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Tax Deductions — Do They Make A Difference?

I haven’t found a nonprofit administrator or development professional yet who isn’t concerned about the Obama administration’s ongoing desire to limit the tax deductions for charitable contributions.  I worry along with them that at the upper levels, especially, giving will be more expensive and therefore will decrease.  I recently came across a March 2009 brief from the Indiana University Center on Philanthropy that examined this issue by looking at historical tax data.  I found their conclusion interesting but not entirely comforting: “In looking at charitable giving at a national level, changes in personal income and changes in wealth play a larger role overall in shaping charitable giving than do changes in tax rates. Changes in tax rates matter in the short-term, the year before they take effect and the year they are implemented.”  The brief, How Changes in Tax Rates Might Affect Itemized Charitable Deductions, estimates perhaps a two percent decrease in contributions overall from a tax rate change.  But, of course, that would come on top of the other challenges that they measure.  They also caution that their conclusion is based on one year of data (2006), and acknowledge that longer term changes  would require analysis of multiple years of donor behavior.  So, I’m still worried.


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