Mark G: I am of two minds about what you say. On the one hand, when I look at the literature on estimates of elasticity of charitable contributions, it looks to me that the impact on giving is greatest for mega donations like, say, billionaires’ gifts to the Metropolitan Opera, not the $20 contribution to a local charity. The data show that millions of small donors who don’t even itemize give those $20 gifts all the time.
At the same time, as a one-time head of a small not-for-profit myself, I know that the promise that a donation would be tax-deductible has some persuasive power — even when the person you’re asking isn’t even going to itemize. The promise of a deduction, for some people, is sort of a “seal of approval.”
Balancing those, your idea of a limited tax credit, available to all regardless of itemization, is a reasonable reform compromise. I don’t want to say abolish the deduction or bust. I am satisfied to get people thinking about whether we really need it, and why, and whether there is a better way.