Singletary: Make plan to give, as there’s always need

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Michelle Singletary welcomes comments and column ideas. Reach her in care of The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. N.W., Washington, DC 20071; or singletarym@washpost.com.

I’m in awe of the generosity and volunteer efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

There was the Chick-fil-A manager who helped an elderly couple who had called in an order for two grilled chicken burritos with extra egg, and a boat. The manager sent her husband with his boat — and some fellas on Jet Skis stopped to help.

Then there was the owner of a furniture store who opened his showroom full of comfy couches, display mattresses and recliners to evacuees. Many people are welcoming displaced families into their homes.

The need is immediate for tens of thousands of people in Southeast Texas and surrounding states who are suffering in ways most of us can’t imagine.

But once the floodwaters finally recede, so many people will still need help. It’s at this time that generosity can wane because the catastrophe won’t always be front and center.

And before you know it, Thanksgiving will be here and people will once again be prompted to pitch in. They will give bags of food and volunteer at churches, soup kitchens or community centers. And then the volunteers and the money dwindle, until the next holiday — or storm — tugs at people’s hearts.

Can I ask you to do something while you’re in a giving mood?

Think and plan how you can become a year-round giver of your time, talents or cash.

Following a column last week about wise giving in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, I received an email from Nicole Burton of Maryland.

Burton gives. She pays dues at her synagogue, makes special High Holiday donations, and contributes money to a few arts and cultural organizations in her neighborhood during fundraisers and membership drives. She also supports public radio.

“I sometimes give very small amounts to people on the street,” Burton said.

Despite all this, Burton says she still feels that she isn’t doing enough.

Here’s what I told her on developing a lifelong philanthropic plan.

• Find your charitable niche. My passion is financial literacy, so the majority of my time and talents are directed toward helping people with money issues.

Based on your values, what’s important to you? Maybe it’s feeding the hungry or addressing educational inequity.

You can only volunteer so many hours, so target your money and energy to one major charitable area. This doesn’t mean you can’t help out on other causes, but become a major supporter in a particular area of need.

• Be deliberate with your dollar donations. Either budget a percentage of your income or settle on giving a set amount. My husband and I follow the principle of tithing. We give a tenth of our annual gross income to our church. Our giving in large part supports our church’s community outreach and charitable work.

If you’re not religious, then choose a charity or nonprofit you want to regularly help. Set up automatic payments. And, if you can, build some flexibility into your budget, so you can give when there’s unforeseen need like with Hurricane Harvey.

• Volunteer when you can. Be as committed with your time as you are with your money. And show up when you say you will — regularly.

Although your presence is needed, it’s understandable when there are times you just can’t volunteer.

Burton is a caregiver for her husband, who has early-onset Alzheimer’s. So she doesn’t have a lot of time to volunteer.

I told her not to feel guilty that her giving is mostly limited to cash donations. Her husband needs her time right now.

Burton’s right about having a deliberate approach to altruism. Establish a plan. Because there’s always need.

Michelle Singletary welcomes comments and column ideas. Reach her in care of The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. N.W., Washington, DC 20071; or singletarym@washpost.com.