Once upon a time, successful entrepreneurs turned their attentions to philanthropic activities at the very ends of their careers (if not their lives).Today it’s completely different. Company founders often build charitable efforts into their business plans from Day One, and emphasize their expertise and connections over their still-to-be-made fortunes.  

Here's how you can be smart about charitable giving.

1. Make a plan. There are so many ways to give--and so many organizations to give to--that it can become paralyzing. Decide what you want to focus on and why before sweating how and how much. Side benefit: It helps you feel better about turning down worthy requests that don't map to your plan.

2. It's not all about money. Identify the assets and resources you can put against that cause, which may include internal expertise, the donation of products and services, or tapping the resources of your business and personal networks. Look for causes that will boost employee morale and fit with your brand.

4. Don't make it about you. Beware the temptation to devote your employees' efforts to your pet charity. You'll miss a chance to boost engagement. "We ask clients what they love and what's important to them," Marty Tuzman of Jenkintown Building Services says.

5. Don't do it for the tax write-off. You'll be disappointed, says Jeffrey Porter, chair of the American Institute of CPAs, because from a financial point of view, "it doesn't make sense." But a tax expert can help you avoid common misconceptions about what's deductible. Your time, for example, isn't.