Published on October 17, 2019 by Sarah Cain  
Alyssa DiRusso

When Alyssa DiRusso, Whelan W. and Rosalie T. Palmer Professor at Cumberland School of Law, published her research, Charity at Work: Proposing a Charitable Flexible Spending Account, she hoped her efforts would impact the national conversation on tax law.

“Whenever I write something, I hope that the law will move in the direction I’m suggesting, but I’m pleasantly surprised when it actually does,” she said.

The article posed pre-tax flexible charitable giving accounts as a solution to support donations beyond those who most often benefit from the traditional tax incentives. Late last year, her research gained new relevancy after the impact of the new tax law was measured and a decline in charitable giving was reported. 

“It isn’t just wealthy people that care about giving. As a law professor and a certified financial planner, I believe charitable tax laws should be changed to make it easier for Americans to budget the money they give to charity. In my opinion, giving more donors a tax break would lead to an increase in giving by encouraging all Americans to make donations part of a routine instead of an occasional splurge,” she wrote in a recent article.

DiRusso published an op-ed highlighting her work and earning national attention in major news outlets across the country including CNN,Chicago Tribune and the Houston Chronicle. The research is just one example of DiRusso’s extensive work and study in trusts and estates and charitable giving, a passion she discovered when working in the private sector.

“While working in private practice, I found that I most enjoyed charitable planning. Being involved with philanthropy was what I found the most rewarding,” she said.

DiRusso has since dedicated a portion of her career to advocating for the Everyday Philanthropist Act, a bipartisan bill that would allow workers to open accounts modeled after flexible spending accounts many taxpayers use to offset some of their dependent care and medical expenses.

DiRusso’s shift from researcher to advocate has not only helped taxpayers better understand the importance of the bill, but also expanded her perspective professionally.

“Writing op-eds is very different from writing academically. It has changed my perspective to realize the gap between thinking and doing, between having an idea and suggesting change and what can be done to instigate or support change,” DiRusso said.

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