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<i>Giving Circles</i> Becoming a Prominent Way to Help Others

More and more Americans are finding ways to help greater numbers of people by working together. They form organizations called giving circles. VOA’s June Soh produced our report on a group of women and their collective giving. It's narrated by Amy Katz.

Jane Williams is spending a day this weekend painting and cleaning up the inside of a house in Great Falls, Virginia. Her friend, Linda Strup, cleans up the outside.

They are participating in a community project called Rebuilding Together to help repair homes for elderly, ill or low-income people who cannot take care of their homes by themselves. For Jane and Linda, volunteering is part of their lives.

Linda says, "I've volunteered for the last 20 years. I stopped working full time when I had children and so that's what I do. I feel I am very fortunate that I have time and ability to help others."

One year ago Jane and Linda founded an organization called the Giving Circle of Hope with four friends. They pool their money, talents, and time for worthy causes.

"We help the elderly, we help children, and we help victims of domestic abuse: whatever needs come to our attention. We review grant applications and we make an annual award of monetary grants."

Their group effort had an immediate impact, giving out more than $25,000 in grants last year to charitable organizations. They also have ongoing service projects, such as teaching knitting at this homeless shelter. And the circle's membership, which includes women of various ages, backgrounds, and professional experience, has grown to 75.

Ann Simmons, a group member, works on a project to increase the literacy of homeless children. “It's like throwing a rock in a creek or a pond. What happens at that moment continuously ripples on out. Other people begin to know what we are doing, so more and more people are interested in joining this group."

Giving circles have become the latest philanthropic trend in the U.S. According to a study by New Ventures in Philanthropy, there are 220 giving circles and most of them are less than four years old. And more than $44 million has been donated for community programs.

Tracey Rutnick is one of their researchers. “We found that giving circles appeal to a broad cross section of people. We found giving circles comprised of retirees. We even found giving circles comprised of five-year-olds. We found that they attract men and women and people of all racial and ethnic groups."

The Giving Circle of Hope is now reaching out to other organizations even outside its community. This was a fund raising dinner to help Night Light, a project to combat the sexual exploitation of women and children in Bangkok Thailand.

Ms. Williams believes that, "If many people start giving circles and participate in organization like that, I think we can hopefully help to make a difference not only in our own communities but worldwide."