Generosity

Are Church Donations Tax Deductible?

Are church donations, tithes, and offerings tax deductible? Find out the answer in this short guide.

Are Church Donations Tax Deductible?
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The end of the year is approaching fast, and you know what that means, right?

If you guessed Halloween, Thanksgiving, or Christmas, you’d be wrong.

What I have in mind are taxes.

Well, not “taxes” in the sense of how much you’ll need to pay or what you’ll receive in your tax returns.

Instead, I’d like to answer this question:

“Are church donations tax deductible?”

This is a legitimate question, but I understand if you feel bad about asking it (more on this later).

But here’s the deal:

In 2016, $390 billion was donated to charitable organizations.

Behind these donations are countless individuals—including yourself.

So, are the tithes and offerings you donate to your church tax deductible?

The answer to this question is “probably.”

Let me show you what I mean.

The qualification of churches

To know if your church tithes are deductible, you have to know if your church is a recognized organization by the IRS. If it’s not, then your church donations cannot be deducted from your taxes.  

Are you concerned if your church isn’t tax-exempt?

Hang tight.

According to the IRS, your church receives an automatic tax exemption as long as it meets these minimum requirements:

  • Must be organized and operate exclusively for religious and educational purposes
  • May not significantly influence legislation
  • May not intervene in political campaigns
  • May not be involved in illegal activities
  • May not violate fundamental public policy

Basically, as long as your church is a church, then it’s automatically tax-exempt.

But one last thing.

It’s still best for your church to file for tax-exempt status.

There are two big reasons why this is the case:

  1. Boosts donor confidence
  2. State tax-exempt recognition

For your financial supporters and congregation, possessing an official tax-exempt status provides peace of mind. It lets them know your church has taken extra steps to secure official recognition, and that their tithes and offerings are tax deductible.

Regarding state tax-exempt status, your church may not be eligible for certain state benefits, such as a state sales tax exemption. It’s best to double-check what additional benefits your church can secure by applying for an official tax-exempt status.

For additional information, see Tax Guide for Churches and Religious Organizations, speak with an attorney, or contact a local certified public accountant (CPA).

Now that we have this out of the way, let’s get to the question you're asking:

Are donations to churches tax deductible?

Is tithing tax deductible?

Well, the answer is yes and no.

Let me explain.

In general, you can deduct your church offerings from your taxes.

But there are a few things you need to know:

  • Donations cannot exceed 50 percent of your adjusted gross income (AGI)
  • Tax deductions must be itemized
  • Donations must be made before the end of the tax year

For your taxes, you will not necessarily be taxed on everything you earn or receive. For example, your total annual earnings may be $60,000. However, your adjusted gross income (AGI) may be less after you take deductions from your taxes, such as student loan interest you paid or contributions you made to certain retirement accounts.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s say your AGI is $50,000. This means your tax deductions cannot exceed 50 percent of this amount ($25,000).

To receive a tax benefit for your tithes and offerings, your donations must be itemized at the time you file your tax return.

When you file your taxes, you have two choices:

  1. Itemize your deductions, or
  2. Take the standard deduction provided by the IRS

That’s all?

Not so fast.

There’s one catch.

In order to itemize your deductions, they must exceed the standard deduction provided by the IRS for your filing status. If your itemized deductions do not exceed the standard deduction, then your donations are not deductible because they do not provide a greater tax benefit from what’s already provided.

Is your head spinning?

Thankfully, you don’t have to figure this out on your own.

If you have questions, please see an accountant in your area for personal recommendations.

This leads us to the last point.

Can Christians claim their tithes and offerings on their taxes?

In the United States, it’s okay for Christians to claim their church donations as tax deductions.

For a variety of reasons, the United States provides this tax incentive, so there are no moral or religious objections to claiming your tithes on your taxes.

This tax benefit is one part of the heart behind Jesus’ words, when he said, "Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21).

Or when Paul said,

“For because of this you also pay taxes, for authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed …" (Rom. 13:6-7).

From just these two examples, you’ll find ample reason to clear your conscience.

What is more, not accepting this tax benefit may even be considered poor biblical stewardship. The government provides this benefit to every American, so you can argue that by rejecting this benefit, you are not managing your financial resources well.

What I said might have you thinking:

Didn’t Jesus say to give in secret (Matt. 6:1-4)? Isn't claiming tithes and offerings a public display of giving?

In short, no.

In this passage, Jesus is really getting to the heart behind why we do or do not give. It’s okay for people to know you financially support your local church. Besides, your church donations and personal tax returns are private exchanges and documents. Your donations and taxes are (or should be) highly secured and only available for your eyes to see.

Now, if you’re claiming a tax deduction because you want someone you’ll never meet in the IRS to see how “generous” you are, then it’s probably time for you to talk to your pastor or Jesus.


Why Write Church Donation Letters?

In a previous blog post, I shared the different ways your church can thank donors—from automated emails to year-end giving reports. Printed donation letters also play an essential role in your church’s stewardship efforts.

Donation letters are the Swiss Army knife of your church’s gratitude arsenal. It may not be the most powerful—but it’s versatile, handy, and gets used often.

Your basic church donation letter can serve many different purposes, including:

  • Acknowledging that you received a donation
  • Thanking the giver for being generous with their finances
  • Sharing other ways the person can support your church
  • Allowing the donor to write the gift off on their taxes
  • Encouraging supporters to make recurring donations
  • Requesting future donations from church members

A single, well-crafted donation letter can pull together several of these things simultaneously. Better donation letters lead to more giving, which leads to more donation letters—thus creating a cycle of on-going church generosity.

Church Donation Letter Samples

Here’s the good news—you don’t have to write an individualized letter for every person who gives to your church. That would be tough to do for even smaller churches. And most donors don’t expect you to. They’d rather you be putting their gift to better use in the community, instead of ceaselessly writing thank you notes.

With the possible exception of some unique circumstances, your church can use template language for the majority of your church donation letters. You’ll have to add in custom details like the donor’s name and gift amount, but you can write everything else in advance.  

To make this even easier on you, here are a few basic church donation letter templates you can copy and paste. Keep in mind that not all of these have to be in print—you could just as easily turn some of these samples into email appeals.

1. Donation Acknowledgment Letter

The Donation Acknowledgement Letter is a basic way you can confirm and affirm a monetary gift to your church. Sending these is standard practice in church and nonprofit culture.

Dear [first name],
I want to personally thank you for your donation of [gift amount] to [church name]. We’re honored you would bless us with your generosity. Donations like yours make a big difference in the work our church is doing in the community.
Without givers like you, our church can’t have an impact or influence in our community. With your support, we’re partnering with local nonprofits, sending out global mission trips, and hosting small groups on topics that help real people like you. Together, we can make a difference.
Because we’re a tax-exempt nonprofit, you also get to write this donation off on your taxes. This letter serves as official proof of your donation, so keep it in your records come tax season. At the end of the year, we’ll also send you an annual recap with how much you’ve given to the church.
Thank you for supporting [church name]!
Sincerely,
[your name]

2. Donation Request Letter

Not every church member realizes the importance of giving, or understand Bible verses about tithing and giving.  So a Donation Request Letter helps to spread that awareness and encourage a spirit of generosity.

Dear [first name],
How are the finances in your household? That was a rhetorical question, so you don’t have to answer—besides, this is a letter so we wouldn’t hear you anyway. But we still want you to think about that question.
Money is a uniquely human issue, one we all struggle with to one degree or another. Even if you’re financially blessed, you still have the burden of stewarding your money wisely. And we believe that one of the best ways to invest your money is into the local church.
Tithing (giving 10% of your income) on a regular basis not only supports the work we do at [church name]. It doesn’t just support local missions and community growth. It also shows an obedience to God by making his work a financial priority in your life.
So if you find yourself ready to put God first in both your heart and your wallet, we encourage you to make a one-time gift or sign up to make recurring donations. That way, you won’t have to ever wonder again about the financial status of your household.
Sincerely,
[your name]

3. Monthly Giving Letter

Many church donations aren’t just one-time gifts. Plenty of givers contribute monthly—and that should be acknowledged.

Use this template to correspond with recurring givers.  

Dear [first name],
Thank you for being an active and faithful member of our church community. By giving to our church on a monthly basis, you’re showing that our church has a meaningful place in your heart. We just wanted to write this to let you know that you’re in our heart, too.
Donating to the church monthly allows us to preach the gospel, make disciples, and support others in our community who need help. Others like the local food bank and the nearby homeless shelter. We’re answering the cry of the needy, and it’s all thanks to contributors like you.
We earnestly appreciate your ongoing support and want to let you know we’re here for you. If there’s ever anything we can do for you and your family, don’t hesitate to reach out. You are a valued member of our church family. And you’re financial support is making a difference.
Sincerely,
[your name]

4. Year-End Giving Letter

At the end of each year, it’s customary to give your church supporters a summary of their gifts. The primary reason is for tax purposes, but it’s also a way to recap everything your church has done over the past year with their support.

Dear [first name],
You’re getting this letter because you gave to [church name] at some point during the past year. That might have been a one-time gift, or recurring donations. Either way, we want to thank you for your generous support. Every contribution helps.
One of the official reasons for this letter is for tax purposes. That’s right—you get to write these donations off on your taxes. Which is why we’ve included a summary of all the contributions you’ve made to our church this year.
But the other reason for this letter is to let you know what we’ve done with the money you gave. We take stewardship very seriously, which means we value spending our time and resources wisely.
During the year, our church supported local nonprofits, sent global missions teams, and baptised quite a few people. It was a great year for us—thanks in large part to donors like you.
So thank you for your support of our church, and we hope you’ll consider continuing to contribute to our mission in the coming year.
Sincerely,
[your name]  

5. Church Fundraising Letter

Sometimes you need to make a more significant financial push using tried and true church fundraising ideas. Some churches call this a Stewardship Campaign or a Church Capital Campaign. Either way, the goal is to raise a certain amount of money for a big project. And typically, a solid letter of appeal is an integral part of that.

Dear [first name],
God has a plan for everyone and everything. That includes you, and it includes [church name]. None of us can fully know God’s plan—the best we can do is pray and listen for clarity. Our church leadership has been doing just that and are excited to announce our latest church project.
[Detail the outline of the major church project—this could include a building campaign, or raising support for a global mission trip. Anything specific to your church that requires a fundraising letter. Be sure to include a fundraising goal so everyone knows what you’re shooting for.]
But we can’t pull this off without your support. Whether you give to the church on a regular basis, or just attend on occasion, we’re asking you to consider contributing to this massive undertaking prayerfully. It’s something we need our entire church community’s help with.
Even if you can’t make a large gift, know that every little bit helps. It’s more about coming together as a community united behind a common cause. We hope that you’ll consider making a donation towards this great step forward that we’re making together.
Sincerely,
[your name]

Tips when writing church donation letters

It’s not enough to just copy and paste this content and send away. The key to an effective church donation letter is a touch of personalization. Follow these tips to take your donation letters to the next level:

  • Examples: Add specific examples of how your church will use the donation. Tell a story about the work your church is doing in the community and connect that with giving.
  • Personalization: For regular donors, don’t be afraid to add a short, handwritten personal note. This shows that you’ve singled them out with praise.
  • Timeliness: Sending donation letters quickly reminds people you’re thankful for them. But this also takes organization and efficiency. All the more reason to use pre-written templates.
  • Storytelling: Everything is better with stories—including donation letters. Weave in a specific narrative of how your church is making a difference and how the money will be used.

There’s no one right or wrong way to write a donation letter or request contributions. You’ve got to do what is right for your church and congregation. But if you stick to these general tips, you’ll probably start to see some traction when it comes to giving.

What’s next?

Most people don’t love talking about money in church. But it’s a necessary and vital part of your church. And maximizing your efforts when it comes to donation letters will help make those conversations more comfortable. So what do you do next to put this into effect?

  • Customize these letters: Take the samples above and make them work for your church. Personalize the content. Remove the stuff that doesn’t sound genuine and add in stuff that does. Remember that these are just a starting point.
  • Create some systems: Develop processes that make it easy for you to replicate sending donation letters. Use a letter template that allows you to drop in names and details. Then develop guidelines for when these letters will be sent out.
  • Empower a champion: Find out who is going to be responsible for making these letters happen. Rather than thinking of this as adding more work to their plate, think about how you can elevate their work. This could be a staff member, or a volunteer.
  • Start sending: All of this will be for nothing if you don’t actually send out the letters. Take the time to get it right and get them into the hands of your church donors.

And if you’re looking for ways to grow your church’s giving capacity, Tithely can help.

We provide several different ways your church members can support your church financially—from online giving, text to give solutions, and giving kiosks.

Tithely’s systems make it as easy as possible for people to give to your church. Now all you need to start doing is generating a culture of gratitude. There’s nothing standing in your way. Go unleash generosity in your church.

How does your church use donation letters to spread generosity? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Editor's Note: This is a guest post from Robert Carnes. Robert is a writer and storyteller. He's the author of The Original Storyteller: Become a Better Storyteller in 30 Days. A former church communicator and nonprofit marketer, Robert works as a managing editor for Orange in Atlanta.

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Are Church Donations Tax Deductible?