Researchers found that more than half of the circles surveyed were women-only.
WASHINGTON -- An emerging form of grass-roots philanthropy -- the "giving circle" -- has blossomed from an embryonic trend a few years ago to a movement with hundreds of groups nationwide, as donors look for new ways to help local charities by using a more collective approach, according to a study of the groups released this week.
In the circles, which range in size from a half-dozen members who meet over potluck supper to 500 who get together in mass gatherings, members pool their charitable dollars. Then, often after copious research, they decide which organizations will receive the funds. Depending on the group, members kick in anywhere from a few dollars to thousands each year.
"To me, this is a more meaningful version of a book club," said Julie Stein, 43, a Loudoun County, Va., conservation biologist who just started a giving circle that will focus on environmental causes.
The study found 220 giving circles in 39 states -- most of them less than 4 years old -- and researchers say that is the tip of the iceberg.
"They seem to be everywhere," said researcher Jessica Bearman of New Ventures in Philanthropy, which worked on the study with the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers.
The leaders of the giving circle movement are mostly women, researchers found. More than half of the circles surveyed were women-only. Just one was strictly for men.
Giving circle members say that's because the groups' cooperative approach tends to appeal more to women than to men.
"I think the dynamics shift when we include men," said Cathy Lange, 53, president of the Angels Network, which has swelled to 500 members, mostly from Northern Virginia, and has raised $100,000 for charity.
Lange said her group prefers its single-sex status.
At meetings, Lange said, "we talk about women things. We talk about our families. We talk about things that we might not necessarily talk about if it were a couples thing or if a lot of men were around. ... We really like a camaraderie of other women."
Affluent black women are beginning to turn to circles, although not yet in great numbers.
The popularity of giving circles has risen for several reasons, the study found: increasingly affluent households with money to spend on charity; the rising wealth of women and a growing number of donors who want to know more about where their charitable dollars are going.