Giving Circles Add Collective Power to the Spirit of Giving

"It's a little scary and a little lonely to raise money by yourself." How Giving Circles are demistifying philanthropy.

BY: Tamara E. Holmes

 
Back in 2002, Marsha Wallace of Greenville, SC, was bothered by the plight of women and children in Third World countries. Yet she didn't have a sizable amount of money that she believed could make much of a dent in contributing to ending poverty. But an article in a magazine changed her mind and her life.

"I read about a group of social workers that would get together occasionally and instead of eating at a restaurant, they would have a potluck dinner. They would donate the money to a needy family in their community. I thought, 'that's really a great idea,' and months later I was meditating and it hit me! It was like a bolt out of the blue that I could take that same idea and we could just expand on it and make the beneficiaries women and children in Third World countries."

By January of 2003, Dining for Women was born.

As Wallace has found, giving is one of the most spiritual acts one can make, yet many people may feel their ability to give is hindered by the lack of a sizable amount of money to part with. Thanks to a trend that's growing in popularity, that could be no further from the truth.

According to a recent report by the philanthropic organization New Ventures in Philanthropy, thousands of people across the country are donating millions of dollars to worthy causes through giving circles--small groups of friends and acquaintances who pool their money together to donate to charitable organizations of their choice.

"The most exciting thing about giving circles is that combining each individual donation into one really big donation can make such a bigger impact than any individual can do alone," says Wallace.

Wallace and a group of friends get together one Monday a month and share a meal. The participants in the giving circle then decide what charitable organizations should be the beneficiary of the funds they've saved.

"We raise an average of $400 to $700 a month," says Wallace. Since the group's first dinner in January 2003, they've raised $20,000.

Dining for Women is not alone in the endeavor to raise funds collectively for a cause. In 2004, New Ventures counted 220 circles across the country and that number has been growing steadily, particularly in the last five years, says Deputy Director Jessica Bearman.

"One of the beautiful things about giving circles is that they demystify the word `philanthropy' for a lot of people and they make people realize that they can be philanthropists even if they're just giving $200 a year to the circle," says Bearman.

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