'Giving circles' pool help

Staff WriterFebruary 3, 2009 

They're not a thousand points of light -- former President George H.W. Bush's name for volunteers who help the poor -- but Kim Best and her 12 friends are trying to light up the darkness for needy people and groups in Wake County.

Best, executive director of the Family Resource Center of Raleigh, and a dozen friends started the Way Out Giving Circle philanthropic organization as a way to help struggling registered nonprofits. "We felt that individually we couldn't make that much difference, but collectively we could," Best said when I spoke with her Monday.

Giving circles, said Todd Cohen of the Philanthropy Journal, "comprise the fastest growing subsector of philanthropy. It's a way of democratizing giving. Rather than just writing a check, it's a chance for people to get together with like-minded people, pool their money and somehow or another decide who to give their money to."

That's precisely how Best and fellow members of the Way Out Giving Circle got together. "We all work for nonprofits, so we already knew organizations that were out there struggling but were doing good work," she said.

Each member contributes $360 a year.

Last spring, they gave a $500 grant to Hayes House, a homeless shelter in Raleigh, and $1,000 to People Helping People, a Wake County organization that helps poor people fix up their homes.

That's not a whole lot of money, Best noted, but she added, "The great thing about it is that it leveraged so many other dollars."

By putting People Helping People together with Hayes House, she said, they were able to facilitate one group helping the other. The electricians, carpenters, merchants and others associated with People Helping People, she said, contributed about $60,000 in goods and services to make over the crumbling shelter.

Best said she was introduced to the giving circle concept by Darryl Lester, founder of Hindsight Consulting. I couldn't reach Lester, but Best said, "He's been creating them in the Southeast. He felt that part of the problem was that he didn't see very many blacks in philanthropy."

In an interview last spring with the Philanthropy Journal, Best said, "When you think about philanthropy, you don't necessarily think of people of color."

Perhaps you should, though. Cohen told me about research conducted by the Kellogg Foundation that, he said, discovered that "there was a lot of giving that wasn't just rich white people. There were African-Americans, Hispanics and other groups that were giving. ... It was under-the- radar giving, but it was doing a lot of good.

"There are some incredible stories around the country of what giving circles can do," Cohen said.

Heck, there are some incredible stories right here of what they can do. There should be more.

With so many people in the Triangle suffering, it's easy for us to feel overwhelmed and conclude that there's little we alone can do.

You may be right, but as the giving circle concept shows, there's plenty we can do together. Remember the homeless man you pass on the way to work every day?

In the current economic climate, you may find it impossible to be a circle of one, but if you persuade 10 of your pals to fork over a few dollars, you'll find there are some sweet deals on coats at the Salvation Army and Goodwill.

Not only will a homeless dude be warmer, but your friends and you will be, too. or 919-836-2811

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