Not all Charitable Donations Go to Charity

Whatever your position is on the charitable deduction, it’s only fair to point out that not all deductible charitable donations are invested in what are commonly thought of as charitable activities, such as feeding the hungry. To use the example cited by Singletary in the lead to her column, while tithing to her church may support some of the church’s charitable activities, some of that money likely also goes towards staff and facilities that have worship services as their main purpose. Nothing wrong with worship, but it’s not accurate to characterize that spending as helping to “take up the slack from reduced government services and financial aid to people in need.”

Secondly, while people may say to pollsters that they would reduce their giving if the charitable deduction didn’t exist at all (something that is not being proposed, by the way), it’s also instructive to look at the evidence of what people have really done in the past after tax changes were supposed to have resulted in dire consequences for charitable giving. Both Joseph Cordes (cited in the article) and William Randolph have noted that the evidence is actually not very clear on whether past tax law changes have changed people’s giving habits that much. For example, there were concerns that the lower tax rates mandated by the Tax Reform Act of 1986 would cause donations to drop, but, in fact, charitable giving remained pretty stable.