Sunday, January 16, 2022

Can I write-off my donation without a receipt?

A reader we’re calling Agnetha was cleaning out her clothes closet over the holiday break. She assembled a pile of barely worn shoes that she decided she would donate to her local Goodwill store. After two days of sorting and compiling, Agnetha made the 16-minute drive to Goodwill to make the drop off.

Agnetha indicated in her email that she loves shoes, but she had come to terms that it was time to get the pairs she rarely wore onto the feet of someone who might make better and more frequent use of them. “I had about a dozen pair of shoes with me to donate all in great condition,” Agnetha wrote.

Typically, Agnetha indicated that she makes the drop-off to a large trailer-truck container in Goodwill’s parking lot. Generally, there is an attendant sitting at the open doors of the container to accept the donated items who can give Agnetha or others a receipt. But on this trip, while the container doors were open, there was no one in sight from whom to get a receipt.

“I don’t donate the items solely for the possibility of a tax write-off,” wrote Agnetha. “But if I can take the deduction, I’d like to.”

Agnetha is concerned, however, that she did not receive a receipt from Goodwill and wonders if it would be wrong to claim the charitable deduction anyway.

“Should I go back to Goodwill and get a receipt when someone is there?” asks Agnetha. “Or should I just write this off as a good deed and not bother with trying to claim the charitable deduction?” Agnetha made clear that she regularly will drop off bags of clothing to donation boxes along the highway and she rarely if ever tries to itemize those deductions on her taxes.

As I’ve written before, I am not a tax attorney intimately familiar with the nuances of what can or can’t be claimed as a charitable deduction. Nor am I familiar with Agnetha’s tax situation nor how she files her taxes each year.

But according to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service’s website, generally a receipt from a charity for goods donated is only needed if the donation is worth $250 or more. On its own website, Goodwill provides donors with guidelines on estimated donation values. For women’s shoes, it’s between $2 and $10. If Agnetha donated a dozen pair of shoes, the estimated value would fall between $24 and $120, well below that threshold. Agnetha would be wise to make a detailed record of what she donated, when she donated it, and the estimated value that she could keep in her own files if she decides to claim a charitable deduction.

If Agnetha would like to itemize her donations on a receipt from Goodwill for her records for piece of mind, those blank forms are available online for the donor to fill out. Or she can decide to simply donate the items without trying to take the deductions. The latter is a decision only she can make.

Again, I’m not a tax attorney so I am useless when it comes to helping Agnetha fill out her tax forms, but if she maintains detailed, honest records on her donations, that seems the right thing to do.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need to have answered? Send them to jeffreyseglin@gmail.com.

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin.

(c) 2022 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Sunday, January 09, 2022

Looking back at another year of doing the right thing

A year ago, at the end of 2020, after looking at the analytics for the website where The Right Thing column gets posted after it has run in publications, it was clear that readers were drawn most to columns that touched on kindness, remembering those we’ve lost, and thankfulness.

Although many of us managed to return to school or work on-site during 2021, the year has proved just as unpredictable as its predecessor. Many people received vaccinations and booster shots. Trips to stores and restaurants seemed to increase. The new Spiderman movie killed it at the box office. But we also headed into a holiday season in late December when the Omicron variety of COVID began to spread rapidly. Travel warnings increased, availability of at-home COVID-testing kits became limited, and pandemic anxieties intensified.

Nevertheless, the column’s readers viewed the most were decidedly different. Although a few referred to us remaining in a pandemic, none were about the pandemic specifically. Instead, the five most-viewed columns in 2021 touched on job searches, neighbor relationships, and the importance of learning to listen to people without overreacting. In other words, although many of the columns I wrote during the past year covered pandemic-related questions and issues, readers seemed to return to an interest in those issues that attracted them in pre-pandemic times.

The fifth-most-viewed column, “Don’t rely on ‘fake it until you make it,’” ran in mid-August. It focused on a reader who was in the midst of a job search who seemed willing to take any job offered by embracing the idea of faking it until she knew how to do the work. I cautioned against faking or fabricating anything but instead looking for guidance and mentorship wherever possible.

The fourth-most-viewed column, “Two recycling stories and one good neighbor,” ran in late July and focused on one reader who was troubled that neighbors took advantage of his agreeing to let them use his recycling bin since theirs was full. It also featured another reader who offered to turn off neighbors’ irrigation system when they were away. Not every good deed goes well, but neighbors should learn to appreciate when the person next door does them a good turn.

My July 4 column, “Must we write every recommendation letter we are asked to write?” responded to the question in the title with a resounding “no.”

July 11′s “Objecting instead of invoking morality is the right thing to do” reminded readers that not everything we disagree with rises to the level of immoral. Sometimes, it’s good to remember, we just see things differently.

Finally, in the most-viewed column of the year, “Learning to ask the right questions is always the right thing,” I wrote in June of the importance of listening to people and asking them questions in a way that gets at what matters without sounding accusatory or judgmental. It was a lesson I had learned after serving as my wife’s in-house technology support when each of us was still working from home.

Thank you, as always, for continuing to email me your questions, stories, and reactions for The Right Thing column. May your year continue to be full of doing the right thing while surrounded by those in your life who choose to do the same.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need to have answered? Send them to jeffreyseglin@gmail.com.

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin.

(c) 2022 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Sunday, January 02, 2022

Casting unsupported aspersions may shut down conversations

On December 20, actress and singer Bette Midler wrote a morning Twitter post castigating Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia for not supporting President Joe Biden’s proposed Build Back Better spending package. Rather than limit her focus on Manchin, Midler slammed the state of West Virginia by referring to it as: “Poor, illiterate and strung out.”

The negative response to Midler’s tweet was swift. Within 40 minutes, Midler had tweeted an apology “to the good people of WVA” for her outburst, attributing it to seeing red over Manchin’s lack of Democratic political support.

If Midler had taken a moment to dig, she would have found a report from Data for Progress, a progressive polling group, that found that a majority of West Virginians supported the Build Back Better plan.

No matter what caused her not to do so, Midler deserved to be publicly criticized for her Tweet attacking West Virginians with a broad, unfounded characterization. I have a fondness for West Virginia and West Virginians since one of the colleges I attended is there. A professional acquaintance once wondered why I publicly criticized her for her post on social media featuring negative stereotypes about West Virginia. I publicly criticized her for her post because baseless accusations are wrong and not only when they involve West Virginia.

When readers ask how to talk with those with whom they disagree, I don’t always have an answer that will yield success for them. But a cardinal rule in engaging with someone is to refrain from making broad, baseless accusations rather than sticking to what you know to be factual. A second rule is to decide whether you truly want to have a conversation with someone or whether your goal is to point out to them how very, very wrong they are about anything with which you don’t agree. If you can’t start by embracing these two rules of engagement before engaging, then my sense is that you really don’t want to engage.

If Midler had wanted to point out why she believed Sen. Manchin’s vote was wrong, she could have focused on that. If she wanted to engage West Virginians via social media to ask them whether their senator was truly serving their interests, she could have done that. But once she devolved into attacking the character of every person in West Virginia, she lost any ability to engage them in a discussion. Apologizing after a swift backlash to the “good people” might show remorse, but it does little to open an informed discussion.

The same goes for in-person discussions. Calling someone an idiot or immoral because he or she or they don’t agree with you shuts down the conversation and says more about the caller’s intolerance and dismissiveness than it does about whatever might be the desired focus of discussion.

Midler is hardly alone in such behavior. She just happens, with over 2 million Twitter followers as of this writing, to have a large platform that might have been used to greater effect had she refrained from baseless characterizations.

Perhaps, as we end another year, each of us should knock it off with the name calling and instead focus on our ability to argue strongly and factually for those things we support while listening openly to those who may disagree. From a distance, that seems the right thing to do.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need to have answered? Send them to jeffreyseglin@gmail.com.

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin.

(c) 2022 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Now and always is the time to help

Charitable giving in 2020 increased by 5.1% from 2019, according to Giving USA’s annual report on philanthropy. Individual and institutions gave a total $471.44 billion last year to charitable institutions. Giving USA doesn’t release its annual report about the previous year until spring, but some commentators on its website seem optimistic that giving in 2021 and 2022 will be similarly strong.

Perhaps not surprising, researchers such as Tim Sarrantonio of Neon One, a technology company that advises charitable organizations on raising funds, note that while there are opportunities to attract donors throughout the year, December remains a big month for donations flowing in. And even though Giving Tuesday falls during the first week of December, “the final days of December tend to attract the largest flow of gifts no matter what.”

Here we are at the end of December. If you have the urge to give or help before the month is up, there are plenty of opportunities.

Some readers already have local, national, or international charities to which they contribute. Shortly after the tornadoes devastated parts of Kentucky, organizations like CARE (https://my.care.org) and Feeding America (http://feedingamericaky.org) put out the call for cash donations that would help get food to those affected.

For those of you trying to sort out how much of you cash donation actually goes to the cause rather than running the charity, Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org) remains a valuable source of information. Another organization, Give Well (www.givewell.org) goes a bit further and tries to measure how well specific charities succeed at their missions and provides a list of top giving opportunities on its website. It also has developed its Maximum Impact Fund where rather than choose a recipient, you designate how much you want to give and Give Well donates the funds where they determine they can do the most and then reports back to donors on where their money was donated.

Cash contributions are not the only way of giving to others in need. The American Red Cross (www.redcrossblood.org) indicates on its website that its blood supply is dangerously low. For those who are able to donate blood, the website makes it simple to find local blood drives by typing in your ZIP code. And for those who donate blood between December 17 and Jan. 2, the American Red Cross is even offering donors a long-sleeve T-shirt while supplies last.

There are also ways to donate time or expertise to local organizations in person or to those more far afield remotely. If you want to do some good for those who might be in need, there are plenty of opportunities and there is still time to do so before the year comes to a close. If you know of a particular good organization or effort to help others, tell your friends who might be in search of some as well.

But if you really want to make a difference, the right thing is not to wait until the end of the year, but instead spread out all the acts of kindness over the course of year. The need for help from others doesn’t appear only during specific holidays or seasons.

Thank you for whatever you are able to do. May your holidays and coming year be full of patience and kindness.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need to have answered? Send them to jeffreyseglin@gmail.com.

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin.

(c) 2021 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Small acts of kindness when no one is looking abound

A few weeks ago, I asked readers to tell me the small or not so small things they have done for others or others have done for them when no one is looking over the past year-and-a-half of coexisting with a pandemic. Many responded.

M.A., a reader from Santa Rosa, California, wrote that she has tried to do “the right thing” almost every day of her adult life, except for the time she stole a roll of Scotch tape from the office where she worked. She still feels badly about that episode but, now in her 80s, writes that she continues to act as “rightly” as she is able and that doing so “feels good.”

Another reader posted on Twitter that he picked up garbage pails for his elderly neighbors after a bad windstorm on trash pickup day.

K.C. from Hilo, Hawaii, writes that she does “the right thing without anyone looking almost daily.” When she sees trash on the ground, she picks it up to dispose of it, even if she has to temporarily put it in her car on the way to disposal. K.C. regularly picks up items from the grocery store floor when she sees them to return them to their correct place on the shelves.

A small neighborhood shopping center frequented by J.V. of Petaluma, California, recently had cars broken into. Broken glass was scattered in two of the parking spots. J.V. was concerned that because the glass was starting to spread, “tires would be compromised,” so he asked a coffee shop barista about it and was told the landlord had known about the broken glass for two days and had yet to take care of getting it cleaned up. J.V. went home, grabbed a broom, dustpan, and gloves and returned to the parking lot. “In 10 minutes, I restored three parking spots that cars had been avoiding.” Clearly a small thing, J.V. writes, but the right thing to do.

J.W. is in a memoir-writing class that meets every eight weeks via Zoom. When a classmate told the instructor that she couldn’t afford to continue the class, the teacher told her that there was a fund available to help students “supplement the payment” if they needed assistance. No one but her teacher knows J.W. is the source of the funds. “It gives me great pleasure to see this classmate every week … and note how her writing has evolved.” She’s looking forward to meeting the classmate in person someday.

“Just before Covid raised its ugly head,” writes L.H., her husband became ill with congestive heart failure. While his heart has recovered, his kidneys were affected in the process and he now has to receive dialysis three times a week. Besides being her husband’s primary caregiver, she has tenants to whom she rents property. “My tenants have really stepped up during this crisis,” she writes. They make sure any and all repairs are taken care of. “They are the nicest people in the world. I love them.”

These and other stories reassure me that there are plenty of examples of people doing the right thing even when no one is looking. “If everyone did small things every day what a great place the world would be,” writes K.C. from Hilo, Hawaii. I agree.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need to have answered? Send them to jeffreyseglin@gmail.com.

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin.

(c) 2021 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.