Question: [Wednesday, 24th Shevat, 5782]
I work as a website technician and do some website volunteer work for a charity organization. May I deduct the amount of income that I could charge for such work from my Maaser obligations. For example, if I put in 10 hours a month for which I normally charge $75 an hour for other clients. May I deduct $750 from my Maaser obligations at the end of the month?
Yes, from now and onwards you may deduct it from Maaser. However, this should be done in the following way: You must document your hours of work and at the end of the month calculate how much money you could have made based on the market value for these number of hours. Some suggest that you then need to add this amount of money to your income, as if you had made the money. You then divide the total amount of monthly income, including the above unreceived monies, by 10%. From that total, you may then deduct the amount of money worth that you had dedicated to the charity institution. Thus, in your case example, you should at the end of each month add $750 to your total income [if you in truth did volunteer work of 10 hours that month], and then after the total amount of income deduct $750 from your total Maaser obligations.
Now, this should only be done from now and onwards and not retroactively, being that you never had in mind in the past to use these hours as income. [However, it is not necessary for you to inform the institution that you plan on deducting the value of your volunteer work from your Maaser obligations, although some write that it is proper to do so, especially if you have a set price for your work that is more than market value.] Also, this may only be done in your case of a charitable institution or a Torah/Chesed Mosad, or a person who is truly poor and deserves receiving Tzedaka. If the individual or institution for whom you are doing volunteer work is not defined as a pauper, or a cause that is eligible of receiving Maaser moneys according to Halacha, then obviously this may not be deducted from it.
Explanation: The Poskim rule that Maaser does not have to be given specifically in money payments but may also be given through items of value. Thus, for example, if one buys a new computer and donates his old computer to a charitable institution, he may deduct the current value of the old computer from his Maaser obligations. The same applies likewise for a service, that if one provides a service of value for free or at a discount to a pauper or to an institution which is eligible to receive Maaser money, then he may deduct it from his Maaser obligations. Nonetheless, by a service, some write that since one is viewing it like an income, therefore, it should be considered as part of one’s income, and only then deducted from the Maaser.
Sources: See Maharil Diskin 1:24; Tzedaka Umishpat 5:43; Pesakim of Rav Moshe Feinstein in Kuntrus Am Hatorah Mahadura 2 Choveres 11; Hilchos Maaser Kesafim [Brunshtein] 7:1; Pesakim Uteshuvos 249:34; Orchos Rabbeinu 1:237; Regarding that if one is required to inform the recipient that he is deducting it from his Maaser obligations: See Maharil Diskin ibid; Maharam Shick Y.D. 230; Chelkas Yaakov Y.D. 137; Rambam Matanos Aniyim 10:7; Regarding deducting retroactively: See Maharil Diskin 1:24 who leaves this matter in question as if one did not initially have in mind to deduct it from Maaser, then it could be that this work has the status of Gemilus Chasadim Begufo which is a separate mitzvah than that of charity, and since one has already obligated to do it for free and therefore no longer has a value and therefore does not have a value.