Marsha Wallace, a labor and delivery nurse in Greenville, S.C., often volunteered at a health care clinic and donated to local charities, but she felt that she wasn't doing enough.
So three years ago she invited some friends to a potluck dinner. They were asked to bring an appetizer, a main course or a dessert - and their checkbooks.
More than 25 women attended, and they contributed $760 to a nonprofit organization that helps female war survivors. The dinner group gave itself a name, Dining for Women, and agreed to meet monthly, with each member donating the $30 she would have spent at a restaurant. (Eventually, Ms. Wallace scrapped the minimum donation because she worried that some women could not afford to attend.)
Now, every month, the donations, usually amounting to $400 to $500, are given to a variety of international nonprofit groups that help women and children. The club has grown to 115 members, with perhaps 15 or 20 showing up at each meeting. It has contributed a total of $19,000 to various charities, including the American Leprosy Missions and Habitat for Humanity. Donations have paid for two years of nursing school for an East African woman and started a $1,400 medical fund in Ethiopia.
This is an example of a Giving Circle, when Charity begins in a circle of friends. Giving circles attract people who are looking for ways to become involved in charities and to monitor the results of their donations.
There are now at least 220 circles in 40 states, according to a study last February by New Ventures in Philanthropy, an organization based in Washington. But the organization says that there are probably many more. Since 2000, circles have donated more than $44 million, the organization said.
[Excerpted from an article by Kristina Shevory, The New York Times]