THE BLOG
08/27/2014 10:49 am ET Updated Oct 26, 2014

Why I Made a Giving Plan

I'm not Bill Gates or Michael Bloomberg. No one is going to name a building after me any time soon. But two events in the news last week convinced me that I need to make a giving plan.

After yet another ice bucket video appeared on my Facebook feed, I came across reports of the many ways people in Ferguson were supporting each other amid the violence following Michael Brown's death. I don't mean to minimize either what's happening in Ferguson or a horrible disease like ALS by roping these things together. But I was reminded me how often we make donations in reaction to something.

Sometimes it is a natural disaster or a tragedy like the Newtown shooting that prompts us to act. Our emotions go into overdrive. We have to help.

But positive emotions such as a sense of community or sharing an experience with a friend motivate us, too. A neighbor asks us to donate to his kid's traveling soccer team or sponsor a bike ride or dump freezing water on our heads, and it's fun, and it supports a good cause, so we do it.

That we might never again contribute to that particular cause doesn't make the act of giving once less satisfying for the giver, or the money less useful for the charity.

But when I see what is happening in Ferguson, I think about poverty and racism and guns. About broad social issues that concern me. I want to contribute to organizations and programs and politicians who I feel have some effective solutions or good ideas about addressing those problems.

Giving is a way to express ourselves and our values. In a sense, it is a way to vote, to share our opinion of what kind of world we want to live in. No matter how much we have, we can use our money as a force to create what we want to see in the world. I don't know, of course, but I imagine that's as good a feeling if you give a hundred dollars or a hundred million.

When I got my first job, my very practical mother told me to divide my income into three. One-third should go to my rent and utilities, one-third to savings, and anything leftover could go to buying clothes and going out to dinner and the rest. That formula didn't exactly work when I was living in Manhattan on a journalist's salary, but I've always used it as a loose guide to budgeting my money.

And it seemed a good way to make a giving plan. First I came up with an amount I feel comfortable donating this year, and then I divided it into three.

One third will go to the causes closest to my heart. I will donate to organizations I've researched that have great programs addressing things I am passionate about, including economic inequality and educating women and girls. I check out the evaluations on Charity Navigator and use the Social Impact Index for some guidance. Another great source is the Community Foundation in my county, which tracks local and regional nonprofits and offers plenty of advice.

One third will go to investing. The easiest way to do this is though investing in social impact funds. More of those seem to crop up every day, and I'm looking at choices from the pioneering funds from Domani Social Investments to the new Pax Ellevate Global Women's Fund.

One third will go to--who knows? This is my equivalent of fun money. I may decide to buy groceries for a food bank this winter, or contribute to a bunch of kids raising money for lacrosse uniforms, or to help rebuild houses in Asia after a flood, or even send a check to the ALS Association. I'll skip the ice bucket.