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Are Photography Donations Tax Deductible?

written by Greg Cope

As either an amateur or professional photographer one is often asked to donate photos for use by a non-profit or charitable organization. As a donation, one of the first questions becomes: is the donation of my photography tax deductible according to United States tax law? The short answer to this question is, given the current US tax law, probably not. A longer answer to this question is: consult a professional tax attorney. And a yet longer answer is that it depends upon the type of donation and your current business.1

A few points must be made ahead of time to consider the context of making a tax deduction.

  • The donation must be to a qualitifed non-profit organization. One can search for qualified charities at the IRS website, or ask the organization for their EIN, or employer identification number, and validate this number with the IRS.

  • You must be able to itemized deductions on Schedule A of your tax return. Sometimes it may reduce taxes to take a standard deduction rather than itemize deductions, in which case one cannot claim a charitable contribution as a deduction.

  • All revenue or loss from your photography business must be reported on Schedule C. Additional taxes may be required depending upon the type of business, including self-employment tax.

If one qualitifies to deduct a charitable contribution, ways to donate photography to a charity include:

  1. Services: IRS publication 526 explicitly states that one cannot deduct the value of your time or services as a donation. Thus time and services donated to a non-profit cannot be deducted.

  2. Prints or electronic images: these items, according to publication 526, are possible to deduct. However the amount one is able to deduct is defined as the smaller value of either the fair market value or the value of the object itself. Typically the latter is smaller and constitutes the cost of paper, ink, and/or CD. For professionaly photographers, these items may already be deducted as a business expense, and thus cannot again be deducted. Further, services rendered to provide prints or electronic images - including time to travel to/from a location and/or process photos - fall into the services category and cannot be itemized as a deduction.

  3. Copyright: Form 8899 states that copyright donations cannot be deducted if the donator is a taxpayer who created the work.

In the end, the tax law allows for donations of prints and digital images, however the amount could be small, relatively speaking. This should not discourage one from making donations. My policy - depending upon the organization and requirements - is typically a major decrease in cost, or in many cases a license agreement to use a photo free of cost. A break even way to donate is to charge a normal rate, and make a cash donation of the same amount (in certain cases, this may be less than break even as one may be forced to pay self-employment tax if not required to do so already).

Last but not least, get professional advice2. The tax law is extensive and complicated, and many donations differ in context and type. A professional will be able to weigh all options based upon the given information, and provide the best route to choose.

Further Resources

IRS Tax Topic 506: Charitable Contributions

IRS Publications

The Photo Attorney

1This article applies to US tax law only. If you live in another country, consult both the appropriate tax law and a professional.

2Please note, I am neither an attorney nor tax accountant. This information is from experience consulting both the tax law and tax accountants.