Giving Circles: Giving with more bang in your buck

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For many, charitable donations are as much a part of the holiday season as are shopping and decorating.  An individual check can be powerful and have much meaning but a significant act of philanthropy is available only to Bill Gates or some foundation somewhere, right?  Not necessarily.


"Giving circles" can turn charity into a team sport -- cooperative philanthropy in a grass roots setting - they work like this:  Members pool their money, educate themselves about community needs and potential recipients, and then give grants.  It's been described as "giving to the community, in community."  

First emerging in the 1990's, a 2006 study by the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers found that giving circles continue to multiply at a steady rate and are now responsible for millions of dollars of giving each year. 


In Washington, DC, a doctor formed a circle to help care for the needs of her homeless patients; a nurse in North Carolina, seeing all too much how precarious many women live, formed a circle that offers a safety net when devastating illness meets insufficient financial resources.  Groups meet throughout the year, some at potluck dinners, where members donate what he or she feels able to give.   A volunteer board within the group fields referrals of families in dire need of grants - usually for $500 or less (for example, paying a utility bill for a single mother undergoing chemotherapy). 


Giving circles come in all sizes - some small enough to fit around a kitchen table and others large in size that meet in halls.  Some offer help as it is needed; others focus on particular groups or programs.  Circle members may also offer volunteer time or technical services.    


By pooling their money and energy, people of modest means can make a substantial impact.  Charity balls are fun but you can wear comfortable shoes to potluck!


For more information on giving circles, check out

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