By Brook McDonald
president & CEO
The Conservation Foundation
Recent statistics from the IRS indicate that almost 85% of all households support charities on an annual basis and environmental organizations are particularly popular beneficiaries. This financial generosity is most evident during the holiday season. Charitable gifts are made to share your good fortune, support your favorite institutions and promote the causes in which you believe. Charitable gifts can also reduce your taxes because they can be used as a deduction on your itemized federal and, if applicable, state tax returns.
The year's end is your last opportunity to reduce current-year income taxes. Some gifts can provide particularly attractive tax benefits, while others can combine these benefits with an income stream for life. Gifts to most nonprofits are tax-deductible. For instance, because The Conservation Foundation is qualified as a tax-exempted organization under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, all gifts to the Foundation are tax-deductible. Consult your tax adviser to determine how much you can deduct.
Under new IRS rules, you cannot claim a tax deduction for a contribution of cash or other property unless you maintain a record of the contribution in the form of either a bank record (such as a canceled check) or a written communication from the charity (such as a receipt or a letter) showing the name of the charity, and the date and amount of the contribution. An electronic receipt is just as acceptable as a letter or postcard. In addition, for a single gift of $250 or more, you are required to have a receipt from the charity to substantiate your claim.
Make sure to keep your receipt in a file to support your claim (in case you are audited). The statute of limitations for the IRS is generally three years, so retain the receipt for at least that long.
The last day you are qualified to make a donation in 2008 depends on your gift. If you're contributing by credit card at The Conservation Foundation's online giving page, for example, you have until midnight Dec. 31. Your credit card must be charged in the same tax year that you want to claim a deduction. If you are sending a gift by mail, the donation is effective on the date mailed as indicated by the postmark. If the envelope is postmarked by Dec. 31 the gift is credited to 2008 even if it is physically received by the charity in the first week of 2009.
The Conservation Foundation, a nonprofit land and watershed protection organization, is dedicated to preserving open space and natural lands, protecting rivers and watersheds, and promoting stewardship of the environment in northeastern Illinois. Established in 1972 by business and community leaders, it is the only environmental organization to receive the 2008 Annual Award for Business Excellence from The Business Ledger. It received consecutive Four-Star Ratings, the highest bestowed, in 2007 and 2008 from Charity Navigator. Working closely with citizens, elected officials, developers, land use planners, park districts and forest preserves, The Conservation Foundation has helped protect more than 30,000 acres of open space. The Conservation Foundation has more than 4,500 donors and members. Its main office is at the 60-acre McDonald Farm in Naperville, with a program office located at the Dickson-Murst Farm in Montgomery. For more information about activities, programs and membership, visit www.theconservationfoundation.org or call 630-428-4500.
From Julie: What's this, regular readers may be asking? Nope, I didn't write the above. Brook McDonald from The Conservation Foundation in Will County did. It's a great group doing a lot of great things. I've been to the McDonald Farm, where they're based, many a time. Brook may not realize this but I've spent hours making apple cider at the harvest events there. (If you're reading this, Brook, it's a small world.) I'm going to be running more things from Brook when available and as they apply. Enjoy!