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Should I Donate To The Salvation Army?

   Dec 28, 2021

Deciding which charities and causes to support is a deeply personal decision that is a reflection of our individual values. One person might decide to donate to a particular charity because of its religious affiliation, while another might avoid it for the same reason. Unfortunately, it is not always so simple as choosing a side. On the one hand, just because a charity shares your religious convictions doesn't necessarily mean that it conducts high quality programs or operates efficiently or effectively. On the other hand, a charity whose religious convictions are different from your own might be providing vital aid to an underserved population that would struggle to find similar help from another source if its programs were defunded. As you think through your decision about whether or not to support a religious charity like the Salvation Army, it is helpful to consider four primary factors:

1)  Is the Salvation Army sufficiently transparent about its finances and governance practices?

2) Will my donation to the Salvation Army be used efficiently and effectively?

3) Do my personal values align with those of the charity, and if not, are its programs still worthy of my support in spite of this?

4) Are donations to religious charities like the Salvation Army tax deductible?

Religious Organizations Enjoy Limited Disclosure Requirements 

As a charity with "church" status, the Salvation Army does not file a tax Form 990 with the IRS or state charity regulators annually as most other public charities are required to do. In most cases, charities claiming a religious aspect to their missions are not legally required to publicly disclose information that many other charities must report to the IRS each year. Donors wanting to know how such a charity spends its contributions, compensates its employees, or even who sits on the charity's board of directors may be at a loss if the charity does not want to willingly open its books to outside scrutiny.

Fortunately, the Salvation Army chooses to consistently respond to CharityWatch's requests for complete copies of its annual audited financial statements and provides answers to certain questions about its governance practices. So while CharityWatch is unable to report complete information for the Salvation Army, such as executive salaries, we can at least communicate to donors how efficiently the charity raises and spends its cash donations on the whole. 

According to its fiscal 2020 consolidated audited financial statements for each of its four territories:

"The Salvation Army, founded in 1865, is a not-for-profit international religious organization and charitable movement organized and operated on a quasi-military pattern and is a branch of the Christian Church. Its membership includes officers (clergy), soldiers and adherents (laity), members of varied activity groups and volunteers who serve as advisors, associates and committed participants in its service functions."

The Salvation Army's Organizational Structure

The Salvation Army is not one charity. Rather, it issues four different consolidated audited financial statements annually for each of its four territories, which include:

The Salvation Army - Central Territory: According to the consolidated audited financial statements of the Salvation Army's Central Territory:

"The Central Territory comprises the states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. The Central Territory is incorporated in the State of Illinois, with the corporate headquarters located in Hoffman Estates, Illinois. All intercompany accounts and transactions have been eliminated [in the consolidated audit]."

The Salvation Army - Eastern TerritoryAccording to the consolidated audited financial statements of the Salvation Army's Eastern Territory:

"The accompanying [audited] consolidated financial statements include all programs and operations of The Salvation Army - Eastern Territory (the 'Eastern Territory') incorporated as The Salvation Army (A New York Corporation), with its corporate headquarters located in West Nyack, New York. The Eastern Territory comprises the states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Ohio and Northeast Kentucky, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Eastern Territory also consolidates other related entities in which it has an economic interest and control. ... All intercompany accounts and transactions have been eliminated [in the consolidated audit]."

The Salvation Army - Southern TerritoryAccording to the consolidated audited financial statements of the Salvation Army's Southern Territory:

"The accompanying [audited] consolidated financial statements include all programs and operations of the Southern Territory [of The Salvation Army]. The Southern Territory comprises the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia, as well as the District of Columbia. The Southern Territory is incorporated in the state of Georgia with the corporate headquarters located in Brookhaven [Atlanta], Georgia. All intercompany accounts and transactions have been eliminated [in the consolidated audit]."

The Salvation Army - Western Territory: According to the consolidated audited financial statements of the Salvation Army's Western Territory:

"The accompanying [audited] combined financial statements include all programs and operations of the Western Territory [of The Salvation Army], all of which are under common ownership and management. The Western Territory comprises the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming; Guam; the Marshall Islands; and the States of Micronesia. The Western Territory is incorporated in the state of California, with headquarters...located at Rancho Palos Verdes, California. All intercompany accounts and transactions have been eliminated in [the audit] combination."

Due to The Salvation Army's organizational structure, CharityWatch issues separate ratings for each of the charity's four regions. (Click on the name of each region, above, to view ratings, metrics, limited governance data, and notes compiled by our analysts during our rating process). 

Can I Take A Tax Deduction On My Donations To the Salvation Army?

Whether or not any individual person is eligible to take a tax deduction on their charitable contributions in a given year is dictated by that individual person's tax situation. Generally speaking:

1) Individuals who itemize may claim a deduction for charitable contributions made to qualifying charitable organizations (primarily 501(c)(3) public charities), subject to certain limits dictated by the IRS. To understand what types of charities are generally eligible to offer tax deductions on their donations, read CharityWatch's information on Tax Status

2) The IRS publishes an online tool that donors may use to check a specific charity's eligibility to offer tax deductions. 

3) Limits on the amount itemizers can deduct typically range from 20% to 60% of adjusted gross income (AGI) and can vary by the type of contribution and type of charitable organization. The IRS now permits individuals to apply an increased limit, up to 100% of their AGI, for qualified cash contributions made during calendar year 2021. 

4) Cash donations made to qualifying charities by non-itemizers by the 12/31/2021 deadline are also eligible for tax deductions at limits of $300 per individual, or $600 for married couples filing jointly. Cash contributions to most public charities in good standing with the IRS qualify for this special tax deduction, but contributions made to establish a donor advised fund (DAF) or to fund supporting organizations (charities that carry out their exempt purposes by supporting other exempt organizations) do not. 

5) More information about rules governing charitable deductions can be found on the IRS website.

6) Donations made to churches and nonprofit organizations with "church" status are also generally tax deductible subject to the above rules, provided they operate soley for religious and educational purposes. 

For tax purposes, take note of the Tax ID Numbers of the different legal entities of the Salvation Army:

The Salvation Army Central Territory's Federal Tax Identification Number is 36-2167910.

The Salvation Army - Southern Territory's Federal Tax Identification Number is 58-0660607.

The Salvation Army - Eastern Territory's Federal Tax Identification Number is 13-5562351.

The Salvation Army–Western Territory's Federal Tax Identification Number is 94-1156347.

Donations of Food, Clothing, Household Goods, Furniture and Other In-Kind Goods 

1) Donations of food, clothing, household goods, furniture, cars, and other non-cash items are not eligible for 2021's special $300 deduction per individual ($600 for married couples filing jointly) for non-itemizers. 

2) The Salvation Army offers a guide for itemizers who need help establishing the market value of their non-cash donations for tax purposes. Keep in mind that while the Salvation Army and other charities may offer such guides, as far as the IRS is concerned, it is each taxpayer's individual responsibility to place a reasonable value on any non-cash items they donate based on the type of item and its condition. It is also the taxpayer's responsibility to maintain appropriate records of any non-cash donations for which they are taking a tax deduction. 

Whether donating cash or in-kind goods to the Salvation Army or other charities, be sure to always get a receipt if you intend to claim a tax deduction in any amount. Donations of $250, whether cash or property, require additional documentation, according to the IRS

The Salvation Army On Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual (LGBTQIA+) Issues

Deciding which charities and causes to support is a deeply personal decision that is a reflection of our individual values. The Salvation Army has been the target of criticism from LGBTQIA+ advocates on the one hand, and from certain religious groups on the other, for not operating in a way that satisfies the core values of each. 

In a November 2019 Op-Ed in USA Today written by the now retired Salvation Army Commissioner David Hudson, Hudson states that "The Salvation Army is the world's largest nongovernmental provider of poverty relief, serving more than 23 million in need each year in America alone. Our donors are, and always have been, open to all. We don't ask anyone their orientation, identify or beliefs, to help ensure that they feel welcome and safe. So while we can't claim an exact number, we believe by sheer size and access that we are the largest provider of poverty relief for people in the LGBTQ community." 

Even if the above is accepted as truth, there is of course a difference between a "don't ask, don't tell" style policy of LGBTQIA+ participation in The Salvation Army's anti-poverty programs, versus an organization-wide advocacy statement in support of LGBTQIA+ rights. For LGBTQIA+ activists and advocates, allowing members of the LGBTQIA+ population to participate in its programs in spite of their status as members of those communities may not be enough to avert criticism of The Salvation Army's track record on this issue. 

In a December 2013 article published in The Huffington Post entitled, "The Salvation Army's history of Anti-LGBT Discrimination," transgender activist Zinnia Jones challenges The Salvation Army's efforts to rebrand itself as LGBT-friendly, citing historical incidents in which the charity allegedly attempted to circumvent anti-discrimination laws related to its eligibility for federal funding, and the impact of its religious stances on its opposition to gay marriage and relationships. An article published in VOX in December of 2019 cites additional incidents of alleged discrimination against the LGBT community by The Salvation Army. 

Also unhappy are certain religious groups and others who believe the Salvation Army's efforts to rebrand itself as more LGBT-friendly are contrary to their values. The organization 2nd Vote, which describes itself as "the conservative watchdog for corporate activism," is described in an article published on LGBTQ Nation as being "super peeved" that the Salvation Army has evolved on LGBTQ issues. According to LGBTQ Nation, 2nd Vote stated that, "Their [the Salvation Army's] support for the LGBTQ community, including funding for Pride parades, and funding of third party organizations that support Common Core are also deviations from their core mission." According to the LGBTQ Nation article, it is not true that the Salvation Army funds pride parades. 

Visit The Salvation Army's LGBTQ Support page for its stated commitments about ways in which it serves the LGBTQ communities. 

The Salvation Army on Issues of Racial Equity 

The Salvation Army has been walking a tightrope on the issue of racial equity as well in a political climate in which addressing this highly-charged issue at all comes with the risk of making different groups of supporters unhappy. 

In a December 16, 2021 Op-Ed in The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Kenny Xu, president of the organization Color Us United, criticizes a discussion guide recently published by the Salvation Army entitled "Let's Talk About Racism." Xu accuses the Salvation Army of contributing to "woke" culture by referring to racism as a "sin" and encouraging its members to "'lament, repent, and apologize' for their biases against people of color in America." Salvation Army National Commander, Kenneth Hodder, responded in The Wall Street Journal in his own Op-Ed the following week, stating that his organization has "never endorsed a political or social ideology other than that found in the Bible." He accuses Xu of engaging in "a campaign to discredit the Salvation Army and dissuade the public from supporting" the Salvation Army's work, further stating that the Salvation Army has "never said that our donors should apologize for the color of their skin...Our ministry is still motivated by the love of God, and our mission is still to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and meet human needs in his name without discrimination. All we want to do is help."

Visit The Salvation Army's website to read its statement, "Setting The Record Straight About False Claims Made By Color Us United" or to view its International Position Statement on racism. 

CharityWatch's Ratings of the Salvation Army

CharityWatch's ratings of the Salvation Army are based on the quantitative measurements of the efficiency with which the organization's four legal entities each raise and spend public dollars. Our ratings do not include subjective measurements of the Salvation Army's positions on social justice issues or the adequacy of its adherence to any particular religious philosophy. Those considering whether or not to donate to the Salvation Army should consider whether or not the organization's mission and programs align with their core values in addition to considering CharityWatch's financial efficiency measurements.

As part of this process, in the interest of not letting perfection become the enemy of the good, potential donors should also consider if the Salvation Army is addressing the unmet needs of particular communities of people in ways that other nonprofits are not addressing. For example, say the Salvation Army provides support to a particular community, including the LGBTQIA+ population in that community, and this support would not be provided by others if the Salvation Army ended these programs. In this case, withholding donations to the Salvation Army as a form of protest against its stances on certain issues could result in the unintended consequence of cutting off support to the very communities a donor is interested in helping. 

Donors should also try to cut through the noise and confusion of politically polarizing opinion pieces that are often framed in ways meant to sensationalize controversial topics. Instead, stick to the facts as much as possible by examining the programs and official policy or position statements made by the Salvation Army rather than relying on derivations of these statements made by others across the political spectrum who may be motivated by specific political agendas.

By all means, donate according to your personal values. However, do so with the understanding that this decision may be nuanced and complex rather than a simple, binary choice. 

CharityWatch's most current information on each of the Salvation Army's four territories can be found below:

The Salvation Army Central Territory

The Salvation Army - Southern Territory

The Salvation Army - Eastern Territory 

The Salvation Army–Western Territory

CharityWatch's investigative work and in-depth financial analysis of charity audited financial statements, tax filings, fundraising contracts, legal filings, and other data used in our evaluations of charities is funded by donations from the general public. We hope you will consider supporting us by making a donation today. We also welcome support from foundation and corporate donors.

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