasure as adults we oversee the safety and well being of all the kids on the trip. If some of these expenses are deductible what year can they be deducted? The year the expense was paid or the year of the trip? Any thoughts?

  21. I travel extensively up and down the west coast region participating in Charity events for registered 501c3 organizations this included travel in my personal vehicle, admission to the event (which is the “donation”) and food & Beverages at the event, in addition I pay for lodging. are all of these deductible (as long as I keep good records)?

  22. I am considering a volunteer trip to Italy. I pay my own airfare and $2000 to the organization, but they provide food and lodging while on site. I’m pretty confident that the airfare is deductible, but how about the organization’s fee?

  23. Hi CG,
    To deduct out-of-pocket expenses in Turbo-Tax, you wll go to Deductions and Credits, Charitable Donations, then choose Start (or Edit) Donations to Charity. Answer Yes on the next screen, then enter the charity’s name and select Add for “I had expenses related to my donation”.

  24. I am the treasurer of a qualified charity. A board member recently took an international trip during which he met with some of our members in Israel. He is asking me to send him the same letter I send to cash donors acknowledging their donations for IRS purposes describing how much he spent for travel and lodging as a donation. I said I am willing to write a letter specifying what duties he performed in Israel as a unpaid board member. Am I required/allowed to describe his trip as a deductible donation? Thanks.

    • BG,

      You don’t have the necessary information from your records to include his expenses for traveling to Israel, so you cannot include that information in a donee letter.
      According to IRS Publication 526 –

      If you give services to a qualified organization and have unreimbursed out-of-pocket expenses related to those services, the following two rules apply.

      You must have adequate records to prove the amount of the expenses.

      If any of your unreimbursed out-of-pocket expenses, considered separately, are $250 or more (for example, you pay $250 for an airline ticket to attend a convention of a qualified organization as a chosen representative), you must get an acknowledgment from the qualified organization that contains:

      A description of the services you provided,

      A statement of whether or not the organization provided you any goods or services to reimburse you for the expenses you incurred,

      A description and a good faith estimate of the value of any goods or services (other than intangible religious benefits) provided to reimburse you, and

      A statement that the only benefit you received was an intangible religious benefit, if that was the case. The acknowledgment does not need to describe or estimate the value of an intangible religious benefit (defined earlier under Acknowledgment ).

      Mary Ellen

    • Hi,
      They would not be deductible until you actually provide your services for the charity so the following year.
      Thank you,
      Lisa Greene-Lewis

  25. What about deductions for elected officials who do not get paid for their service. A trustee for the local community college, elected by the voters, for example. Can traveling to board meetings be deducted? Is it at the 14 cents per mile rate, or the 55.5 cents per mile rate? Thanks!

    • Hi Illinois Trustee,
      If the organization for which you are a trustee is a qualified charitable organization, you can deduct the cost of gasoline for travel to and from board meetings and other charitable events related to the organization, or you can deduct 14 cents per mile.

      Mary Ellen

    • I enter my charitable travel on the website (also owned by intuit and uses the same login as turbotax) Then when doing my taxes Turbo Tax imports the information from this site.

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