'Girls Night Out' With a Cause

Like many women, Marsha Wallace and her friends get together for dinner once a month. But instead of spending money on a night out in their hometown of Greenville, S.C., the women cook and donate the money they would have spent at a restaurant to charity.

"We are harnessing the power of collective giving to make a huge impact, and every person can know that they have had a part of that," said Wallace, the founder of Dining for Women (www.diningforwomen.org).

Wallace, a nurse and mother of four, hosted the first Dining for Women dinner on Jan. 20, 2003. It has since grown to include 125 women on its e-mail list, and about 15 members to 25 members attend the dinner each month.

"People are philanthropic, I think," Wallace said. "They want to help. A lot of times I think they don't know exactly how, and writing a check just seems too impersonal. I think people like becoming involved on a more personal level."

Dining for Women donates to small, grass-roots charities that help women and children around the world. With donations as little as $30 per month, her group has raised about $20,000 for charity.

"I've always been interested in women's issues and this is a way that I can make a direct impact in a much bigger way than I could all by myself," Wallace said. "The fact that you are combining donations means that the amount of result you get from your money is multiplied that many times."

Dining for Women groups have multiplied across nine states, and collective-giving groups in general are becoming increasingly popular.

Forming a Collective-Giving Group

ABC financial contributor Mellody Hobson said starting your own giving group was easy and offered the following tips:

Decide on the rules of engagement. Agree on a common cause. It could be anything from education to a medical cause, as long as it's something you feel deeply about. Then agree on how much time you're going to spend and how much you're going to donate.

Every little bit counts. The amount you donate can be very flexible. There are giving circles where the contribution that is required could be as little as 50 cents a day. Then there are greats that expect a contribution of $20,000 a year.

Getting the tax deduction. There are two ways to do this. First, you can have a host organization and a nonprofit help out. Pool all your money together, give it to the host organization, and it will dole the money out based upon your recommendations and then give you your appropriate tax receipt for you as an individual. Second, you can actually establish yourself as a 501 (c)(3). That is more time consuming and more expensive, but it gives you greater control over the funds and more independence.

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