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Are Contributions to Nonprofit Private Schools Deductible?

The federal tax code lets taxpayers take a deduction for contributions, or donations, they make to charities and other tax-exempt organizations that are qualified. Qualified organizations include private nonprofit schools that operate to educate students in the community or serve some other approved purpose. However, a donation you make to a nonprofit private school may not qualify for the deduction if it significantly engages in additional activities that do not relate to charitable, scientific, humanitarian or religious causes.

Value of Donation Deduction

The IRS lets you deduct the fair market value of all money and property you donate to a private nonprofit school during the tax year. However, only your contributions of property will require a fair market value assessment on the date of each donation made. Various types of property require different types of valuation methods. Although the IRS does allow different valuation methods for similar pieces of property, it does warn taxpayers that fair market value must reflect the sales price you can obtain for the property in the open market. For example, to obtain the value of used household items donations to a nonprofit private school, IRS guidance suggests that you inquire what thrift shops in your community charge for similar items.

Benefits Received Reduction

The private school may offer you a gift or other benefit, such as tuition discounts, in appreciation of your generosity. However, you must reduce the deductible value of your donation by the value of all gifts and benefits you receive from the private nonprofit school. When dealing with a token gift, meaning it has little or no market value, it isn’t necessary to reduce the deduction reported on your 1040 form. For example, receiving a trophy with your name engraved on it is likely to have little value to anyone else — which is why the IRS allows you to value the benefit at zero. In contrast, receiving a $300 gift certificate in appreciation of your $10,000 donation may seem minimal, but it still requires you to report a charitable deduction of $9,700 rather than $10,000.

Overvaluation Tax Penalties

The Internal Revenue Code provides the IRS with full authority to impose penalties if you overvalue your charitable contribution values. The penalty charge is 20 percent of the underpayment of tax that directly results from reporting a deductible value for a donation you make to a private school that is 150 percent or more of its actual value. Note, however, that the penalty will increase to 40 percent for valuations of 200 percent.

School Donation Records

The IRS can also disallow your deduction if you’re unable to provide proper documentation. All charitable contributions, whether in cash or property, require that you maintain records for all contributions, which must include the school’s name, the value of the donation and proof that you made it. The IRS increases your record-keeping burden and may require proof with your tax return for each separate contribution you make of $250 or more.

You Must Itemize

In order to take a charitable contribution deduction for donations you make to a nonprofit school, you’ll need to itemize your deductions on Schedule A when filing your 1040 form. As a result, the deduction is only beneficial when itemizing will reduce your tax bill more than the standard deduction. You will generally choose to itemize when your total deductible expenses exceed the prevailing standard deduction amount for the filing status you choose.

IRS Publication 526: Charitable Contributions