I knew that on the first Sunday after Hurricane Katrina blasted the Gulf Coast, my pastor would appeal to his congregation to give to the relief effort.
"I know I don't have to beg you," said John K. Jenkins of First Baptist Church of Glenarden. "You give generously because you are a giving church."
It's so wonderful to see that when a disaster hits, people do give generously. My daughter Olivia was about to donate half her allowance that Sunday. "Mommy, do you think that's enough?" she asked during the special offering.
Before I had a chance to answer, Olivia had decided to give more.
The news is full of stories of young people who have collected money, food, clothing and other supplies for the victims of Katrina. Adults have opened their wallets, homes and stores to help the many who have been left with nothing.
But the challenge for all of us -- adults and children -- is to keep that spirit of giving all the time, not just when there is a hurricane, earthquake or tsunami.
Because people here and abroad need our assistance year-round, I'm recommending for September two books for the Color of Money Book Club.
The first is "The Giving Book" by Ellen Sabin (Watering Can Press, $19.95).
The second is PricewaterhouseCoopers' "Guide to Charitable Giving" by Michael B. Kennedy, Evelyn M. Capassakis and Richard S. Wagman (John Wiley & Sons, $19.95).
Let me focus first on Sabin's book. This 64-page, spiral-bound volume is full of fun activities intended to teach children ages 6 to 11 the importance of philanthropy. It is also partly a journal, and children are encouraged to write essays that get them to answer such questions as what they are thankful for or how they would help people in certain situations.
Most important, the activities in the book aren't just centered on one act of charity. While it's commendable that so many people are helping Katrina victims, it's better if that generosity becomes ingrained.
"Disasters and events lead many of us to take notice and enhance our giving," said Sabin, who has spent her career working for and running nonprofit organizations in the public health sector. "This proactive giving can then ebb and flow based on events and media coverage."
The goal should be to open the door to a lifetime of giving, Sabin said.
I've recommended "Guide to Charitable Giving" because the more you know about charitable giving, the better a giver you become. There's no preaching in this book. It's just the facts, ma'am. You'll learn about charitable gift annuities, trusts and bequests. The authors also provide guidance on tax-deductible and non-deductible contributions.
"Every time there is a disaster . . . there is renewed interest in charitable giving," said Capassakis, a member of PricewaterhouseCoopers' firm. "To the extent that it helps people navigate the charitable-giving rules, this book is important."
"Guide to Charitable Giving" covers lots of tax ground. Most people know there is a tax advantage to giving. But many donors aren't always clear on the tax rules for their contributions. This book has mercifully short and well-explained chapters and appendices on the deductibility of charitable donations.
"When people give to charity, it is usually from a philanthropic perspective first and from a tax and financial perspective second," Capassakis said. "Given the primary motivation to do the most good within their means, people should plan their giving to maximize the tax advantages, thereby maximizing their contribution. After all, the government provides tax benefits as an incentive to make charitable contributions, so why not take advantage of these benefits?"
Both of these books are available online and in major and independent bookstores. Sabin's book can also be bought at the author's Web site, www.wateringcanpress.com, where bulk-order discounts are available for schools, youth groups and other organizations. On Sabin's site, teachers can find a free guide with recommended lesson plans and activities on giving.
If you are interested in discussing "The Giving Book," join me at noon Sept. 22 on www.washingtonpost.com. Sabin will be my guest and will be available to take your questions.
To become a member of the Color of Money Book Club, all you have to do is read the recommended book and chat online with the author and me. In addition, every month I randomly select readers to receive a copy of the book, donated by the publisher.
For a chance to win a copy of "Guide to Charitable Giving" or "The Giving Book," send an e-mail to email@example.com. Please include your name and an address so we can send you a book if you win, and indicate which book you want. Only one book request per e-mail entry, please.
* On the air: Michelle Singletary discusses personal finance Tuesdays on NPR's "Day to Day" program and online at www.npr.org.
* By mail: Readers can write to her at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.
* By e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Comments and questions are welcome, but because of the volume of mail, personal responses are not always possible. Please note that comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.