Color of Money: Make a regular plan to give, because there's always a need.

Michelle Singletary on

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.

"I have, for a while, wanted some guidance on how to plan and manage my charitable giving," Burton said in an interview. "I wish I had a more coordinated strategy and practice of giving. But I don't know how to go about getting there."

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.

There's something else you get from concentrating your charitable efforts. Through trial and error, you come to a better understanding what works best.


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