It may seem a little late in the game to make a final gift suggestion for 2007. But we would like to offer one gift idea that will cost you essentially nothing - and it will multiple itself many times over.
For anyone who has already donated this year to an arts or culture organization, there's a very good chance that you can make a contribution of similar size to the Oregon Cultural Trust by Dec. 31 and receive every dime of that amount back when you file your Oregon income taxes next year.
This unusual opportunity to give and receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit was made possible by the 2001 Oregon Legislature. The only problem with the program is that too few people are aware of it. Of the 75,000 Oregon residents who made tax-deductible donations to arts or culture groups last year, only about 10 percent took advantage of the chance to contribute to the state's cultural trust.
Trust has made a large impact
This low participation rate is unfortunate when you consider how important the trust, in a few short years, has become to Oregon's cultural scene. The trust, which now has an endowment of $7 million, has awarded nearly $5 million in grants to arts and culture organizations in every corner of Oregon. And when we talk about arts and culture, we're not necessarily referring to a highbrow night at the opera (not that there's anything wrong with that).
In addition to supporting fine arts, the Oregon Cultural Trust provides funding to library foundations, historical societies, music-education programs and interpretative museums. In Portland, for example, the dozens of grants awarded by the trust include allocations to the Oregon Children's Theatre Company, the Friends of Tryon Creek State Park and Oregon Public Broadcasting.
Culture, in other words, is hardly an exclusive concept for the folks administering the trust. They've excelled in their mission of supporting all forms of art and culture.
Similarly, the groups that have aligned themselves with the Oregon Cultural Trust for the purpose of encouraging donations also are of a varied lot. This diversity is important because there is one prerequisite for receiving a tax credit when donating to the trust: You must have already made a donation of like or greater size to an arts or culture organization that has been approved by the trust.
But again, it's easy to find a group that qualifies. Among the myriad eligible Portland organizations are the Oregon Zoo Foundation, the Oregon Symphony Association, the Portland Art Museum, the Portland Classical Chinese Garden and the Portland Children's Museum. Just having a membership to one of these attractions will qualify you for a tax credit if a portion of that membership fee is tax deductible.
Give, and get your money back
The procedure for donating to the trust may sound complicated, but it's really not. Just go to the Oregon Cultural Trust web site (www.culturaltrust.org) and look for an organization that you've already donated to, or one to which you'd like to donate.
Once you've written a check to the local arts or culture group, send a check - or make an online payment - to the cultural trust. Individuals can donate up to $500, while couples can contribute up to $1,000. For corporations, the limit is $2,500. And remember this tax credit is much better than a tax deduction, because with a credit, you get the entire value of your donation back come April 15.
In many ways, the holiday season is a peak time of year for the arts. Students throughout the Portland metro area are performing in plays and concerts. Local professional musicians are doing their holiday shows. Churches and other venues are decked out and their calendars are filled with special events.
But there's another reason to think of arts and culture at this particular time of year - and that's the approaching Dec. 31 deadline for making 2007 charitable donations. A gift to the Oregon Cultural Trust will reduce your tax burden for this year and also serve to invigorate the arts and culture scene in every community in this state.