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Rich or poor, charity begins one by one

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The superrich (Bill Gates, Warren Buffett) set a glittery example by giving away billions. The working poor do their share, too – by handing over a higher portion of their income to charity than wealthier folks. Wanting to help others knows no financial boundaries.

One survey shows that Americans are giving more than ever to charities, some $260 billion last year alone, about 6 percent more than the previous year. And add to that another estimated $150 billion in volunteer giving each year (valued at $18 per hour).

Dollar amounts sent to charities have risen consistently over the years. But what's changing are the ways people give. Many are getting more personally involved, carefully choosing the organizations they support.

"Giving circles," or "charity clubs," are forming. A small group of individuals who each puts in a stake – $100, $500, $1,000. The group then does research and decides to "invest" in a charitable activity together. By combining their giving, the members multiply their impact. In turn, they enjoy the fellowship among themselves as well as the close contact they make with their charity, letting them see up close how the money is being used.

With a plethora of charitable groups based in the US today, givers have a lot of choices to consider. The first step is to pick an issue that they really care about. Websites such as GuideStar.org can help locate worthwhile charities in a wide array of fields, from feeding the hungry to battling climate change to providing education or protecting human rights.

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