MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Americans have been generous with their help for hurricane victims. The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that non-profits participating in hurricane relief have received more than $1 billion in donations. Our personal finance contributor Michelle Singletary joins us to talk about this good news and the challenge of keeping the spirit of giving alive after those disasters fade from the news.
And, Michelle, while this is indeed very good news in terms of Americans' generosity, what does it mean for other charities?
MICHELLE SINGLETARY (The Washington Post): The thing is when we have some of these major disasters and there's so much media attention, people rise to the occasion. It's wonderful that so many people want to give. Unfortunately, it's short-lived. As soon as the attention is away, the donations go down, and then other charities are hurt because people feel that they've already given. That's why it's so important to make giving a lifelong habit. Everyone knows, who listens to this program and reads my column in The Washington Post--knows that I'm a very frugal person. But I'm telling you the one thing that is at the top of my budget, even before, believe it or not, my mortgage, is my tithing, is my giving. That comes first before anything else. And I just want to encourage people to think about how they give throughout the year because the need is just so great out there.
BRAND: And you have a book that you recommend for people who want to do that. What is it?
SINGLETARY: There's a book by an author, Ellen Sabin, called "The Giving Book," and it's geared towards children six to 11, and I love this book. It allows them to write essays and talk about the importance of giving and why you should give and what it means when you give, and so that you can sit down and work with them in these exercises and draw pictures, and then take them into the community, into your church and show them what happens when they give. For adults I recommend the "Guide to Charitable Giving," which is a nuts-and-bolts book that looks at the tax consequences of your giving.
BRAND: Well, with the end of the year approaching, holiday season, this is the time when people traditionally dig into their wallets and give to charities. What are the tax implications for charitable donations?
SINGLETARY: Well, if it's a tax-exempt organization, your donations are 100 percent tax-deductible as long as you didn't get services or product in return, and that's why I like this "Guide to Charitable Giving" because it has a lot of tips. And it has--sometimes people think that some things they do are tax-deductible--for example, your time. You can't, you know, write off your time. But you certainly can if you give money to a charity. I mean, it really walks you through the things that are allowed. For example, if you drive to an organization, that mileage can be tax-deductible, and certain other things that you do in the community is tax-deductible. And listen, I think this is great. I mean, the fact that there's a tax deduction means that hopefully people will give more, and, I mean, I'm certain people aren't giving just for the tax deduction, but it certainly is a good bonus for your good heart.
BRAND: And for a general guide, you recommend 10 percent?
SINGLETARY: I think--you know, it's hard to put a percentage on it. That's what I do. I tithe, so that's 10 percent, but I give even over that. I give to other charities that my husband and I believe in. But I think that's a good benchmark. The average person in America gives about 2 percent of their gross income, according to tax records. That's a great place to start, but you know what? Just look in your heart, look at your budget, and whatever you can give, even if it's a dollar, a dollar does make a difference.
BRAND: Michelle Singletary is our regular guest for conversations about money matters. She also writes The Color of Money column for The Washington Post.
Thanks a lot, Michelle.
SINGLETARY: You're so welcome.
BRAND: And if you'd like Michelle's advice on money matters, please send in your questions. Go to npr.org and select the contact page. Be sure to include `Michelle' in the subject line.
DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News with contributions from slate.com. I'm Madeleine Brand.
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