A Big, Fat Tax Break
Commit this term to memory: donor-advised fund. It's a method of giving that allows you to put as much money as you want aside for charity and take the tax deduction on the amount immediately—even if you don't give it all away that year. People who take this route tend to donate more regularly and generously because they've earmarked money for the purpose—versus the random $50 to Save the Whales. That's good for you—you'll be more conscious about who you're writing checks to—and good for charities. The conventional wisdom is that nonprofits will take anything you can spare, but the truth is that if you give less than around $200, they'll dismiss you. "They know it's going to cost a lot of money to get you to give more," says Sandra Miniutti of Charity Navigator, a philanthropy watchdog group. "They'll just trade you to another organization and you'll get a whole mailbox full of letters." (For a list of legit charities, check out guidestar.org.)
A Place in the Society Pages
If you can write the check, it's easy to cosy up next to the bigwigs at charity galas. Just call the organization and ask to be put on its invitation list. And if your aim is to make connections, rather than to support the Hollywood Charity Horse Show, you're not alone: If it's a high-profile fund-raiser, it's primarily a party anyway. According to a 2007 study by Charity Navigator, the majority of these events raise almost nothing because they cost so much to throw. Be aware, however, that only what actually goes to the nonprofit is tax-deductible—so if you pay $200 for a dinner and the food is worth $150 (fair market value is usually written on the ticket), your tax break is a measly $50—the breakdown is usually on the ticket for the event. That’s all the more reason to make the most of the social-climbing opportunity.
A More Secure Job
Let the Cratchit-like chumps at your company volunteer at soup kitchens. You should establish yourself as a sterling leader in your boss's eyes by claiming a spot on a powerful charity's board of directors—it's as much a résumé-builder as being student-body president was in college. Don't try to work your way into a huge organization, like the National Prostate Cancer Coalition. Local groups actually tend to be more high-profile—think heading up the fund-raising for a major exhibit at a city museum. The way to get in? Nonprofit boards need skilled labor, not another set of hands to stuff envelopes with. Offer whatever qualifications you have to get them to appoint you. Lawyers can look at contracts; accountants can help with the budget. And, of course, donate big. You'll be getting a raise soon anyway.