That sense of satisfaction is the reason that giving circles have become so popular. Some 12,000 people, most of them women, have joined one, and the groups have raised nearly $100 million across the country. Similar to the investment clubs of the 1990s, which take small amounts of money from individuals and lump the funds together to buy a bigger block of stock, giving circles enable members to get more bang for the buck -- this time while helping others.
Some groups are cozy and laid-back; the members of Dining for Women in Greenville, South Carolina, hold potluck suppers in one another's homes and donate what they would have spent at a restaurant to help impoverished women and children in Africa, Asia, and Central America. Other giving circles, such as the Washington Women's Foundation in Seattle, involve hundreds of people and award millions of dollars in annual grants to a variety of social-service organizations.
"One of the most attractive aspects of the giving circle is its flexibility," says Daria Teutonico, director of the New Ventures in Philanthropy initiative at the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., that encourages and monitors charitable activities across the country. "There's no one-size-fits-all model." Want to start giving back with your own circle of friends? Follow these recommendations from the experts.