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I have been thinking for a while that it was time for me to find a way to “give back” in a meaningful way. In my 30’s and 40’s, as a full-time working mom, I felt as if I didn’t have an extra minute. One of the really great things about being in my 50’s is that, with my kids grown and living independent lives, I finally have some time to devote to something other than family and work. For me, that something has been the launch of the Beacon Group. Beacon is most easily described as a “giving circle”. Our membership consists of a group of about twenty women. Each member contributes $5000 a year and we give all of the money ($100,000) away each year in the form of grants to New York based not-for-profits. The grants range from $5 to $20,000 and are typically to small, grass roots organizations.

Beacon functions in a super-efficient way. We meet four times a year. The first two meetings are devoted to talking about potential grantees. Our ideas come from friends, newspaper articles, community leaders we’ve connected with. Once we have settled on a potential list of grantees, we ask them to complete our application. We follow up with a site visit and to observe the place in action (a shelter for Muslim women who are victims of domestic abuse, an afterschool dance program in Staten Island for West African refugees, a program in Brooklyn where high school kids create oral histories of elderly people living in a nursing home). We report back at our next meeting and make our funding decisions. Typically, we fund seven or eight organizations. Then we start all over again the next year.

Participation in Beacon is enormously gratifying. It is very powerful to aggregate our contributions and feel that we really make a difference in the life of a grantee organization. What’s best about it is that we get to meet and observe amazing people who are passionate about doing good and truly making a difference in the lives they touch. For all of us, the site visits are the very best part. Some of our members have ongoing relationships with the organizations we fund. We become members of the boards of directors or make other helpful connections for the organization or simply go see a group perform…. ancillary benefits often accrue to the organizations (and to us).

The Beacon Group grew out of my experience with a similar organization where a Beacon co-founder and I had been members for several years. It seems like an idea that should go viral. The model is easily replicated and can be scaled up or down in terms of financial contribution. Start your own group, please! We even had the Wall Street Journal featured us in their Donor of the Day column. (Click here to go to the WSJ article)

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