We are a religious organization so our board is large and has about 100 members. Our annual board meeting includes business, training, and team-building activities. Normally we meet in person and board members pay for their room and board. It's recommended that the churches they represent cover the fees, but many individuals choose to pay them personally. This year we met on Zoom and charged a much smaller recommended fee to request their support to cover the costs and tech support. One board member wants to claim the $113 registration fee as a tax-deductible donation because she says it is a donation for a required operating expense and is not the usual sort of registration fee for an event that pays for an experience and services in return. Should this fee be tax-deductible?
I think the answer may depend on whether the registration fee was required or not. If the fee was required to participate, I think it is not deductible. If it was a recommended fee and they could participate without regard to whether they (or their churches) paid the fee, I think it is a voluntary payment that would be deductible.
I would analogize this to a contribution to a museum to which entrance is free. The key is that the payment is voluntary and not mandatory. People who attend a “free” museum have the same experience as those who have to pay. But a required payment is not deductible, while a purely voluntary contribution would be. Your statement that you “request” a “recommended fee” suggests that it was not required.
If the churches were required to pay the fee to have a representative attend the meeting on their behalf if the representatives did not pay personally, then I think the representatives could argue that their personal payment was a payment “on behalf of” the church and therefor deductible. But if no one was required to pay, as seems to be the case from your question, the recommended payment seems clearly to be a contribution.