With the markets sinking, a lot of retirees may be cutting back on charitable giving along with their discretionary spending. But it's still possible to effect a philanthropic impact by organizing or joining a giving circle. Much like investment clubs, giving circles consist of a small group of friends who pool their resources and gather--often over a potluck dinner--to pick charitable causes to donate to. Such circles have become especially popular among aging boomers looking for a way to bring meaning as well as fun into their retirement years.
The number of giving circles in the U.S. doubled from 2004 to 2006--to about 400, according to a study by the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers in Washington. Growth has continued since then: giving circles have donated $100 million over the past four years. And the ragged economy may be accelerating the trend. In Cadillac, Mich., Laurie Melstrom formed a giving circle in early October--just as the stock market was swooning. "This economic downturn has a lot of people breaking out into a sweat," says the 54-year-old homemaker. "Yet everyone said, 'Count me in.'" Individually, the group's 10 or 12 prospective members can't make much difference, but together, she says, "we'll be able to make the kind of donation that our small charities are really going to need in tough times."
Members of Melstrom's group will contribute $500 annually and meet up to four times a year to decide on local charities to support with a grant--any cause its members deem worthwhile. For instance, Party with Purpose, in Hoboken, N.J., has raised more than $125,000 to fight Alzheimer's and help preserve the oceans. In Charleston, S.C., Chicks with Checks has contributed big bucks to battle breast cancer and support a local hospice.
To start a giving circle, simply call a meeting, agree on a mission and set dues. For more guidance, go to givingforum.org and givingcircles.org At a time when many people have less, this is one way to do more.