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From time to time I’d like to work for free for local charitable organizations.

I wonder how I could/should do this? (If this depends on the country, I’m interested in Germany.)

  • bill my work as usual, let them pay me and donate the money back to them?
  • create a bill with 100% discount (sum = 0)?
  • don’t create a bill at all?

I don’t think it will be needed, but just to make sure: I don’t want to be liable for anything that could result from my work. For example, when I install a security update for their websites’ CMS and it contains a bug so that they can no longer send mails or whatever. When I get paid for my work, I’ll make sure to fix it as soon as possible. But when I donated my work, I don’t want to have to fix it. How would this be possible? Could I add a clause in my offer? What should it contain?

  • Of course it depends on the tax jurisdiction. Someone please create the tag 'Germany' and apply it and 'taxes'. – smci Jun 5 '13 at 8:00
  • 'without being liable' for what precisely? You mean 'without creating tax liability'? (not legal liability). If so, please fix the title. – smci Jun 5 '13 at 8:01
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    From his comment it is clear that unor is worried about legal liability. – Claus Jun 6 '13 at 2:21
  • @smci: I mean legal liability. Mene gives a nice example. – unor Jun 12 '13 at 0:42
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  • bill my work as usual, let them pay me and donate the money back to them

    Yes, would be possible, but it would be weird if you agreed on that in a contract. If you don't agree on that in the contract, the charity could hesitate before working with you because they can't be sure they get their money.
    Furthermore, when you agree on this, the charity needs some liquidity, which it doesn't always have.

  • don't create a bill at all?

    Possible, but then it's going to look like volunteering. With a bill, you agree on what work has to be done before you do it. Without, the charity can ask for more, you can suddenly disagree... a bill creates clarity for both parties.

  • create a bill with 100% discount (sum=0)?

    Yes, this is the way to go. You won't have to pay taxes over €0,- and there's clarity for both parties.

Of course, when you are familiar with the organizations, there's no problem with informally agreeing on donating back or not creating a bill at all. But when you don't know them or they don't know you, a bill creates clarity. Also, with 100% discount the charity can be sure of not paying.

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In Canada, the rules seem a little different for billing them... According to the Canada Revenue Agency's page about charitable donations:

Donations of cash, goods, land, or listed securities (like stocks) to a registered charity or other qualified donees are eligible for a charitable tax credit. For a donation to be eligible for the charitable tax credit, the transfer of ownership has to be voluntary.

Examples of donations that do usually qualify for charitable tax credits include:

  • money;
  • securities;
  • ecologically sensitive land;
  • certified cultural property;
  • capital property;
  • personal-use property (such as prints, etchings, drawings, paintings, sculptures, jewellery, rare folios, rare manuscripts, rare books, stamps, and coins); and
  • inventory (such as art, antiques, rare books).

The following do not usually qualify for charitable tax credits:

  • contributions of services, such as time, skills, effort;
  • certain admission fees to events or to programs (e.g., fees for daycare or nursery school facilities);
  • the purchase price of a lottery ticket or other chance to win a prize, even though the lottery proceeds benefit one or more charities; and
  • the payment of tuition fees (exceptions exist).

The usual disclaimer: IANAL, so check with the regulations in your country. In Canada, I would do as @CamilStaps mentions, which is to create a bill with 100% discount (sum=0)

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You are always liable to some extend but to minimize your liability it's best to make it clear that you are doing this work on a volunteer basis and that the recipient can not expect your usual support and guarantees. You could even state that in the contract with them.

But I have to question your objective. If you aren't willing to help them fix the problems you caused then it's best not to offer your service. Not only are you doing a good deed but you are showcasing your skills and services. Think of it as advertising opportunity.

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    Sure, when I’m able to I’ll help. I just don’t want to be liable/bound to it in the same sense I am when getting paid for my work. A web shop owner might probably sue when the shop stops working and I then need to finance a lawyer. You could say that when getting paid for your work, a part of it is for those cases, mitigating the risk. I don’t want to hang for doing someone a favor, so to say. – unor May 30 '13 at 20:53
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If you want to do something for a non-profit organisation, you really should sign its volunteering agreement. You will be a quasi-employee of that organisation, so that it would be liable for your actions (as long as they are covered by the agreement). This is how it works in Poland, but according to Wikipedia, the setup for volunteering is also very similar in Germany.

Billing the charity, even if you return the money, is dangerous if the charity receives donations from state. All expenses of the charity must be published and any suspicious bills could result in accusations of fraud, so being a volunteer is the best option, since it gives you full security.

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There's no sense in creating a bill with a 100% discount, unless you want them to know how much the services would have cost normally for some reason.

Instead, send them a simple plan outlining the work that will be done, and stating that you're giving the work away for free. You may wish to specify an open-source license such as The GPL, Creative Commons, or simply declare it as being in the public domain.

If you're worried about being sued for any possible problems, I think the standard practice in software development is to include an aggressively capitalized disclamier, as so:

THE SOFTWARE IS PROVIDED “AS IS”, WITHOUT WARRANTY OF ANY KIND, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO THE WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE AND NONINFRINGEMENT. IN NO EVENT SHALL THE AUTHORS OR COPYRIGHT HOLDERS BE LIABLE FOR ANY CLAIM, DAMAGES OR OTHER LIABILITY, WHETHER IN AN ACTION OF CONTRACT, TORT OR OTHERWISE, ARISING FROM, OUT OF OR IN CONNECTION WITH THE SOFTWARE OR THE USE OR OTHER DEALINGS IN THE SOFTWARE.

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