- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 31, 2007

Joan Kasprowicz of Reston spent years giving time and raising money for her children’s activities. As they grew, she found herself with time to spare and still more to give. It would be great, she said, to team up with others to pool time, energy and money to help others in the community.

From that idea, the Giving Circle of Hope was born in 2004. The nonprofit group has grown from four members to more than 100. It has given away more than $150,000 in grants to small nonprofits seeking to fund particular projects and also contributed hundreds of hours of hands-on volunteer time.

For a contribution of $365 annually — $1 a day — members of the Giving Circle of Hope get to vote on where the money goes, organize volunteer projects and enjoy a new social outlet, Mrs. Kasprowicz says.

“Most people give to charity by writing a check for $25 here and there,” she says. “They don’t know if it is making a difference or who it is helping. When we pool our money, we can have an impact. People are realizing you don’t have to be very rich to have that impact when you are part of a giving circle.”

Giving circles are a growing trend, says Daria Teutonico, director of New Ventures in Philanthropy, an initiative of the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers, a nonprofit umbrella group for philanthropic organizations.

Her group counts 220 giving circles in 40 states, up about 50 percent from a few years ago. That number is really just “the tip of the iceberg,” Ms. Teutonico says, as there likely are many groups that fit the model of a giving circle but are doing it in a very low-key fashion.

“The basic premise of a giving circle is people pooling their money and deciding where the money goes,” she says. “Also, they get together in a social way or have speakers come in. Groups are mostly women, but we are seeing more men involved.

“In a giving circle, you can see how the money is spent,” Ms. Teutonico says. “People feel they have more control if they can see where the money is going. They are also connected to the community and helping solve its challenges.”

Buffy Beaudoin-Schwartz, a member of the Women’s Giving Circle of Howard County, which is not affiliated with the Reston group, says her giving circle has set specific goals of raising money to help women and girls in the county. There are five membership levels, ranging from $100 to $5,000, although voting power is not based on giving level. The group has an advisory board of 22 women who make the grant decisions.

It has, among other projects, provided about $52,000 in scholarships to Howard County Community College and founded a leadership camp for middle school girls.

Ms. Beaudoin-Schwartz says she is particularly proud of the Response Network project her giving circle organized. This initiative gives emergency grants to women undergoing hard times. It has given more than $9,000 to help 38 women in need, she says.

“Area nonprofits frequently have women who, for instance, if not for her car breaking down, would have been able to keep her job,” Ms. Beaudoin-Schwartz says. “We help people who are one mishap away from disaster. When we get a request, we can get the word out to about 800 women on our e-mail list. People have sent in as little as $5, but they know exactly which situation they are helping.”

The Giving Circle of Hope, the Reston group, has given grants to a variety of nonprofits. The group’s guidelines maintain that monetary donations be for area nonprofits with annual budgets of less than $2 million that are seeking to fund a specific project, says Giving Circle of Hope co-founder Linda Strup. The group does not fund religious organizations, political campaigns or the operating expenses of a charitable organization.

Some of last year’s grant recipients included the Loudoun Literacy Council, the Alzheimer’s Family Day Center, the Arlington Free Clinic and the Fauquier Family Shelter Services.

The Giving Circle of Hope also organizes volunteer projects such Happy Hats, which makes hats for critically ill children; Project We Care, which collects supplies to send to soldiers; and Senior Friends, which brings weekly volunteers to the Inova Cameron Glen Care Center in Reston for crafts and games.

Rhonda Goddeke organized Senior Friends after her father-in-law was in a nursing home.

“I felt it would be great to bring someone happiness and pay attention to them when their family couldn’t be there,” Mrs. Goddeke says. “I wanted to bring them some joy, but I have found they bring 10 times more joy to my life.”

Meanwhile, Mrs. Strup and Mrs. Kasprowicz have helped several other groups of women organize their own giving circles. They recently advised young women in Arlington to start the CapitalSeed giving circle, as well as women in Middleburg, Va., and Mechanicsburg, Pa.

The pair tell others how to get started, decide what dues should be, what types of groups can apply for grants and what type of philanthropic and social activities the group could organize.

“We try to share our joys and enthusiasm, and we tell them not to wait until they think they have [organized] it perfectly. We got our group together in three weeks. It has been really wonderful,” Mrs. Strup says. “It is fun with a purpose.”

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