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The Most Elite Club in the World

A Rockefeller heir is creating a new model of giving that links some of the world's wealthiest families. But how much of the Global Philanthropists Circle is style, and how much is substance?

It's one of the most exclusive clubs anywhere, which is why you've probably never heard of it. Members come from 68 of the wealthiest families in 22 countries. Many are connected to business dynasties around the world. The point of the club: to give away money so that it has the greatest long-term impact on pressing global issues. "Most philanthropists, even experienced ones, say that it's harder to give money away effectively than it is to make it," says Beth Cohen, director of the Global Philanthropists Circle (GPC).

The GPC is the brainchild of Peggy Dulany, 60, and her father, David Rockefeller, a grandson of Standard Oil founder John D. Rockefeller Sr. While it's common now for philanthropists to partner with one another, Dulany's six-year-old Circle was one of the first to try such collaborations. She recognized early on that philanthropy was becoming more global. Worldwide giving by the superrich reached $285 billion last year, according to a Merrill Lynch (MER )/Capgemini (CAP ) study. But with so many big new gifts, there's more waste as philanthropists struggle up a learning curve. Dulany saw a need for an organization that would allow givers around the world to meet, exchange ideas and strategies, and work together to take on increasingly complex issues.