Contributions from others (besides you or your parents) for HEFY trips may certainly be tax deductible, provided that the following conditions are met. First, contributions must be made directly to HEFY, a Section 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Second, while contributions may be made with an indicated preference for a specific use, they cannot be restricted to only such purpose, e.g., “Johnny’s HEFY trip this fall.” Rather, the donor must understand – and be willing to donate despite the fact – that if Johnny is too sick to travel, or the trip is cancelled for any other reason, the donation cannot legally be returned. This is because as the donee organization, HEFY is legally prohibited from operating as a “mere conduit” to receive and pass along donated funds.
Third, and on a related note, as the donee organization, HEFY must exercise control over the funds and has a responsibility to assure that they are used for qualified tax-exempt purposes. (E.g., if Johnny is too sick to travel, or his trip is cancelled for any reason, the donee organization must find other appropriate uses for the donated funds; simply giving Johnny the money as “his own” is legally not permitted.)
The work of HEFY affects over 80,000 people worldwide every year. We build hospitals, schools, nutrition centers, etc in 39 global locations – all of which have a life changing impact on people who don’t currently have access to health care, education, or other critical services. The Builders (teenagers) who go on our trips are certainly affected in their own lives by the service they provide, but when they solicit donations, it is to help HEFY help the people that they are going to serve. The money you donate to HEFY will still be used toward those humanitarian purposes, and is therefore still considered by the IRS to be a nonrefundable donation.