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.
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