Tax or Treat?
Last year, my wife and I became permanent residents in the U.S and purchased a condo. We love the condo and we even get a nice glimpse of Lake Michigan. However, I was also secretly excited that I could finally check that itemized deduction box on our next tax return. I had been meticulously setting aside our W-2’s and the mortgage statement as they arrived so that we have a smooth sail in April.
Finally, the big day was here. We made some warm green tea and sat down to prepare our returns. My wife had switched jobs, so we had three W-2’s to enter. It took some time, but we got to our gross adjusted income. Now, it was the time to itemize our deductions. We entered the state taxes, some medical expenses and the mortgage interest. Lo and behold, the deduction only came to $11,800! I checked the IRS 2015 standard deduction, and it was $12,600. We were $800 short.
I knew we had made multiple charitable donations. My wife looks at me intensely, possibly signaling I better get up and bring the receipts. See, we had made the donations throughout the year, and I am sure like many other early-career professionals, we had not made big donations or attended big auctions or galas. Our giving was small and frequent, and I had not cared to set aside the receipts. My excitement was crushed. In my heart, I also knew we had donated a few hundred dollars, but certainly not the $800 to surpass the standard deduction.
Once more, we had to be content with the standard deduction, and I am glad it is quite high. The point is you come across great causes and you are touched by their appeal throughout the year. You donate what you think you can afford, and you do not think about the rationality of tax deduction. In that moment, it’s a hassle to keep track of something that would amount to a few dollars at the end of the year.
There is a lot of research on donor sensitivity to the price of giving. While the results may hold merit for large donations, I question the significance of tax deduction for activating small, frequent donations. Therefore, our team has set up an experiment.
Would you donate if you did not get a tax deduction?
Instead of tax deduction, for every $5 donation on this link, you can get a nice snack or treat at a Chicago restaurant such as Freshii’s smoothie or Farmer’s Fridge salad.
100% of your donation will go towards the wages of food rescuers (folks certified in food safety that drive and pick up surplus food donations), and the costs of a refrigerated van i.e. rent, parking, insurance and any maintenance. The dedicated, refrigerated van costs roughly $8,000 a month, and will rescue about 40,000 meals (diverse and nutritious mix of prepared, perishable food) every month from nearly 100 restaurants, cafeterias and corporate dining in the Chicago area. The refrigerated van will enable us to reach at least 30 different charity programs all over Chicago, including those in the food desert neighborhoods, at zero cost to the charities. In summary, the van prevents food waste and delivers fresh, prepared meals.
We need to control for trust and credibility. So, please know that my startup Zero Percent was set up as a public benefit corporation in 2013. Our food rescue platform matches varying availability of surplus food with the need at various charities, and then aggregates them in logistical routes in order to minimize variance and keep it safe and efficient ($1 ~ 3–5 meals). Read these pieces in DNAinfo Chicago from 2014 and 2016 about our progress.
In order to control for track record and transparency, my colleague Sean and I will send a custom impact report to every donor, which details the type and quantity of rescued food, where it came from, which nonprofit and neighborhood it is delivered to.
In order to control for financial accountability, everyone who donates will receive the login information of the online bank account.
If you’d rather like to donate for getting a tax deduction, you can donate to People’s Resource Center page here. PRC is a large and fantastic organization that runs a food rescue program and a food pantry in the western suburbs of Chicago.
(A few dozen restaurants pay a monthly fee, $60–$100, in order to get data and tax documentation from our portal, and help us cover the technology, outreach and support costs. However, the economics of waste hauling in Chicago do not allow paying for the cost of day-to-day food rescue logistics i.e. pickup and delivery of donated food.)
Payments are processed through Braintree, and we don’t store any credit card information on our server. Braintree does not charge any credit card processing fees until we hit $50,000 in transactions. Let me know if you have any questions. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and responses.
Thank you for reading. I am nervous and excited about my first Medium post.