5 Income Tax Deduction Tips for Charitable Donations

Stephen OvertonGiving to those in need makes us feel good and has the added benefit of reducing the amount of income taxes we have to pay. Using charitable donations to knock dollars off your tax bill is not always as easy as giving to your favorite charity. There are a few tips that will help you get the most out of the contributions you make this tax year.

Good Documentation

When it comes to the IRS, documentation is key. Keeping excellent records is essential to proving that you gave exactly the amount you claimed. Save any receipts, donation letters or thank you cards from the organizations to which you donated. If you donated clothing and household items to a charity shop, it is always a good idea to get photo documentation as well as a receipt. This can be used to confirm the value of your donation if the need ever arises.

Don’t Overlook Less Obvious Donations

When it comes to tax deductions, every dollar counts. Do not lose out on these deductions by neglecting to itemize the less obvious donations you make each year. When the cashier at the grocery store asks you to donate to their charity drive, save the receipt for a write off. When you donate your time to a charity, the time you spend is not deductible but any travel expenses you incur count toward your donations. You can also deduct any recurring donations you make from your paycheck or subscription donations from eligible charities.

Large Charitable Donations Require More Documentation

When you donate small value items or little sums of cash, receipts will suffice for proving the donation. When it comes to larger donations, be aware that they will come under more scrutiny and may require additional documentation. When a donation is above 250 dollars, the IRS requires detailed descriptions in addition to receipts, letters of acceptance and any relevant bank statements. A property donation of 5,000 dollars or more needs an appraisal completed by a professional.

Verify an Organization’s Tax Exempt Status

A costly mistake that taxpayers often make is contributing their cash or property to organizations that have not obtained tax exempt status. The IRS maintains a list of approved charities that are able to accept deductible donations. A charitable organization not on this list may accept donations, but you will be unable to legitimately itemize them on your taxes. Before you make a large contribution, ask to see their certification letter from the IRS. Of course you may still choose to donate to charities that do not retain tax exempt status, but be aware that they will not count toward your deductions.

Deduct the Value of Donation Gifts

Many charitable organizations will offer a gift as incentive for contributing cash. Taxpayers often overlook the need to deduct the value of the gift from the total donation. For example, if you make a small donation to your local public radio station, you must deduct the value of the branded tote bag you receive.

The Highest Rated Charities in Tampa Bay

Catholic_Charities_Chicago,_Photo_1_-_Flickr_-_USDAgovMerriam-Webster describes charity as the voluntary giving of help, typically in the form of money, to those in need or an organization set up to provide help and raise money for those in need. There ways to be charitable and an innumerable amount of charities. Here’s the list of the highest rated charities in Tampa Bay:

National Pediatric Cancer Foundation
Charity Navigator Rating: 100
Revenue: $2,316,991
Program Expenses: 88.1%

Over the past 23 years, the Pediatric Cancer Foundation has donated more than $6 million to researchers. For the first 15 years, the Pediatric Cancer Foundation funded seed grants at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital and Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, All Children’s Research Institute in St. Petersburg, the University of Florida in Gainesville, and the University of Miami School of Medicine.”

Step Up for Students
Charity Navigator Rating: 100
Revenue: 4457,846,020
Program Expenses: 98.9%

“Step Up For Students (SUFS) is a state-approved nonprofit % Scholarship Funding Organization that helps administer the Personal Learning Scholarship Account-PLSA (Special Needs Scholarship) and the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program (Income-Based Scholarship).”

Big Cat Rescue
Charity Navigator Rating 99.55
Revenue: $3,454,936
Program Expenses: 82.8%

“Big Cat Rescue is one of the largest accredited sanctuaries in the world dedicated to abused and abandoned big cats. We are home to about 80+ lions, tigers, bobcats, cougars and other species most of whom have been abandoned, abused, orphaned, saved from being turned into fur coats, or retired from performing acts.
What sets Big Cat Rescue apart is that we are working to end the abuse at its root by ending the private possession and trade in exotic cats through legislation and education.”

Alpha House of Tampa
Charity Navigator Rating: 97.9
Revenue: $1,701,802
Program Expenses: 83.4%

Alpha House was recently listed on the Top Ten List of Best Charities in Tampa Bay by Charity Navigator.  Alpha House received a rank of 97.9%.  This placed Alpha House fourth on the list of Top Ten Charities in the area.  Alpha House uses 83.4% of all revenue to fund programs and services, a key factor in the high ranking.  At Alpha House, we strive to be fiscally responsible to our clients and the community.  This ranking shows that all our hard work is paying off in terms of getting needed services to the members of the community we serve.”

Southeastern Guide Dogs
Charity Navigator Rating 97.34
Revenue: $15,808,134
Program Expenses: 81.6%

“Founded in 1982, Southeastern Guide Dogs employs the latest in canine development and behavior research to create and nurture partnerships between visually impaired individuals and extraordinary guide dogs. We serve more than 400 graduates across the U.S. and continue to place more than 100 dogs each year into careers benefitting people with visual impairments, and veterans.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium
Charity Navigator Rating: 97.21
Revenue: $18,295,101
Program Expense: 84.8%

“Clearwater Marine Aquarium believes in preserving our environment while inspiring the human spirit through leadership in the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of marine life, environmental education, research, and conservation.”

Humane Society of Tampa Bay
Charity Navigator Rating:96.46
Revenue: $7,203,399
Program Expenses: 88.2%

For more than 100 years, the Humane Society of Tampa Bay has been dedicated to ending animal homelessness and providing care and comfort for companion animals in need. Named a Four-Star Charity by Charity Navigator since 2008, and accredited by AAHA, the standard in veterinary excellence, the Humane Society of Tampa Bay is dedicated to the highest standards in animal sheltering and veterinary care. Our adoption programs, affordable veterinary services, community outreach efforts and volunteer opportunities are essential to the health and well-being of animals across Tampa Bay.”

St. Petersburg Free Clinic
Charity Navigator Rating: 96.46
Revenue: $11,590,365
Program Expense: 92.7%

“St. Petersburg Free Clinic is a multi-service, independent, not-for-profit human services agency providing our community neighbors assistance with food, shelter and health care. We have been caring for the underserved facing temporary emergency needs throughout Pinellas County since 1970.”

Special Operations Warrior Foundation
Charity Navigator Rating: 6.46
Revenue: $14,489,649
Program Expenses: 86.8%

Special Operations Warrior Foundation ensures full financial assistance for a post-secondary degree from an accredited two or four-year college, university, technical or trade school, as well as family and educational counseling, including in-home tutoring, to the surviving children of Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps special operations service members who lose their lives in the line of duty. The foundation also provides immediate financial assistance to severely wounded and hospitalized special operations service members. The Special Operations Warrior Foundation is committed to providing scholarship grants – not loans – to over 1,100 children, who survive over 900 special operations service members who gave their lives in service to our country.

Religious Community Services
Charity Navigator Rating: 96.13
Revenue: $7,346,757
Program Expenses: 87.7%

That focus remains strong today as RCS directs resources to people facing hunger, homelessness, domestic violence and basic needs. RCS has evolved into a cooperative of professional staff members, integral volunteers and partnering faith congregations delivering reliable services to those most vulnerable in Pinellas County. RCS continues to use research, communication and best practices to be a premier community-based agency providing help & hope to people in need.”

Metropolitan Ministries Outreach Centers Gifted Zika Kits to the Homeless in Tampa

people-878512_960_720Metropolitan Ministries Outreach Centers, a Tampa Charity, has consigned Zika kits to homeless community members in Holiday and Tampa, Florida.

With more than 200 documented cases of Zika, a disease that spreads through mosquito bites, in Florida, a local charity saw that hundreds of families living in their cars, tents and in the woods received kits to protect them from multiple mosquito-borne diseases, including Zika.  Metropolitan Ministries began their efforts by giving out approximately 150 Zika-prevention kits to homeless individuals, who live without proper window screens or air conditioning.

According to Metropolitan Ministries’ Shawn LaFata, the homeless community is particularly  vulnerable during the summer months, that’s in addition to facing environmental conditions, such as rain and heat. The “Zika Virus Kits,” which is equipped with mosquito netting, mosquito spray, and water treatment tablets to place in standing water, will help to protect the homeless. Also, homeless individuals can seek out the group’s outreach centers to have  their personal items and clothes sprayed for protection.

“Hundreds of homeless families across Tampa Bay are living in their cars, tents and in the woods in this extreme summer heat,” a Metropolitan Ministries blog states. “The Zika virus is a new threat to the area. For little children, and expectant mothers, these conditions are dangerous. It’s not uncommon for us to see homeless children and parents covered in bug bites.”

Late June, Gov. Rick Scott authorized the $26.2 million on the purchase of Zika prevention kits and killing mosquitos. Additionally, the Florida Department of Health will send money to counties and districts ridden with mosquitos.

The Zika virus transmission cycle begins with symptoms,  such as rash, fever, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes), and it spreads when a person infected with the virus due to maternal transmission from mother to baby in the womb,  unprotected oral, vaginal or anal sexual intercourse, or when an Aedes mosquito bites an infected person and then an that mosquito bites another person. Also, Zika can be transmitted through blood transfusion, and through the exchange of bodily fluids, including urine and saliva.  With that said Dr. Satish Pillai, the CDC’s incidence manager for the case, has told reporters, “We don’t have evidence that Zika can be passed from one person to another by sneezing, coughing, by hugging or kissing.”

Presently, the Zika virus is still extremely rare in the U.S., with there being fewer than 1,000 cases diagnosed nationwide. However, the short-term disease is serious, and it can trigger paralysis (Guillain-Barré Syndrome) and subsequent birth defects in some women. Despite a Utah case where a patient died from the Zika virus, it’s not normally deadly and not necessarily dangerous to anyone beyond developing fetuses. The worst that normally happens are muscle aches, fevers, and rashes.

With the second highest rate of Zika viruses in the nation (approximately 162 cases as of June 22), Florida-dwelling individuals living in poverty are particularly vulnerable. According to the Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative, the Tampa area has more than 1,800 homeless individuals. Also, statewide, the figure rises to 35,964 homeless people.

Visit CDC to learn more about the Zika virus and visit the Metropolitan Ministries website to learn more about the work they do to house and help the community of Tampa. To help protect more homeless families from Zika, you can donate a kit here.

6 Quick and Easy Ways To Help Your Community

10959166933_c0fc035521_bIn today’s society, people are constantly busy. It is quite possible that you want to help your community out, but you just don’t have the time. But community service doesn’t have to be time-consuming. Sure, it would be great to volunteer for a few hours at the local soup kitchen or animal shelter, but if you don’t have the time, there are many fast and easy options. Here are a few ways that you can help your community by just taking a few minutes out of your schedule:

1)Pick up litter

Littering is all too common nowadays. Why not be a part of the solution? Take a walk through your neighborhood and bring a garbage bag along the way, picking up any litter you see. This is a great way to make your community a cleaner place while also getting some exercise.

2) Bring your leftover food to an elderly neighbor

Elderly neighbors, especially widowed ones, could use a little help. Why not bring your neighbor a meal one night? If you have a family of four, prepare enough food for five people and give some food to your neighbor. This will help you get to know your neighbors and build a positive community. According to the police, getting to know your neighbor is a great way to combat neighborhood crime. And who knows, maybe next time you can even invite your neighbor over for dinner.

3) Vote in local elections

Many people only vote once every four years in the presidential elections. But elections happen every year and there’s no reason to skip over the local ones. Do some research on the candidates in the local and state elections and vote every year. Having a say in your local officials will make you feel more connected to your community.

4) Write a letter to local elected officials

Local officials will work harder to make your community a better place if they know that you appreciate them. Why not pen them a letter thanking them for making beneficial decisions for your community. Your encouraging words will make an official’s day and push them to work harder for your community.

5) Attend local events and festivals

Many local events are fundraisers that have free admission. You may be wondering how you are helping out if it is free, but typically these fundraisers help non-profit organizations which make their money through sponsorships. This typically means that sponsors look at attendance numbers to decide how much to give. If you attend with your family, you will be increasing the number of people there, therefore increasing the amount that is donated give next year.

6) Shop at locally owned businesses

If you shop locally, you will encourage other people to do so as well. This promotes growth and increases the likelihood of new businesses opening in the area. And bonus: if you shop at locally owned businesses, you will probably save time and money.

Helping out your community doesn’t have to mean taking a large part out of your day to give back. There are so many little things that you and your family can do to help make your community a better place to live.

Tampa Bay Lightning Owner Continues to Give Back

Stephen OvertonJeff Vinik, owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning NHL hockey team, has made it public that he and his wife will continue to give over the course of five seasons for the community heroes program. If you’re unfamiliar with the program, it began during the 2011-12 hockey season between the Vinik Family Foundation and the Lightning Foundation. The program is designed to highlight one hero from the Tampa Bay area during every home game and provides a $50,000 donation to the person’s favorite nonprofit. Since it started, there has been over $11 million donated to hundreds of organizations. With a five-year extension and $10 million dollars pledged by Jeff and Penny Vinik, more people will continue to be recognized, and more importantly, nonprofits will receive funds and can continue to make an impact. Over the next five seasons, the program will honor a new addition to the hero list, young individuals from local high schools or colleges who are proponents of social change and helping others. By recognizing extraordinary individuals, while bringing a community together, is a recipe for success and surely a reason for why the Vinik Family Foundation and Lightning Foundation are continuing their efforts. A $50,000 dollar donation is a considerable amount of money too, and for some nonprofits, it can be an unexpected boost that truly makes a difference and can help them for months or years to come.

Housing Florida’s Homeless

Stephen Overton housingOn any given night in January of 2014, there were approximately 578,424 individuals experiencing homelessness. This means these people were either sleeping in the streets, spending the night at an emergency shelter, or in a transitional housing program. It’s clear that homelessness is an issue, and Ability Housing, a nonprofit based out of Jacksonville, is leading the charge to improve life for the homeless.

Founded in 1992, Ability Housing was originally a group home for individuals living with development disabilities. Today it is a nonprofit with a focus on the development and operation of quality affordable rental housing for people, and families experiencing (or at risk for) homelessness, and adults with disabilities. Ability Housing’s mission is to stabilize and revitalize neighborhoods affected by damaging rental properties; improve the quality of life of the residents, neighborhood and larger community; preserve the existing affordable housing; improve neighborhood real estate values; provide housing to local vulnerable households; and provide a permanent solution to the local homelessness crisis. All of Ability Housing’s residents earn 80% or less than the area median income, and are therefore low-income. In fact, most of them earn less than 50%, and some, those who are extremely low-income, earn 30% less than the area median income.

At the end of 2015, Ability Housing was awarded a $150,000 grant to continue their cause. This gift from the Florida Blue Foundation will allow them to conduct research about the return on investment of providing the homeless with stable homes. Ability Housing’s Executive Director, Shannon Nazworth said the state is spending more on the homeless in the form of emergency stays and prison stays than they would if they homeless had stable homes. These expenditures are also counterproductive, because they don’t contribute to the stabilization of the individual. There is no Florida-specific data to prove this, so Ability Housing has launched “The Solution that Saves.” This three-year pilot study will gather data demonstrating that the return on investment is greater when a homeless individual is provided a stable home. Multiple state agencies are involved in the program, including Florida’s Department of Health, the Department of Children and Families, and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Ability Housing’s own tenants are volunteering in the study, some of which are living in the nonprofit’s newest apartment complex. I commend Ability Housing for taking the initiative to create solutions for a larger problem. Creating more opportunities for the homeless will only lead to more advancements for the larger Florida community.


Fourth Annual #GivingTuesday A Success


A new movement called #GivingTuesday has experienced massive success since its first year. Launched in 2012, the online campaign is held on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving. It is a 24-hour online campaign emphasizing altruism in response to commercial days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. In its first year, #GivingTuesday raised $10.1 million. The fourth year has seen charitable donations increase 10-fold, raising $116.7 million. This is double the amount raised last year, which was nearly $46 million. These numbers don’t include the volunteer efforts, acts of kindness, or donations of good of people participating around the world.

The movement started as a collaborative initiative between New York City’s 92Y and the United Nations Foundation. The first #GivingTuesday was hosted in 2012, with support from large organizations like Google, Microsoft and UNICEF. In its first year, #GivingTuesday was a campaign focused on a national scale. By 2014 the campaign extended itself globally and included participation from organizations within 68 countries.

#GivingTuesday embraces the power of social media and encourages participants to share their story with the hashtag #GivingTuesday. This year, the online community shared more than 1.3 million tweets mentioning the tag. This is an 86% increase in activity since last year. Participation includes mentions from high profile people like Susan Sarandon, Melinda Gates, and Bette Midler. The #GivingTuesday team encourages participants to share #unselfies and explain how they support the movement. The #MyGivingStory tag was used on Twitter to gather the stories of participants.

Participation isn’t limited to monetary donations. You can partake by donating things you longer use, like warm clothing or blankets. Find your local food bank and give non-perishables like canned foods and dry goods. Volunteer your time at a local animal shelter, or a hospital. If you want to stay close to home, ask your neighbors if they need any help. The goal of #GivingTuesday is to spread generosity, and spending your time on others counts. While this campaign focuses on one day, be sure to spread kindness throughout the year.