profitYour church or nonprofit organization may have big plans to help others here in the U.S. or abroad.  Travel is expensive and can deter a lot of people from committing to charitable ventures that help people in need.  Fortunately, if you are planning a trip where the primary purpose is helping others in the name of your church or organization, there are ways to leverage your tax-exempt status in order to save a lot of money on travel expenses.

What Constitutes a Tax-Deductible Missions Trip?

Missions trips or service trips are defined as excursions where the primary purpose is to serve others in the name of the church or organization.  If the majority of the day (an average of six to eight hours) is spent working, then the trip can be written off as a tax deduction.  Travel expenses include transportation costs, lodging, and meals.

If, on the other hand, the trip serves to provide the travelers with leisure activities or other services (educational or otherwise), it is considered a personal trip and is not tax deductible.  A trip is tax deductible if it contains “no significant element of personal pleasure, recreation, or vacation.”

It is possible that a trip might be for both service and pleasure.  For instance, a 7-day trip to India might include five days of labor and two days of sightseeing.  Transportation, food purchased and activities pursued during the “days off” would not be tax-deductible, and therefore travelers should budget accordingly.

Individuals paying their own way can pay the church directly for the expenses of the trip, and are then able to write off travel expenses as a tax deduction.  Make sure the church treasurer reports participants’ payments on their annual giving statements. To save everyone involved the most money possible, all travel arrangements should be made and paid for by the church.

How to Raise Money for a Missions Trip

Many churches have set aside money from their general fund for missions.  Encourage parishioners to designate a part of their giving for service trips.  So long as the donation is given directly to the church and not to a specific parishioner or traveler, the giver can claim the gift as a tax deduction.

Individuals and organizations are much more likely to give if there is a tax incentive.  Again, so long as donations are put into a general missions’ fund, they can be claimed as tax deductions.  The easiest way to raise money for a trip is to do it as a group: car washes, silent auctions, bake sales, and dinners are some great ways to raise money for trips.

Local vendors may choose to donate goods or services rather than cash; the value of their donation can still be written off as a tax deduction.

Other Ways Your Church or Organization Can Save Money Traveling

Stretching every dollar when planning a missions trips means that more money goes where it really counts: to those in need.  Here are some ways to save additional bucks when planning your trip.

Search for Grants

There are a number of organizations that give substantial grants to nonprofits involved in charitable giving.  Applying for a grant, of course, takes time and preparation.  Employing an experienced grant writer (or finding a volunteer within your organization) is a good idea.  There are a number of small and major grants designed to help cover travel expenses.  Mining through these databases could help provide your church with the funding it needs to send the willing out into the world.

Plan Your Trip Early to Save the Most Money

Apply for passports months ahead of time to save a lot of money.  Extra planning time also gives you plenty of opportunity to negotiate the best prices for lodging and transportation.  Finally, time gives you the opportunity to utilize a variety of fundraising methods in order to save the most cash.

Get Cheap Airline Tickets

There are a number of agencies that help charitable organizations find “humanitarian” fares when traveling.  Other ways to save on plane tickets?  If your group is flexible, research which times of the days, week, even year will save you the most money when flying.

Find Lodging in Hostels or with Volunteer Families

The IRS is much less likely to give your organization a hard time if you choose no-frilled lodging. Partner with a church abroad.  Staying with volunteer families, in a missionary hostel, or even in a church will save your group hundreds of dollars.  If the facility you will be staying at has a kitchen- all the better!  You can save a lot of money by preparing meals in house instead of eating out.

Helping others doesn’t have to cost a fortune.  With a little work, education, and planning, you can get a team off to parts unknown without breaking the bank.

What methods has your church or organization employed in order to save money when planning a missions’ trip?