Concerts for charity are a classic fund-raiser, whether the performers are a school marching band or cutting-edge rockers. It's an act of real generosity, because unlike giving money, donating time and effort to charity isn't deductible. If your group charges, say, $500 a night, giving a free performance doesn't translate into a $500 deduction.
Whether you're driving across town to perform or flying to Bangladesh, you get to take off travel costs on your taxes. You can take off 14 cents a mile if you drive, plus parking fees and tolls; if you take a bus, plane or train, you deduct actual costs. If you travel away from home, your meals and lodging are tax-deductible too. If you combine a charity gig with a vacation, the IRS expects you to separate out the expenses and only claim the charity part.
Your performance isn't a write-off, but you can deduct any money you spend on the show. If you have to pay roadies to set up your equipment, that's a charitable write-off. If you put your own money into promoting the show or booking the venue, that would be deductible too. Donating instruments for auction after the show would be a write-off, just like any other non-cash donation to charity.
If you donate cash to help make the fund-raiser come together -- or just give money to the cause -- your deduction is equal to the money you spent. If you donate band instruments or memorabilia, or the copyright to a hit song, it's harder to figure the value. For instruments, the fair market value if you sold them is usually the standard. With a copyright, you can deduct a percentage of any income it generates for the charity every year for the next decade.
When you claim a charitable write-off, keep good records in case you're ever audited. For cash, you need canceled checks, bank statements or receipts from the charity to show how you spent the money. For non-cash donations, you need to identify the property, the charity and the date you gave it away. If it's expensive or collectible -- your favorite classic Fender, say -- you may need an appraisal to prove the value. The bigger your donation, the more paperwork the IRS wants.
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.