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.

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"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.

Giving circles also are as unique as the people who create them. While Dining for Women primarily raises funds for various charities,

Giving Circle of Hope

, based in Reston, Va., has some members that donate money and others that donate time.

"Once a year we solicit grant applications and collectively vote on how to distribute that money," says Linda Strup, a founder of the circle. "Last year we gave out over $25,000 and this year we have $50,000 in our bank account."

However, while some members of Giving Circle of Hope donate a minimum of $1 per day or $365 per year, others participate in monthly service projects doing such tasks as visiting nursing homes and participating in cancer walks.

The main thing needed to start a giving circle is a group of people with the desire to serve others.

"Get together a couple of friends who are passionate about giving to form a core group that can help you think through some of the decisions you have to make," says Bearman. Among the questions that must be answered: What cause will the money go toward, and how much will each member be asked to give?

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If the giving circle is small, with, say, 10 members, many of these questions can be answered in a living room meeting. However, larger giving circles often have more formal structures, with different committees being responsible for different things.

Determining which charities to support can be as simple as taking a vote or as formal as requesting that organizations fill out an application in order to be considered for funding.

One thing giving circles must be wary of is the risk of giving money to fraudulent organizations.

"I would recommend that people do research and make sure the causes they're giving to are legitimate," says Wallace. Web sites such as http://www.guidestar.org/, http://www.charitywatch.org/, and http://www.give.org/reports/index.asp all provide information on charitable organizations and where their money is spent.

There are so many organizations that do good things in the world that Wallace advises giving circle creators to come up with an area of focus and stick with it. Dining for Women chose to focus on international fundraising organizations since so many donations in the United States already go to local charities.

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Tamara E. Holmes
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